Indonesia’s president Joko Widodo and his defeated election rival met on Saturday for the first time since the divisive April poll, as they rode together on a recently opened subway in the capital, signalling a calming of political tensions in the world’s third-largest democracy. In a choreographed spectacle, Widodo and former special forces general Prabowo Subianto met and embraced at a gleaming new subway station in Jakarta and sat together chatting on a short train trip.
Subianto had refused to accept the election result and threatened a “people power” uprising. He alleged massive and systematic fraud, but his legal challenge was rejected by Indonesia’s top court last month, reflecting its weak evidence. Nine people died in riots in Jakarta in May after official results were released, showing Widodo had won 55.5 per cent of the vote. Widodo, the first Indonesian president from outside the Jakarta elite, said Indonesians should unite after the bitter election campaign.
“Global competition and competition between countries is getting tougher so we need togetherness in advancing this nation, in building this country that we love,” he said. “Thank God this morning we can meet and try the MRT (subway), because I know Prabowo has never tried the MRT,” Widodo said.
Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation, is an outpost of democracy in a Southeast Asian neighbourhood of authoritarian governments and is forecast to be among the world’s biggest economies by 2030. Widodo’s second term could further cement the country’s two decades of democratisation and see progress in his signature policy of upgrading the sprawling nation’s inadequate infrastructure.
Subianto, who allied himself with groups that want Islamic rather than secular law to prevail in Indonesia, won big victories in conservative provinces, but Widodo prevailed nationally with the backing of mainstream Muslim organisations and minority voters. Widodo also defeated Subianto in 2014.
Subianto congratulated Widodo on his election victory and said he would work with the government while also offering criticism “because democracy requires checks and balances”. “I thank you sir, I can ride the MRT and this is amazing, we are proud that Indonesia finally has an MRT,” he said.