Forced evictions a major issue as Jakarta goes to run-off election
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Forced evictions a major issue as Jakarta goes to run-off election

“ONE of our targets in 2017 is to relocate at least 20,000 households living along the riverbanks,” declared Jakarta’s Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama last May.

Although accompanied by the construction of low-cost apartments known as rusunawa, the Ahok administration’s strident push for relocation and in many cases forced eviction of massive numbers of slum dwellers in Jakarta has, perhaps unsurprisingly, proven highly controversial.

The government says the relocation programmes help to reduce the threat of floods and their potentially deadly impact upon those who live near waterways. Critics, however, argue the primary motivation is to clear low-income Jakartans out of the city to make way for wealthy developers.

With the people of Jakarta set to return to the polls in April, forced evictions of low-income residents may prove a decisive factor in whether the incumbent is re-elected.

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People gather near their houses at a slum area at the Ciliwung river bank at Jatinegara district. Source: Reuters

Anti-Ahok sentiment not just about religion

The period of Ahok’s leadership has been marred by the most high-profile blasphemy case in Indonesia’s history. The first non-Muslim governor of Jakarta in 50 years, Ahok stands on trial for allegedly insulting the Quran.

Recent weeks have seen police battling to remove highly provocative anti-Ahok banners from across Jakarta. Some mosques have even claimed to deny last rites to deceased Muslims who supported the governor.

But rights groups are opposing the incumbent for very different reasons.

SEE ALSO: Indonesia: Jokowi urges tolerance as hardliners fire up for run-off election

Human rights advocates claim forced evictions carried out under the governor’s leadership violate the UN International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which Indonesia ratified in 2005.

The Jakarta Legal Aid Institute (LBH Jakarta) is defending many “victims” of forced evictions, and claims Ahok’s administration is acting unconstitutionally.

Residents of Kampung Akuarium in North Jakarta, who had previously supported Ahok and President Jokowi, were only provided 11 days’ notice that their homes would be bulldozed in April 2016.

In some cases, such as for residents of Penjaringan, also in North Jakarta, Ahok’s administration has not even provided letters of notice prior to eviction.

Human Rights Lawyer at LBH Jakarta Alldo Fellix Januardy told Asian Correspondent his organisation advocates “more ecologically and socially friendly” approaches, such as the Kampung Deret or village renovation scheme which was offered to slum-dwellers when Jokowi was governor.

But Ahok has remained intransigent, claiming evictions are necessary to fulfil his election promise of solving flood problems in Jakarta.

Dr Ian Wilson, politics lecturer and Research Fellow at the Asia Research Centre at Murdoch University, told Asian Correspondent many voters are put off by the incumbent’s “aggressive evictions regime” and his “equally aggressive and alienating rhetoric.”

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Ahok during a ‘blusukan’ spontaneous campaign visit in Jakarta. Source: Twitter @basuki_btp

Providing a “new life” or forcing out the poor?

Forced evictions by the Jakarta provincial government have been occurring for many years prior to the leadership of Ahok.

According to a 2015 report, 3,200 people were subjected to forced evictions between 2007 and 2012.

Moreover, the capital is hardly unique in the implementation of forced evictions as part of its development agenda, with other Indonesian cities such as Makassar removing residents in 2004 and Surabaya expelling 380 households in 2009.

The scale of evictions under Ahok is, however, unprecedented. More than 3,000 people were moved from Kalijodo alone in early 2016, while LBH Jakarta says 8145 households and 6283 small businesses were forcibly relocated during 2015.

Jakarta’s administration has pledged to build and provide some 20,000 apartments in 39 locations to those removed from their kampung (urban villages) as part of the relocation push.

Families who have lived in slum areas of Jakarta for generations are against moving, even to government-subsidised affordable housing, because they stand to lose their livelihoods. These usually take the form of small business or informal employment that relies on a tight-knit kampung community.

