Jokowi calls for unity amid highly divisive governor race

President Joko and First Lady Iriana casting their votes at a polling station in Gambir, near the presidential palace in the capital.
President Joko and First Lady Iriana casting their votes at a polling station in Gambir, near the presidential palace in the capital.PHOTO: BIRO PERS SETPRES

President Joko Widodo yesterday urged Indonesians to remain united in the face of what has been a highly divisive election for the governor of Jakarta.

"Pilkada is the people's celebration of democracy. Let's not allow differing political views to divide us and affect our unity," said Mr Joko after casting his vote at a polling station in Gambir, not far from the presidential palace in the capital. Pilkada means elections in Bahasa Indonesia.

The President made the remarks just as more than 41 million Indonesians headed to the polls to vote for their local leaders across the country, with the hottest battle taking place in Jakarta.

But it also follows a series of scathing remarks by his predecessor Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who accused the government of launching a "black campaign" against him and his son Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono, who is one of three candidates running for governor.

Dr Yudhoyono's tirade on Twitter and later at a press conference on Tuesday night was in retaliation against former anti-graft chief Antasari Azhar, who earlier in the day alleged that Dr Yudhoyono had a hand in framing him for a murder charge when he investigated the father-in-law of Mr Agus in 2009.

Mr Antasari was sacked by Dr Yudhoyono after he was convicted of murdering businessman Nasrudin Zulkarnaen and sentenced to 18 years in jail. But Mr Joko granted Mr Antasari clemency and he was released on parole earlier this year.

The 63-year-old had always maintained his innocence, and claimed on Tuesday that in 2009, Dr Yudhoyono sent businessman and MNC Group chief executive Hary Tanoesoedibjo to urge the Corruption Eradication Commission to drop a probe against Mr Aulia Pohan, who is the father of Mr Agus' wife Anissa Pohan.

Mr Hary yesterday said Mr Antasari's accusation was slander. "I don't want to waste my time responding to it," he said.

Dr Yudhoyono also questioned the timing of Mr Antasari's allegations, saying that they were engineered to surface during the ongoing Jakarta gubernatorial election.

"What I have predicted has happened. It seems the clemency for Antasari is politically motivated and there is a mission to attack and discredit me," he said in a tweet.

During a press conference, Dr Yudhoyono said that his lawyers have filed charges against Mr Antasari for defamation.

State Secretary Pratikno yesterday dismissed Dr Yudhoyono's allegations that the granting of clemency to Mr Antasari was politically driven. "The decision was taken by the President after he considered inputs from the Supreme Court," he added.

Mr Joko, who was accompanied by First Lady Iriana and Mr Pratikno to the Gambir polling station, asked that Indonesians move forward from the political mud-slinging and focus on the simultaneous elections, Indonesia's second since a new law was passed in 2004.

"We hope everyone will put all this behind after Pilkada and become brothers and sisters again," he said. "Everyone is expected to help maintain unity."

The ruling Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), however, came out strongly against Dr Yudhoyono for his latest outburst.

PDI-P secretary-general Hasto Kristiyanto, referring to Mr Joko's nickname and Dr Yudhoyono's initials, said: "We don't want to become involved in these polemics.

"But we do wonder why does SBY always target Jokowi."

Francis Chan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 16, 2017, with the headline 'Jokowi calls for unity amid highly divisive governor race'. Print Edition | Subscribe