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Indonesia girds for vote result

Indonesia’s election commission is in the final stages of the vote count in a presidential ballot where both candidates claim victory, as the police prepare for possible street protests that may spur capital outflows.

Outgoing President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono warned the political situation could “boil” should the losing candidate refuse to accept defeat, while the police are on alert with official results expected yesterday. Steven Darmadi, managing director at Bless Tour travel agency in Jakarta, is heading for Singapore, fearing the result – and a possible court challenge – could spark protests similar to those in 1998 that ousted dictator Suharto.

“It’s unpredictable seeing as how both candidates won’t concede defeat,” said Darmadi, 48. “It’s not hard to incite a riot in Jakarta when people are so impassioned about the issue.”

Ensuring a calm transfer of power is crucial for Indonesia as it seeks to assure investors the nation’s closest election in more than a decade won’t erode the democratic and economic progress of the past 16 years. Finance Minister Chatib Basri has said the next president will inherit a “fragile” economy, and growth slowed to the weakest pace since 2009 in the first quarter as policy makers struggle to contain a widening current- account deficit that weighed on the rupiah.

Former general Prabowo Subianto, 62, has disputed unofficial tallies by survey companies that show 53-year-old Jakarta Gov. Joko Widodo, known as Jokowi, leading by as much as five percentage points in the July 9 vote.

“A smooth transition of power to Jokowi is important because it demonstrates that Indonesian democracy is consolidating,” said Terence Lee, an assistant professor of political science at the National University of Singapore who has been studying Indonesia since 1998. “Prabowo has vehemently refused to concede even an inch to Jokowi, so that’s the wild card that analysts are unable to play out; we’re unable to read Prabowo’s mind.”

The rupiah plunged 19 percent in May 1998, as protests, sparked by soaring food and fuel prices and inflation at 45 percent, spread across the country. The uprising eventually led Suharto, then Asia’s longest reigning ruler, to step down. Since the Suharto era the country has embarked on a major decentralization of power and introduced direct elections for local officials through to the presidency.

Yudhoyono said this month that Tuesday is a “critical time” and urged the election commission to involve both candidates in the vote-counting process to reduce the chance of protests. Army chief Moeldoko and national police head Sutarman, both of whom go by one name, have been called on to guard the process, Yudhoyono said in a July 11 phone call record uploaded to his official YouTube account.

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