JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesia's outgoing leader on Monday came within a whisker of telling retired general Prabowo Subianto to admit defeat so that the country's most bitterly fought leadership contest could be resolved.
Prabowo has almost certainly lost the July 9 election but on Sunday cried foul and demanded the Elections Commission investigate vote cheating before he would accept its result. The Commission is due to announce the result on Monday or Tuesday.
"Admitting defeat is noble," President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono told reporters in a clear reference to Prabowo.
A protracted wrangle over the election outcome could undermine confidence in Southeast Asia's biggest economy which has seen strong investment in recent years.
Private tallies of the 130 million votes show Jakarta governor Joko "Jokowi" Widodo won by about five percentage points over Prabowo who has spent the last 10 years preparing for his presidential bid.
Prabowo's recalcitrance has led to fears his supporters might turn violent and some have threatened to rally outside the Elections Commission (KPU) office in central Jakarta ahead of the official result, which under law must be declared by July 22.
The national police and military have deployed nearly 300,000 personnel across the vast archipelago of 240 million people. Security has also been beefed up around the KPU office but there has been no word of any violence.
"We don't anticipate the KPU to be a hot spot for violence," national police spokesperson Boy Rafli Amar told Reuters.
"At the same time, we ask the public not to assemble there so that the KPU officials can continue their work in a conducive atmosphere."
Candidates can lodge complaints with the Constitutional Court, which has been done by the losers in the previous two presidential elections. The Court has to return a verdict on any challenge within two weeks. The verdict cannot be appealed.
"If there is someone who does not accept the official result, I would advise them to peacefully go the constitutional route," said Yudhoyono, who hosted both candidates for dinner at the presidential palace on Sunday night.
KPU officials said reports of irregularities have been investigated as recommended by the election watchdog. They said the number of disputed votes numbered in the thousands.
Analysts reckon it would need a reversal of up to seven million votes to hand Prabowo victory.
As it has become increasingly clear that Prabowo has lost, so signs have grown that key supporters may be ready to leave his "permanent coalition" of parties, or join the other side.
"The election has been completed and my job is complete. I've failed the Prabowo ... ticket," Mahfud MD, a widely respected former chief of the Constitutional Court and head of Prabowo's campaign team told media.
Members of the biggest party backing Prabowo, Golkar, also appear to be turning against their own chief Aburizal Bakrie, who is a staunch supporter of Prabowo.
Bakrie, who heads a prominent, debt-laden conglomerate, has been a key Prabowo ally.
Indonesia, a member of the G-20 group of nations, was swept by bloodshed in which hundreds of people were killed when strongman ruler Suharto was ousted in 1998 after more than three decades in power.
It has since made a slow transition to full democracy, with this only its third direct presidential election.
(Reporting by Jakarta bureau; Writing by Kanupriya Kapoor; Editing by Jonathan Thatcher and Robert Birsel)