By Ami Afriatni
Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s renewed interest in moving the national capital away from traffic-clogged Jakarta drew a variety of responses Tuesday, with many citizens infusing their comments with cautious excitement.
Explaining it was necessary for the nation’s “long-term interests,” Jokowi said Monday that plans were afoot to move the capital to a new location, away from the nation’s most populous island, Java.
The government needed to “think in a visionary way for the progress of this country and moving the capital requires thorough and detailed preparation,” the president told members of his cabinet.
Later, he told reporters that officials were considering Sumatra and Sulawesi islands, as well as Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo), as prospective sites for the country’s new capital.
“We haven’t decided yet. We have to study further even though for the past three years we have been working on it,” Jokowi said Tuesday.
The news dominated conversations among Indonesians on social media, with some expressing skepticism because other presidents had publicly mooted the idea of moving the capital, but never took concrete action.
“The idea was also put forward by previous presidents, usually after Jakarta was hit by flooding. But once the floods subsided, they stopped talking about it,” said Nirwono Joga, an urban planning expert at Trisakti University.
He was alluding to last week’s flash floods that inundated some parts of Jakarta. The floods killed two people and displaced thousands of others.
“Seeing the pattern, I don’t think the government is serious,” Nirwono told BenarNews.
“It has always been the same thing: New president means new policy,” he said. “Who can guarantee that after Jokowi leaves office in five years his successor will follow up on the construction of the new city?”
A preliminary official count after the April 17 presidential election showed Jokowi on track for a second and final five-year term, with 56 percent of the votes.
His rival, former Gen. Prabowo Subianto, was at 44 percent. Official results are expected to be announced on May 22.
On Monday, National Development Minister Bambang Brodjonegoro said that traffic congestion, frequent floods and land subsidence caused by uncontrolled ground water extraction were the main considerations for the move.
About 40 per cent of the capital, home to about 30 million people, is now below sea level and by 2050, the entire North Jakarta area will be submerged, according to experts.
Economic losses caused by the city’s traffic jams are estimated at 100 trillion rupiah (U.S. 7 billion) annually, Bambang said.
Moving the capital could take 10 years, citing the experience of countries such as Malaysia and Brazil, and would cost up to U.S. $33 billion, he said.
Palangkaraya: ‘Already too crowded’
The city of Palangkaraya on the Indonesian part of Borneo island has frequently been considered as the country’s future capital. Founding President Sukarno had also considered Palangkaraya for the country’s administrative and political center.
But one Palangkaraya resident expressed doubts on the prospect.
“We in Palangkaraya feel that the city is already too crowded. What’s going to happen when it becomes the capital? When the government moves here, people will also follow,” said Muhammad Ramadani, a 20-year-old university student.
“We native people will be marginalized,” he told BenarNews.
Wasisto Raharjo Jati, a political analyst at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, said it was too early to say whether the Jokowi government would act on the plans.
“Whether the government is serious or not, we will know from follow-up steps taken after today,” Wasisto said.
Wasisto said a move away from Jakarta was long overdue.
“Jakarta is bursting at its seams. There have been studies but there was a lack of commitment, only talk,” he said.
A director at the environmental group Walhi, Dimas Hartono, sought to curb people’s enthusiasm, saying the government still needed to take into account other aspects, such as social, cultural and environmental issues, in its relocation plans.
“The government should not create new problems, because not only does a relocation involve moving the government, but also thousands of people from different backgrounds,” Dimas told BenarNews.
The government must also conduct an environmental feasibility study.
“Kalimantan is vulnerable to annual forest and brush fires every year. Will moving the capital solve the problems or even add to new problems for local communities?” he said.
Since the 1950s government officials have been eyeing Kalimantan as a frontrunner for siting the nation’s future capital. Palangkaraya, capital of Central Kalimantan province, has a population of about 240,000, according to the latest available data from a 2014 census.
Danny Hilman Natawidjaja, a scientist at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, said Kalimantan was geologically ideal to support a new capital.
“As far as earthquakes, tsunami and volcanic eruptions are concerned, the Kalimantan region, except the eastern part, is safe. It’s far from tectonic plate boundaries and there is no major and active fault line,” Danny told BenarNews.
“Jakarta is not safe from earthquakes and tsunami. If a major disaster occurs, the country can be totally paralyzed,” he said.
“Second, it’s a good idea to have the administrative capital separate from the commercial center. Jakarta is both the commercial and administrative capital.”
Legislator Utut Adianto said a new administrative and political hub was needed.
He said he had studied cases of capital relocations in Kazakhstan, Myanmar and Brazil, and the results turned out to be positive.
“In Jakarta, we cannot move. There are too many vehicles and people. People have become angry,” Utut told BenarNews.
“Now there is only an agreement and mind-set,” he said. “Do you want to move the capital? Changing habits is a difficult job.”