Updated at 3:21 p.m. ET on 2019-06-27
Indonesia’s Constitutional Court late Thursday rejected as baseless a petition by opposition candidate Prabowo Subianto, who alleged massive and systematic electoral fraud as he sought to overturn results of presidential polls won by incumbent Joko “Jokowi” Widodo in April.
After the court took nine hours to read out its verdict that removed the last legal hurdle to Jokowi’s electoral victory for a second and final term, Prabowo said he accepted the panel’s decision. He urged his supporters, who staged protests in the capital Jakarta during the day amid a heavy security presence by police and soldiers, to refrain from violence.
The nine-judge bench of the Constitutional Court ruled that Prabowo’s petition had “no legal basis,” as it finished reading the verdict at around 9:30 p.m. (local time).
“We hereby reject the plaintiffs’ petition in its entirety,” chief judge Anwar Usman said. The case file before the judges ran to more than 5,000 pages.
President Jokowi won re-election by capturing 55.5 percent of ballots cast compared with 44.5 percent garnered by Prabowo in the April 17 polls, according to the General Elections Commission (KPU). In what was seen as one of the most divisive polls in Indonesian history, Jokowi received 85.6 million votes while Prabowo got nearly 68.8 million, the final official tally showed.
It was the second time in back-to-back presidential contests that Prabowo, a retired general in the Indonesian army’s special forces, lost out to Jokowi.
In the wake of the announcement by the KPU that declared Jokowi and running mate Ma’ruf Amin the winners of the latest election, Prabowo refused to concede defeat. He alleged there had been “massive, systematic and structured fraud” and demanded that Jokowi and running mate Ma’ruf be disqualified.
In its decision, the court said that Prabowo’s claim of winning 52 percent of the vote was not backed up with evidence.
On Thursday night, Prabowo appeared before the cameras to say he would respect the court’s decision.
“We understand that this is disappointing to us and our supporters, but we will abide by the constitution and the legal system,” Prabowo told a post-verdict news conference where he was accompanied by his running mate, Sandiaga Uno.
He also called on his supporters to not react violently to the verdict.
In late May, at least eight people were killed when clashes broke out in Jakarta as pro-Prabowo protestors clashed with security forces after the election results were made official.
After he lost to Jokowi in the 2014 presidential election, Prabowo lodged a similar petition with the Constitutional Court alleging voter fraud. But he accepted its ruling at the time when it rejected his claims.
“Let’s look to the future with optimism. We urge our supporters not to be discouraged,” Prabowo said.
“We have to prioritize national unity.”
As of late Thursday evening and early Friday morning (Jakarta time), there were no new reports of poll-related violence in the streets.
Jokowi, for his part, declared late Thursday that “the people have spoken and it’s been confirmed by the Constitutional Court.”
“I call on the nation to unite again and together we develop Indonesia,” Jokowi said.
The president also had conciliatory words for Prabowo and his supporters.
“I have never doubted the sincerity of my friend, Mr. Prabowo. He has the same vision to create an Indonesia that is developed, prosperous and just,” Jokowi said.
Pramono Ubaid Tantowi, an official with the General Elections Commission, described the court’s verdict as fair.
“The most important thing for the KPU is that this trial has provided us with an opportunity to respond to the allegations that the KPU favored one candidate,” Pramono told reporters.
Prabowo Subianto’s campaign had accused the government of mobilizing civil servants, the police and employees of state-owned companies to support Jokowi in the election.
During the day some 1,000 Prabowo supporters rallied outside the Constitutional Court as the judges read out the verdict, but they disbanded peacefully.
The verdict’s reading unfolded amid a large deployment of police and soldiers in Jakarta to prevent potential outbreaks of violence. Some 13,000 police officers and soldiers were deployed in and around the courthouse alone. Another 34,000 security personnel stood guard elsewhere in the Indonesian capital, officials said.
On the eve of the court’s ruling, Moeldoko, Jokowi’s chief of staff, urged people to avoid gathering in big numbers outside the courthouse on Thursday because of a potential threat, according to him, of an attack from some 30 “terrorists” who had infiltrated the capital.
“We have seen [them] and we know them. If something happens, we’ll pick them up,” Moeldoko told reporters without giving more details.
After the election results were announced last month, Prabowo’s supporters took the streets to voice their dissatisfaction but the protests turned violent. Police clashed with demonstrators as pro-Prabowo rallies descended into two days of chaos in Jakarta.
Earlier this week, global human rights watchdog Amnesty International accused Indonesian police of committing serious rights violations with heavy-handed tactics during the poll-related violence.
“Amnesty International has received credible reports of a range of violations by police, including the unlawful killing of 10 people, arbitrary arrests and detentions, and the excessive or unnecessary use of force against protesters and bystanders,” the London-based group said Wednesday.
Sobri Lubis, who heads the Islamic Defenders Front, a hardline group that was among conservative religious organizations backing Prabowo in the election, said it would keep standing by its candidate.
“We are committed to the truth. We reject all forms of fraud and injustice,” Sobri said.
Some analysts said the presidential election had exposed social and religious divides in Southeast Asia’s largest country – and the world’s largest Muslim-majority one – that reflected Indonesia’s growing pains as a 21-year-old democracy.
Jokowi won in provinces where non-Muslims are the majority, such as mainly Hindu Bali and predominantly Christian East Nusa Tenggara, while Prabowo dominated in religiously conservative regions, including Aceh province where Islamic law is enforced.