Both Candidates Claim Victory In Tight Indonesia Election

Both Candidates Claim Victory In Tight Indonesia Election

By Simon Roughneen and Shashank Bengali, Los Angeles Times

JAKARTA, Indonesia — Both candidates claimed victory Wednesday in Indonesia’s presidential election, the tightest race since the former Southeast Asian dictatorship made the transition to democratic politics less than two decades ago.

Joko Widodo, the popular chief executive of the capital city, Jakarta, said he had won based on samples of votes being counted at 480,000 polling stations nationwide that gave him a lead of between 4 and 6 percentage points. The so-called quick counts have accurately forecast results in the last several national elections.

But Widodo’s rival, Prabowo Subianto, a former head of Indonesia’s special forces, refused to concede defeat. An hour after Widodo delivered a victory speech — at the plaza where the former Dutch possession declared independence in 1945 — Subianto told supporters that “our team has won in many provinces and many areas.”
With official results not due until next month, the world’s fourth most populous nation was poised for several more weeks of tension after a gritty campaign that was marred in its final weeks by ferocious smears against Widodo that played on Indonesia’s religious and political sensitivities.

The claims against Widodo, better known by the nickname Jokowi, falsely accused him of being a closet Christian with Chinese roots, damaging his standing among Indonesia’s overwhelmingly Muslim population. The smears likely contributed to a dramatic drop in his pre-election poll numbers, which went from a 30-point advantage over Subianto to the two being in a dead heat.

Sixteen years after the fall of dictator Suharto amid economic chaos in 1998, analysts say Indonesia has become one of Asia’s most vibrant democracies. This election was the first in which the incumbent, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, was term-limited, and the two-man race was a contest of two starkly different candidates.
Subianto, usually known as Prabowo, was a general in Suharto’s government and has a brusque and impatient demeanor, with a rousing stage presence. His boisterous rallies and slick online campaign were a sharp contrast with Widodo’s self-effacing, man-of-the-people style and sometimes chaotic public events.

Widodo ran on his record as mayor of Solo, his hometown in east Java, and more recently as governor of Jakarta, a traffic-clogged metropolis of 20 million people. His modest style and reputation for probity endeared him to Indonesia’s poor and working class.

On Wednesday evening, as his SUV inched along a thronged pathway outside where he had just held a news conference, Widodo shook hands with supporters who pressed against the car windows chanting “Jokowi, Jokowi!”

“I am happy, for we have a new leader who is man of the people, a humble man,” said 28-year-old Jay Jae, wearing a baseball cap stitched with Jokowi insignia, who stretched an arm toward the half-open backseat window.

Widodo had just made an appearance at the home of a prominent supporter, former President Megawati Sukarnoputri, the daughter of post-independence Indonesia’s first leader. Her party, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, won just under 20 percent of seats in April legislative elections, a disappointing result that showed the limits of Widodo’s popularity.

In the ensuing months, Subianto whittled away at Widodo’s support, transforming what seemed a foregone conclusion into a cliffhanger.

Aziza Nadia Razianti, a student who voted Wednesday, said she favored Subianto because “he is a very certain person, to the point, and he’s a leader.”

Hours later, Subianto exhorted his supporters to calmly await the announcement of official results, saying of his rival, “If there is anyone who would like to claim (victory) please go ahead. However, there is no legal basis for these claims.”

Photo: Mr.TinDC via Flickr

Thailand Court Ousts Prime Minister After Abuse-Of-Power Verdict

Thailand Court Ousts Prime Minister After Abuse-Of-Power Verdict

By Simon Roughneen and Shashank Bengali, Los Angeles Times

BANGKOK — In a controversial ruling that deepened Thailand’s political crisis, the country’s Constitutional Court on Wednesday ordered Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to leave office, ruling that she abused her powers when she transferred a government official from his post three years ago.

The court also demanded the removal of several of Yingluck’s cabinet ministers who it said were complicit in the transfer, throwing the status of her caretaker government into uncertainty ahead of elections scheduled for July.

Two dozen other ministers remain in their posts, including Deputy Prime Minister Niwatthamrong Boonsongpaisan, who was named Thailand’s new acting leader.

Shinawatra’s opponents had accused her of transferring the official, National Security Council head Thawil Pliensri, in order to install a member of her influential family in that post. Appearing in court on Tuesday, she denied any wrongdoing, saying she “never benefited from any transfer of civil servants.”

The ruling sparked fears of new violence between Shinawatra’s mainly rural supporters, known as Red Shirts, and the mainly urban and southern anti-government protesters who have massed in Bangkok in recent months demanding her ouster. More than 20 people have been killed since November.

The protests have waned in recent months, but Thailand remains bitterly divided between the rival camps. Shinwatra’s opponents accusing her of being a stand-in for her brother, ousted former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who has lived in exile since 2008 to escape a jail sentence in a separate abuse of power case.

Yingluck Shinawatra has led a caretaker administration with few powers since December, when she dissolved parliament and called elections that her Pheu Thai party was expected to win. But the Constitutional Court annuled a vote held in February after anti-government protesters blocked polling places in one-fifth of voting districts nationwide.

The court’s unanimous ruling on Wednesday prompted new allegations that the judiciary is on the side of the anti-government protesters. The constitutional court has dealt several setbacks to the Pheu Thai party in recent years, including forcing two Thaksin-backed prime ministers from office in 2008.

Suchit Bunbongkarn, a retired constitutional court judge, said the ruling was appropriate.

“The court tried to play the game by the rules,” Bunbongkarn said. “It is a question of political legitimacy.”

The ruling buoyed the flagging anti-government movement, and within hours, protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban marched with supporters triumphantly to their main protest site at Bangkok’s Lumpini Park.

One protestor, Tikamporn Wonglangka, who hails from Chaing Rai in northern Thailand, welcomed the court’s decision and said she hoped the rest of the cabinet would be removed when the national anti-corruption body rules on a Shinawatra-backed rice-subsidy scheme. Opponents say the subsidies, which have cost billions of dollars, were a bid to buy support for the government among farmers in the populous northeast.

“I want elections but this all has to finish first,” she said. “I want reform first.”

Adisorn Piengkes, a former lawmaker from the Pheu Thai party, said the court’s decision was “based on emotion.”

“The decision was not legal. The court is not for the people; it is for the upper class.”

Asked whether Yingluck’s supporters would take to the streets to protest the ruling, Adisorn said, “The people of Thailand must fight for democracy in the future.”

 A China via Flickr