Indonesian election loser urges unity in sign of thaw

Indonesian election loser urges unity in sign of thaw
Losing presidential candidate Prabowo (L) congratulates President-elect Joko Widodo.

JAKARTA - Indonesia's defeated presidential candidate Friday urged his supporters to back winner Joko Widodo as the pair met for the first time since the bitterly fought poll, signalling a thaw that could help the incoming leader enact much-needed reforms.

Ex-general Prabowo Subianto congratulated Widodo, known by his nickname Jokowi, and the pair shook hands and embraced after the meeting in the capital Jakarta.

Widodo won a decisive victory over Prabowo in the July election, which was the most closely fought that the world's third-biggest democracy had ever seen, and he is the country's first leader without deep roots in the era of dictator Suharto.

However Prabowo, who had been seeking the presidency for more than a decade, only grudgingly conceded defeat, and parties that backed him at the poll have since been flexing their muscles in parliament, raising fears that Widodo may not be able to push through his reform agenda.

Prabowo's backers used their parliamentary majority to win key positions in the legislature and voted to abolish the direct election of local leaders, a measure Widodo had opposed and which rolled back a key democratic reform of the post-Suharto era.

But after much criticism of his behaviour, the ex-general met Widodo on Friday, and the pair appeared smiling at a press conference afterwards.

"During a meeting that was full of friendship, I congratulated him," said the ex-general, who has a chequered human rights record and used to be married to one of Suharto's daughters.

"I conveyed to the party that I lead, my friends and supporters, to back Jokowi and his government."

However, he added: "If there's some things which are not for the benefit of our nation and people, we will not hesitate to criticise."

Widodo responded: "Our goals are the same.. everything is for the sake of the nation."

He also welcomed Prabowo's willingness to criticise policies he disagreed with: "A balance in the management of the country is very important. There are some who execute, some who control, and some who criticise. I see that as a good thing."

There has been speculation about whether Prabowo will attend Widodo's inauguration on Monday and the ex-general said he would try his best to be there, if he could make it back from an overseas trip on time.

Widodo, who is from a humble background and shot to national prominence as Jakarta governor, has put forward an ambitious reform agenda that includes reviving Southeast Asia's top economy, and improving healthcare and education. Indonesian election loser urges unity in sign of thaw


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