Thu. May 30th, 2024

When Joko Widodo, popularly as Jokowi, was sworn in as Indonesia’s seventh President in 2014, optimism surrounding the state of democracy within the nation appeared at its peak. At a time when dynasties historically dominated Indonesia’s political area, the ascension of Jokowi, who was a carpenter and furnishings businessman earlier than changing into the governor of Jakarta, was hailed as a beacon of hope. 

Jokowi’s election virtually 10 years in the past represented “the peak of democracy in Indonesia,” Vishnu Juwono, affiliate professor in public governance on the College of Indonesia, tells TIME. “He was seen as an outsider, and he’s benefited from the democracy system.”

However because the curtains fall on Jokowi’s decade of rule, he could also be remembered extra for ushering in a brand new period of democratic decline. Even his capstone initiative, what was meant to be a sprawling monument to his legacy—the event of a brand new capital known as Nusantara, to interchange the prevailing capital in Jakarta starting as quickly as subsequent yr—seems to be to embody such a backsliding.

Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo speaks concerning the deliberate new capital Nusantara, at Ecosperity Week in Singapore on June 7, 2023. Edgar Su—Reuters

Because it was introduced in 2019, the bold undertaking to relocate Indonesia’s capital from the island of Java to the island of Borneo has been mired in skepticism and criticism—from insufficient public session to land disputes with indigenous communities to issues about Chinese language funding that critics say is making Nusantara a “New Beijing.” However a extra insidious implication, observers warning, is the undemocratic nature that the brand new capital, tucked lots of of miles away from Jakarta and set to function with out elected native leaders, will carry to the fore of what’s at the moment the world’s third largest democracy.


Whereas Indonesia’s present capital, which homes 10.5 million of the nation’s 278 million folks, could be the epicenter of the Southeast Asian nation’s financial exercise, over the many years it has turn out to be more and more uninhabitable. Jakarta residents commonly battle heavy site visitors congestion, widespread flooding, and unsafe air pollution—the metropolis was earlier this yr ranked because the world’s most polluted metropolis when thick smog shrouded its residents. Town can be sinking at an alarming fee, with some forecasters estimating {that a} third of its land could possibly be submerged by 2050.

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As Indonesian authorities proceed to search for methods to save lots of the prevailing capital, a province some 800 miles away provides a clear slate devoid of Jakarta’s woes. It’s on the luxurious hilly panorama of East Kalimantan that authorities determined to construct the brand new nationwide capital of Nusantara from scratch—hailed not simply as an answer to Jakarta’s congestion and sustainability disaster but in addition as an important subsequent step in Indonesia’s improvement.

A truck unloads waste as cranes transfer extra waste as much as a better stage on the Bantar Gebang landfill, which is the scale of 200 soccer pitches and receives 7,500 tonnes of Jakarta’s waste day-after-day, in Bekasi, on the outskirts of the capital, Sept. 14, 2023. Yasuyoshi Chiba—AFP/Getty ImagesMorning commuters exit a prepare station in Jakarta on Aug. 22, 2023. Town, which is house to greater than 10 million folks, has suffered air air pollution at such unhealthy ranges that it was not too long ago ranked by IQAir because the worlds most polluted metropolis. Muhammad Fadli—Bloomberg/Getty Pictures

“Once we agree to maneuver ahead as a complicated nation, the primary query that must be answered is whether or not sooner or later, Jakarta because the capital metropolis is ready to bear the burden as the middle of presidency and public providers in addition to heart of enterprise,” Jokowi mentioned in 2019 as he reignited dormant plans to relocate the federal government. 

However what Nusantara represents just isn’t a lot an answer as a distraction, civil society teams and lecturers argue. Native authorities have lengthy dragged their toes on addressing Jakarta’s city environmental points—even a court docket ruling in 2021, which discovered Jokowi and different senior officers responsible of negligence for town’s air air pollution, has finished little to set off reforms. 

“It displays actually an escape plan of the failure of successive administrations in Jakarta to tackle and handle the issues of Jakarta,” Ian Wilson, a senior lecturer specializing in Indonesian politics at Australia’s Murdoch College, tells TIME. “The issues of Jakarta will stay, no matter Nusantara. It’s fairly disingenuous, I feel, to recommend that Nusantara will assist clear up Jakarta’s issues. It is going to solely clear up them insofar as politicians will not really feel any obligation to cope with them and even to talk to them.”


