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Indonesia's plan to move capital to Borneo faces election test

Benar News - January 26, 2024

Tria Dianti, Jakarta – Next month's presidential election in Indonesia will determine the fate of outgoing President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo's gargantuan dream project of moving the country's capital to Borneo from overcrowded Jakarta.

Presidential frontrunner Prabowo Subianto supports moving the capital but surveys weeks before the polls indicate he may not win outright, pushing the election to a runoff with either second-place candidate Anies Baswedan, a staunch critic of relocation, or Ganjar Pranowo, who favors it.

Anies, a former governor of Jakarta, has promised to review the project if he wins the Feb. 14 election, saying the government should focus on developing the existing cities across the archipelago.

His stance has resonated with some Indonesians. Bambang Eko Susilo, who lives on the outskirts of Jakarta, said he opposed the project from the start.

"It's not a priority and not an urgent project and it costs a lot of money," the 55-year-old told BenarNews about what is estimated to be a U.S. $33 billion project.

"It's better to use the money for something useful like basic education that prioritizes morals and character."

As the election draws closer, the capital's relocation – and its pros and cons – is being discussed more and more among the candidates and their supporters.

The government said in late December that the basic infrastructure construction was nearly 63% complete, keeping it to the deadline of a year-end finish. This includes facilities such as roads, dams, bridges and government buildings.

Jokowi's second and final term ends in October, because the constitution doesn't allow him to seek a third five-year term. But well before that, in August, his administration hopes to start moving some 1,800 civil servants to Nusantara, the name for the new capital.

The president's hope is that when he leaves office in October it will be with a lasting legacy – a new green capital on Borneo island that he hopes to inaugurate in August 2024 to coincide with Indonesia's Independence Day.

Officials at the Nusantara Capital Authority, which is tasked with planning and constructing the new capital, could not be reached immediately for comment.

Prabowo, who lost to Jokowi in the 2014 and 2019 elections, has teamed up with the president's eldest son, Gibran Rakabuming Raka, as his running mate.

He has not only pledged to continue the development of the new capital, called Nusantara, but also to incorporate it into a broader plan to build 10 "metaverse cities" across the country.

A member of Prabowo's campaign, Budiman Sudjatmiko, attempted to wax poetic about the plan at a digital meeting in November.

"Nine cities like nine planets, and the sun is the new capital as the super hub of the digital ecosystem," Budiman said.

He meant that the Prabowo campaign envisioned the 10 metaverse cities plan as akin to the solar system. That is, nine of the cities would be like planets, and the tenth, Nusantara, would be like the sun, around which the planets orbit.

Ganjar, a former Central Java governor, visited the new capital site last month, reiterating his pledge to continue with the project.

"I am a consistent person. I have never wavered in implementing the law," he said.

Ganjar was referring to the law parliament passed in January 2018 to move the national capital, which cleared the way for the construction of Nusantara.

Anies said building a new capital could wait.

"We'd say the new capital is a good idea, but does it have to be done now when there are other needs to fulfil," Anies said during a campaign stop in West Papua province earlier this month.

He cited the need to improve healthcare and education systems instead.

Just last week, Jokowi launched more projects in Nusantara including a logistics hub, a radio station, a mosque and a memorial park.

Some private sector projects have already held groundbreaking events in the new city, including a five-star hotel, an international school and a private hospital. Most of the investors in these projects are local conglomerates.

The deputy of financing and investment at the Nusantara Capital Authority, Agung Wicaksono, was quoted by local media recently as saying that the government had inaugurated projects with a total investment value of 41.4 trillion rupiah (U.S. $2.6 billion) as of the end of 2023.

The government has sought to reassure the public that the capital relocation project would proceed regardless of the electoral outcome, as it was backed by the 2022 law. For instance, following criticism of the project by Anies, Jokowi in November said his government was only following the law and the new capital was enshrined in law.

But foreign investment remains elusive for building a new city from scratch on a 256,000-hectare site.

Some analysts have said that the demand for the new city is still uncertain, because it depends on the availability and quality of the facilities and services there.

Yayat Supriyatna, an urban planning expert at Trisakti University, said the project would only attract businesses, investors and the public if it had a strong economy.

"The government and the business sector see things differently. The new capital should not just be a workplace for civil servants, but also a place that offers other services and amenities for the future residents," he told BenarNews.

However, he said he believed the next government would not change the course of the project, as it already had many investments.

An expert from an economic think-tank disagreed, though, saying the future of the new capital project was uncertain.

"If the project fails to meet the target in a certain time frame, it may be re-evaluated. It might become [East Kalimantan] province's [new] capital instead of the nation's," Tauhid Ahmad, the executive director of Indef, told BenarNews.

"I think [much of the] the private sector is waiting for the market. Not many are willing to go there, so the government should spend its budget first," he said.

Some Indonesians see the relocation as a necessary step to address the long-term challenges facing Jakarta, a megacity that experts say is sinking due to excessive groundwater extraction and the rise in sea level caused by climate change.

Jakarta resident Astri Lestari told BenarNews she was interested in moving to the new capital if all the facilities were in place there.

"Jakarta is no longer viable ecologically. It may take a long time until it finally sinks, but don't wait until it is too late to move," the 36-year-old told BenarNews.

"I will vote for the candidate who will continue the new capital [project]."

Source: https://www.benarnews.org/english/news/indonesian/election-willdetermine-new-capital-fate-01262024140057.htm