Jakarta scoffs at plans to move capital 

Indonesia’s long-running debate about moving its capital has been reinvigorated by President Joko Widodo, who has approved a plan to abandon sinking Jakarta.

Widodo and his cabinet decided to move the capital away from Java, said Planning Minister Bambang Brodjonegoro. 

The island has about 60 per cent of Indonesia’s population of roughly 250 million while making up just 7 per cent of its territory.

Moving the capital from the island of Java would help to address a longstanding Indonesian complaint about the island’s hegemony over the archipelago’s post-independence affairs.

The president, who claimed victory in this month’s election, must wait three weeks for the official results.  

Three new locations are being discussed while there is talk of the capital remaining in Jakarta, one of the fastest-sinking capitals in the world, and relocating the government buildings to a special region around the presidential palace.

Indonesia’s first president, Sukarno, first suggested moving the capital in 1957 and it has been brought up by several presidents since.

The site for a possible new capital has not been announced out of fears it would cause property prices to skyrocket. But sleepy Palangkaraya (pictured) on Borneo is rumoured as the location. Brodjonegoro said eastern Indonesia was favoured.

“Brazil moved from Rio de Janeiro to Brasilia near the Amazon, and look at Canberra — it’s built between Sydney and Melbourne — and Kazakhstan moved its capital to closer to the centre of the country and also Myanmar moved to Nay Pyi Taw,” the minister said.

Many in Jakarta, which is home to 10 million people, are unconvinced the plan will be followed through.

“People have heard this before but it is just getting more frequent now, it’s now every two to five years. It’s just really distracting,” said Elisa Sutanudjaja of the Rujak Centre for Urban Studies.

“You don’t solve a problem by just moving it away,” Sutanudjaja added. “Jakarta is quite similar to Tokyo in the 1960s, with its land subsidence, flooding, natural disasters and overcrowding. If you really want to solve the problem then they should tackle it, not just move it.”

Myanmar moved its capital from Yangon to Nay Pyi Taw in 2005 and Egypt is currently building a new capital in the desert to replace Cairo.

“This is a big job, impossible to take just one year. It could take up to 10 years,” the minister said.

Prone to flooding and rapidly sinking from excessive groundwater extraction, Jakarta is heavily overpopulated and choked with traffic. 

Only 4 per cent of Jakarta’s wastewater is treated, according to the authorities, polluting rivers and contaminating the groundwater supplies. Some of the world’s worst congestion has been estimated to cost the Indonesian economy US$6.5 billion per year.


Palangkaraya on Borneo. Picture credit: Wikimedia