High alert in Jakarta ahead of Prabowo case verdict

High alert in Jakarta ahead of Prabowo case verdict
Police standing guard outside the Constitutional Court in Jakarta yesterday where some 2,000 protesters have gathered. Mr Prabowo has challenged the results of July's presidential election.

More than 20,000 policemen will be on high alert throughout the capital today as the Constitutional Court is set to issue a verdict on the case of presidential election fraud brought on by losing candidate Prabowo Subianto.

The Election Commission (KPU) declared Mr Joko Widodo and his running mate the winners of the July 9 election with 53.15 per cent of the vote, against 46.85 per cent for Mr Prabowo and his running mate Hatta Rajasa. But Mr Prabowo is challenging this.

Independent watchers say they expect the court to throw out the case this afternoon based on weak arguments and evidence, in a hearing that turned into a farcical sideshow as witnesses fumbled in their testimonies.

But there are fears that Prabowo supporters mobilising to protest across Indonesia could turn rowdy and that demonstrations could escalate into violence.

Some 2,000 protesters gathered outside the courthouse yesterday and large gatherings are expected today in West Java, a Prabowo stronghold, with some supporters reportedly planning to join today's protests in Jakarta.

National police chief Sutarman has deployed 22,000 men to enforce four rings of security around the court, including blocking roads leading to it with water cannons and anti-riot police.

He warned demonstrators against violence, saying his officers are equipped with rubber bullets that have been approved for firing as a last resort.

Armed Forces Commander General Moeldoko said 23,000 soldiers are backing up the police and monitoring the situation.

"Don't try to do anything that damages property. We will take tough action," he said.

Their warnings come amid alarming remarks by those leading protests outside the court during the two-week hearing.

Among other things, they have shouted for KPU's chief commissioner, Mr Husni Kamil Manik, to be kidnapped for fraud or for citizens to arrest him, prompting him to lodge a police report.

One leader, who led demonstrators in Friday prayers outside the court last week, said in his sermon: "If you are called, it means you have to die for a noble cause... including to die defending justice for Prabowo-Hatta."

Yet others told the crowd they should burn down the court building and the State Palace nearby to show their solidarity.

Constitutional Court chief judge Hamdan Zoelva is unfazed.

Dr Hamdan, who has been lauded for his no-nonsense approach during the hearing, said: "We will not be influenced by anything. We will decide with freedom and independence, whether there is a demonstration or not."

The nine-judge court has the last say in disputes over election results. Both the Prabowo camp and the KPU are confident their case will stand.

Most Indonesians and analysts see the verdict as a foregone conclusion.

"It is also difficult to see (the Prabowo camp's) argument that (there) has been an election fraught with systematic, structured and massive cheating... because the witnesses and the facts presented at the trial did little to reinforce this," said Ms Titi Anggraini, the executive director of election watchdog Perludem.

But Mr Prabowo, who has not conceded, will not go away quietly. He has launched five other challenges, including asking for a special parliamentary hearing, to cast doubt on the electoral process.

This article was first published on August 21, 2014.
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