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Indonesian presidential candidate rejects new capital Nusantara

JAKARTA (ANN/THE STRAITS TIMES) – Indonesian presidential candidate Anies Baswedan has shot down the idea of moving the country’s administrative capital from Jakarta to Nusantara, saying this will create “new inequality” among different regions.

“What is needed in Indonesia today is equitable growth where development is carried out not just in one location, but also in many locations,” he said on November 26.

“This is our vision and we (in the coalition) are all preparing a programme structure to be able to encourage villages to develop – small towns to become medium, medium ones to become large throughout Indonesia.”

“Don’t let us build only in one location, which actually creates new inequality,” Mr Anies said, adding that the budget allocated to one location must be replicated in others too.

Portrait of Indonesian presidential candidate Anies Baswedan. PHOTO: ANN/STRAITS TIMES

He was responding to a journalist who sought his thoughts on a statement by Islam-based opposition Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) – one of the parties supporting his presidential bid – which rejected the plan to shift the capital.

PKS president Ahmad Syaikhu said at the party’s national working meeting on Nov 26 that Jakarta should be retained as the national capital, and Nusantara can instead become the centre of economic growth when it is completed.

Another party supporting Mr Anies, the National Awakening Party (PKB), is taking a wait-and-see approach.

Its vice-chairman Jazilul Fawaid said PKB wants to see how the coalition parties fare in the upcoming elections, according to the Kompas national newspaper.

On Mr Anies and his running mate Muhaimin Iskandar, Mr Jazilul said: “We want to have them win the election first so they can make the best decision (on the capital project).”

President Joko Widodo announced in 2019 the development of the new capital city in East Kalimantan, on Indonesia’s half of Borneo island, arguing that Jakarta was congested and sinking. The plan is for Nusantara to be the centre of government, while Jakarta will remain the country’s business and economic centre.

Mr Widodo hopes to officially launch Nusantara as the capital on Aug 17, 2024, to mark the country’s independence day. But the ambitious legacy project, which costs a whopping IDR466.9 trillion (SGD40.3 billion), has been hit by delays due to the Covid-19 pandemic and investor uncertainty over whether his successor will continue the project.

At a public event in March 2023, Mr Anies had expressed his commitment to deliver the project, saying the new capital was “not only an idea”, but had become a law and “our vow is to implement the law”.

Under a law passed by the Parliament on January 18, 2022, it is mandatory for whoever wins the presidency to see through the development of the project.

But as campaigning goes into full swing ahead of the presidential and legislative elections on February 14, 2024, Mr Anies is singing a different tune.

The former Jakarta governor also voiced his objection to the project at a university dialogue on November 22.

Analysts say Mr Anies had waited for Indonesia’s General Elections Commission to officially name him a presidential candidate on November 14 before making his true opinion clear.

In Indonesian politics, alliances are fluid and subject to change, so making such controversial statements earlier might have scuttled his chances of candidacy.

Dr Athiqah Nur Alami, a political analyst from the National Research and Innovation Agency, said Mr Anies has echoed the views of critics, particularly observers of urban and environmental studies and civil society groups, who had earlier questioned the viability of the project.

“The development of Nusantara is still a big question mark in terms of whether it is equitable to other regions in Indonesia, and also surrounding areas around Nusantara, namely the cities of Balikpapan and Samarinda,” she told The Straits Times.

Dr Athiqah did not rule out the possibility that future unsupportive presidents could ditch the project.

Even though there is a law to ensure that the project is carried out, “it’s still possible” to revise the law, she noted.

“Whether it will be revised or not depends on the composition of political power in the future Parliament,” she said.

Dr Tauhid Ahmad, executive director of the Institute for Development of Economics and Finance, had told ST in July that Mr Widodo’s successor could issue emergency regulations, known as Perppu, to overrule or modify existing laws.

Recent presidential candidate popularity polls had ranked Mr Anies third, behind Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto and Mr Ganjar Pranowo, who is former Central Java governor.

Whether Mr Anies’ objection could sway voters remains to be seen, but Dr Athiqah said “it will definitely be on investors’ minds”.

Mr Widodo had hoped to rely mainly on private funding to develop the new capital, with the remaining 20 per cent paid for from state coffers.

In a statement on November 16, the President said the government has yet to secure any foreign investments for the project, but remains optimistic that it will do so once more local investors make the move.

A consortium of companies in Indonesia, including Adaro Group and Astra International, have invested about 20 trillion rupiah in Nusantara.