The choice for the location of Indonesia's planned new capital city in East Kalimantan province, which was announced yesterday, has sparked speculation of backdoor political dealings after reports emerged that at least part of the land earmarked for the site is owned by Gerindra Chairman Prabowo Subianto.
Yesterday, President Joko Widodo announced that the new capital city will be built partly on North Penajam Paser regency and partly on Kutai Kartanegara regency, both of which are in East Kalimantan.
Soon after the announcement, former State-owned Enterprises Minister Dahlan Iskan wrote on his official website that the site sits on land owned by Jokowi's political rival Prabowo, who the president defeated in two successive elections in 2014 and 2019.
According to Dahlan, in the '70s, an American timber company named ITCI (International Timber Corporation Indonesia) had logging rights over the area's vast jungles. Prabowo then acquired concession rights to the area, which still has several active coal mines to this day.
Dahlan's claim was among many reports that have emerged about Prabowo's landholdings in East Kalimantan that have been dismissed by Gerindra spokesman Dahnil Azhar, who said that Prabowo's brother, Hashim Djojohadikusumo, actually owns the land.
Hashim, one of Asia's richest men, was a central figure in both of his brother's presidential campaigns and is currently the deputy chairman of Gerindra's central advisory board.
But, contradicting Dahnil's denial, Gerindra's Deputy Chairman Edhy Prabowo all but confirmed that both Prabowo and Hashim own land in East Kalimantan.
"Yes, in part. We don't know in detail exactly where. We don't know where [the site for the new capital city] is exactly on the map yet, where it is in Kutai Kartanegara and North Penajam Paser. We certainly have land in North Penajam Paser but we don't know specifically where [the capital] is," Edhy told reporters today, as quoted by CNN Indonesia.
Edhy then dismissed speculation that the choice for the location of the capital city was motivated by political dealings between President Jokowi's administration and Gerindra. "I don't think so. The president has a grander vision than that," he said.
The fact that Prabowo owns land in East Kalimantan came to national attention during a presidential debate between the former general and Jokowi in February. When talking about land distribution policies, Jokowi criticized Prabowo for his large landholdings in East Kalimantan, which measured 220,000 hectares, to which Prabowo replied that he only had cultivation rights over the land and that he would be willing to turn it over to the state for the greater good, saying, "Instead of foreigners managing the land, it's better that I manage it. Because I am an Indonesian, a nationalist and a patriot."
Referring back to that debate, Edhy said Prabowo will be true to his word and give up his land concession to the state for the capital city if needed.
Gerindra is still officially an opposition party to President Jokowi's administration. Although Gerindra has recently warmed up to PDI-P – of which Jokowi is a cadre – their long rivalry has created a huge political divide in Indonesia across two elections, most notably after this year's election, when Prabowo's initial refusal to accept defeat led to violent riots in Jakarta that killed eight in May.