Apartments constructed for former kampung-dwellers are often more than 20km away. In traffic-clogged Jakarta, that potentially puts people hours away from their previous area, making it impossible to continue with previous employment.

The administration has provided low-interest loans and vocational training to ease the process of relocation. The image below, tweeted by a pro-Ahok activist, showcases batik workshops provided to residents of a rusunawa.

Ahok’s administration points to amenities provided to residents such as free commuter and school buses, public libraries and greenspace, and onsite services such as branches of Indonesia’s social security system Badan Penyelenggara Jaminan Sosial (BPJS).

Nevertheless, Januardy says 72 percent of evictees did not receive proper compensation, so the low-rent apartment units are only being occupied by a small number of those relocated from the kampung. Moreover, he claims the rusunawa “fail to [meet] the basic needs of the evictees.”

The city’s administration is already owed almost IDR1.4 billion (USD$100,000) in unpaid rent from tenants, as reported by Kompas, likely reflecting the lost livelihoods of tenants post-relocation.

No more tears

A slick public relations campaign by the Ahok camp, promoting the “new life” in rusunawa where the residents’ “terror” of floods was over, has not been enough to convince the displaced themselves.

While a slim majority of Jakarta’s voters may have voted for Ahok, most slum dwellers evicted by the governor in the newly-built apartment complexes voted overwhelmingly for his opponents Anies Baswedan and Sandiaga Uno.

Ahok’s opponents continue to capitalise on the discontent of thousands evicted or at threat of eviction by the governor’s policies. A further 300 sites are earmarked for evictions or relocations of some kind, so slum residents have much to lose if the incumbent is re-elected.

“Anies and I will not evict residents forcefully from their homes,” said Sandi during a visit to a kampung in West Jakarta earlier this month.

“We’ll sit together to hear what solutions they want the most. No more tears.”

Murdoch University’s Wilson, however, says “it’s hard to imagine however there will be a fundamental shift in the recognition of rights of the poor and working class, regardless of the electoral outcome.”

“What we are seeing is a contestation between different elite cliques,” he says.

Sandiaga Uno was recognised as one of Indonesia’s richest men by Forbes magazine. What’s more, the Anies camp is backed by the conservative, pro-business Gerindra Party.

Wilson predicts if Anies-Sandi are victorious, they may use neighbourhoods like Kampung Akuarium as a showcase of their “pro-poor” stance, however “in other parts of the city it will be largely business as usual.”

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Anies speaks during an interview at his home in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Feb 21, 2017. Source: Reuters/Fatima El-Kareem

What will Jakarta vote for (again)?

As the candidates are amidst six weeks of campaigning in the lead-up to the run-off election, groups such as the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) are urging Muslim voters to crowd polling stations on election day to ensure other Muslims do not vote for the incumbent.

Dr Wilson says the FPI has effectively “capture[d] the disappointment, anger and anxiety of many residents” and has channelled it into the politics they’ve long practised – now trying to position themselves as the “voice of the Umat”, the Islamic community.

Ahok’s campaign, meanwhile, is promoting itself as inclusive, tolerant and modern, focusing on online engagement with voters in the lead-up to April 19.

SEE ALSO: Xenophobia rears its ugly head on the streets of Jakarta

“Jakarta belongs to us all. It doesn’t matter your culture or religion, whether you’re young or old, everyone has the same rights,” says one campaign video released on Instagram.

But Wilson says this tactic is likely to backfire, as kampung residents may see politicians as more concerned with the rights of minority elites than the social and economic wellbeing of an “imagined majority.”

Anies’ focus on appealing to slum dwellers and conservative Muslims could well prove a winning combination.

“Anies has made sure he heard the voices of the victims of forced evictions who were mainly Muslim,” said senior Gerindra official Arif Poyuono of Anies’ success in the February poll.

There is less than a month to go. With religious tension riding high, ongoing forced evictions may yet determine the outcome.