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Tech-savvy Indonesians monitor vote count in disputed poll

Both candidates have declared victory in tightest presidential election since end of authoritarian rule

Tech-savvy Indonesians monitor vote count in disputed poll

An young Indonesian woman uses a smartphone in Jakarta (AFP Photo / Bay Ismoyo)  

Angela Dewan for AFP, Jakarta

July 18, 2014

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Tech-savvy Indonesians are acting as watchdogs following last week's disputed election, using social media and apps to ensure an honest count as both sides accuse the other of trying to rig the outcome.

Both candidates, Jakarta governor Joko Widodo and ex-general Prabowo Subianto, declared victory in the July 9 poll, the tightest in Indonesia since the end of authoritarian rule, based on unofficial tallies from different polling agencies.

But most analysts expect Widodo to be declared president when official results are announced on Tuesday next week.

As allegations mount of attempted manipulation during the complex, lengthy process of counting votes by hand across the sprawling archipelago, social media-mad Indonesians are carrying out their own checks.

This has been made possible by the election commission's decision to make all vote tally forms publicly available for the first time. Forms showing vote counts from each polling station are photographed and uploaded to the commission's official website.

One innovation being used to monitor the count is a crowd-sourcing app called Kawal Suara (Guard the Vote), which has attracted more than 5,000 people since it went online Saturday.

"I never expected so many people to take part in this so quickly," the app's creator, Reza Lesmana, told AFP, describing it as a "social experiment".

"But with quick counts showing different results and the margin between candidates quite small, I guess there's been a lot of interest."

Pollsters with a track record of correctly predicting election outcomes showed Widodo, known by his nickname Jokowi, with a lead of several points, while less well-known institutes showed a Prabowo win.

Users check the forms, then enter the numbers into a system, and they are collated to come up with a national result.

They hope it will ensure the numbers do not change as the forms come in from the corners of the archipelago to the capital for a final count.

Through the group effort, the site has come up with results that sit in line with most reputable polling agencies, which show a Widodo win by around five percentage points.

A similar website, Kawal Pemilu (Guard the Election) was started by technology consultant Ainan Nadjib, and with hundreds of volunteers has compiled almost all the data from the vote count forms, showing similar results. 

'Leap for Indonesian democracy'

The names of the initiatives echo Widodo's repeated calls for Indonesians to "guard the vote" following Prabowo's declaration of victory.

He has encouraged Internet users to upload smartphone photographs of the voting tallies, known as C1 forms, on Facebook and Twitter.

Many of these have gone viral and have inspired a Tumblr blog called C1 Yang Aneh ("Odd C1 Forms") with images of irregular tally sheets, including some left blank but which have still been signed off on by official witnesses saying they agree with the numbers.

Others had numbers scrawled out and changed. One had a five inserted in front of a two-digit figure, boosting one candidate's votes by 500 in a polling station where only 359 voters cast ballots.

Philips Vermonte, from Jakarta-based think-tank the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, said this level of public participation was unprecedented in Indonesia and could serve as a deterrent for fraud in future elections.

"I think it's another leap for Indonesian democracy," he said at a recent discussion with reporters.

But the commission's vote count may not be the end of uncertainty, as candidates have the right to contest the results at the Constitutional Court if they suspect vote-tampering, with both likely to do so if they lose.

Widodo's side has raised suspicions of fraud on the island of Madura off the main island of Java, where their candidate did not receive a single vote from 17 polling stations.

Meanwhile Hashim Djojohadikusomo, Prabowo's brother and senior advisor, said his camp had found 250,000 votes for Widodo under fictitious names in the capital alone.

According to Marcus Mietzner, an Indonesia expert from the Australian National University, online monitoring is positive, but with many parts of the country unable to access the Internet, it may not be enough to keep the count clean.

"To rely simply on enthusiastic social media crowds to go to the voting stations, take a picture of the C1 form and put them up on Facebook, that will not prevent the danger of massive fraud," he said. AFP

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