JAKARTA - President Joko Widodo on Wednesday (Feb 15) called for Indonesians to remain united in the face of what has been a highly divisive gubernatorial election.
"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 Istana presidential palace. Pilkada is local jargon for elections.
The comments of the president, who often goes by his popular moniker Jokowi, comes as more than 41 million Indonesians head to the polls to vote for their local leaders across the country, with the hottest battle taking place in Jakarta, where seven million will elect their next governor.
His comments also come after a series of scathing remarks by former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who accused the government of launching a "black campaign" against him and his son Agus Harimurti, who is one of the three candidates running for governor.
Dr Yudhoyono's tirade on Twitter and 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 fixed him with a murder charge when he investigated Mr Agus's father-in-law in 2009.
Mr Antasari was fired by Dr Yudhoyono after he was convicted of murdering businessman Nasrudin Zulkarnaen and sentenced to 18 years in jail. But he was granted clemency and released on parole by Mr Joko earlier this year.
The 63-year-old had always maintained his innocence, and claimed on Tuesday that in 2009, businessman and MNC Group chief executive Hary Tanoesoedibjo was sent by Dr Yudhoyono to urge him to drop the corruption probe against Mr Aulia Pohan, who is the father of Mr Agus' wife Anissa Pohan.
MNC Group's Corporate Secretary Syafril Nasution was quick to refute Mr Hary's role in the debacle, telling Tempo news on Tuesday that it was "all not true,".
Dr Yudhoyono on Tuesday questioned the timing of Mr Antasari's allegations, claiming they were engineer 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.
He added during his press conference that his lawyers had reported Mr Antasari to the police for for defamation, while the police confirmed that they had opened a new investigation into the murder of Mr Nasrudin Zulkarnaen.
Presidential spokesman Johan Budi, who was former deputy chief at the Corruption Eradication Commission, or KPK, has denied that the granting of clemency to Mr Antasari was politically driven. "The clemency was granted in accordance with the law," he said on Tuesday.
Mr Joko, who was accompanied by First Lady Iriana and State Secretary Pratikno at the Gambir polling station on Wednesday, asked that Indonesian move forward from the political mud-slinging and focus on the simultaneous elections.
"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."