However Nusantara doesn’t simply signify an avoidance of coping with Jakarta’s troubles. It additionally seems to be set to additional detach the nation’s seat of presidency from its heart of civic society, distancing decisionmakers from dissent. Jakarta has lengthy been a stage for among the most necessary moments of Indonesian politics: student-led protests led to the autumn of authoritarian chief Suharto in 1998; in 2016 and 2017, amid rising spiritual conservatism, Islamist protests towards Jakarta’s then-Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama noticed him jailed for 2 years for blasphemy; and in 2020, protests towards an omnibus regulation on job creation that many staff feared would curtail their labor rights led to the Constitutional Court docket ordering the federal government to amend components of the laws.

ndonesian college students conflict with riot police throughout an anti-government demonstration on the gate of Sahid College in Jakarta in April 1998.Kemal Jufri—AFP/Getty ImagesProtesters and police conflict throughout an indication towards the Omnibus Legislation on Job Creation in Jakarta on Oct. 8, 2020. Eko Siswono Toyudho—Anadolu/Getty Pictures

Comparable initiatives in different components of the world present a glimpse into how new administrative capitals, constructed ostensibly to alleviate clogged cities of their inhabitants burdens, can come on the detriment of public participation and protest. Critics have claimed that Naypyidaw, Myanmar’s notoriously desolate administrative capital unveiled in 2005 by its army regime, serves to protect the nation’s army leaders from uprisings. Equally, observers say that in Egypt, the New Administrative Capital, helmed by President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and that has been below development since 2015, is designed to profit the army and the military-aligned authorities, partially by diminishing the importance of conventional protest spots in Cairo.

“[These] new capital cities are constructed as pet initiatives of a selected administration, but in addition contain a strategy of disentangling authorities from broader civil society,” says Wilson. “I feel it’s very tough to not see Nusantara in these phrases, once we see the broader evaluation of the final 10 years of the Jokowi administration, which has seen an actual democratic decline.”

As for Nusantara—the place 16,000 Indonesian civil servants, members of the army, and law enforcement officials are because of transfer in subsequent yr and there are plans for an eventual inhabitants of 1.9 million by 2045—how the brand new capital metropolis itself is ready to be run has already raised issues amongst native observers. In contrast to the remainder of the nation, which is ruled by elected mayors or governors, Nusantara might be ruled by a Capital Metropolis Authority helmed by chairpersons appointed by the President.

Ecosperity Week attendees view a presentation on Indonesia’s deliberate capital Nusantara, in Singapore on June 7, 2023.Edgar Su—Reuters

“When you will have this authority that runs town and by some means it’s not related to all these individuals who stay in that metropolis, the notion of residents doesn’t make sense,” Sulfikar Amir, an affiliate professor of sociology at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological College, tells TIME. He provides that Nusantara, the way in which it has at the moment been designed, could have “solely tenants and customers, not residents.”

Nusantara, says Sulfikar, “doesn’t actually signify the democratic system that’s purported to be the muse of our metropolis governance throughout the nation.” He says he worries, nonetheless, that “the central authorities will consider that it is a good system that needs to be carried out throughout cities in Indonesia.”


Recognized for his laser give attention to financial development, Jokowi has delivered the outcomes. However below his management, Indonesia has additionally seen elevated on-line censorship and a crackdown on critics, in addition to legislative modifications that critics say infringe on democratic values—such because the passage of a controversial legal code final yr that criminalized unauthorized protests or criticisms of the President.

Jokowi has additionally unabashedly begun fashioning his personal political dynasty, having put in his relations in key state positions over the past a number of years. Final month, his 28-year-old son Kaesang Pangarep was named the chairman of the Indonesian Solidarity Social gathering, a youth social gathering, regardless of having no political expertise. In the meantime, Bobby Nasution, the President’s son-in-law, grew to become the mayor of Medan in 2020—the identical yr that Gibran Rakabuming Raka, Jokowi’s eldest son, grew to become the mayor of Surakarta. And simply this week, Gibran was introduced because the operating mate to protection minister and main presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto, after the Constitutional Court docket—which occurs to be headed by Anwar Usman, the President’s brother-in-law—controversially dominated that 36-year-old Gibran was eligible to hitch the presidential ticket regardless of the statutory age requirement of 40.

Moreover, out of the three presidential candidates operating to succeed Jokowi, solely former Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan has vocalized doubts about Nusantara. Whereas Jokowi has remained tight-lipped about who he’s endorsing, his legacy will doubtless, in response to present polls, be shouldered by his son Gibran and—maybe extra concerningly—Prabowo.

A former army commander, who for 20 years had been condemned internationally for rights violations, Prabowo twice unsuccessfully campaigned towards Jokowi for the presidency in 2014 and 2019, earlier than Jokowi helped rehabilitate his picture by appointing him to his cupboard. Lengthy recognized for his vehement opposition to democratic reforms within the nation, Prabowo’s ascension, observers fear, might end in a fair sharper centralization of energy and switch towards authoritarianism for the nation.

To make sure, Jokowi has maintained his recognition all through all these maneuvers, boasting an 82% approval ranking earlier this yr. But when the beginning of his presidency heralded excessive hopes for Indonesian democracy, the top of it—marked by a swanky new capital and the paving of the trail for Prabowo to doubtlessly rule from it—has largely dampened any optimism concerning the course wherein Indonesia’s democracy is headed.

A development website at Nusantara, the place Indonesia is providing higher tax cuts and looser phrases for land acquisitions because it struggles to draw traders to its $33 billion new capital undertaking, in East Kalimantan province, on Mar. 8, 2023.Rony Zakaria—Bloomberg/Getty Pictures

“Indonesia continues to be a functioning democracy, that is indubitably,” says Wilson. “However nonetheless, there have been very robust, autocratic traits, and I feel Nusantara must be understood inside that context.”

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