Life after Ahok: Jakarta’s change of guard
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Life after Ahok: Jakarta’s change of guard

INDONESIA’s capital Jakarta recorded massive economic growth of over six per cent year-on-year in the first quarter of 2017.

However, growth numbers aside, daily life in Jakarta remains a struggle for many.

The country’s most populous city is also notorious for bad traffic and is the world’s worst in terms of traffic congestion. No thanks to a substandard public transportation system, most of the city’s main arteries are clogged daily, with bumper-to-bumper crawls lasting late into the evening.

With a working budget of around US$5 billion, Jakarta’s incoming governor – Anies Baswedan – has a lot on his plate. Apart from trying to unite a city torn apart by religious tensions and deliver on all his campaign promises, top of his list will also be finding a solution to the city’s transportation woes.

Urban and Regional Development Institute (URDI) executive director Wahyu Mulyana believes dealing with Jakarta’s congestion problem is a matter of strategy.

“It depends on whether you deal with the problem at once and endure the bad traffic or chip on it slowly. It looks like (outgoing governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama) took the first option,” he said.

SEE ALSO: Indonesian diaspora rallies around jailed Jakarta governor Ahok

With the MRT project and other structural developments underway, Jakarta is currently one massive construction project … and this has only made daily traffic even more unbearable.

Among the list of megaprojects is the controversial plan to build six inner-city toll roads, an initiative that has been on the table since the days of Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s predecessor, Fauzi Bowo. The on-again, off-again project was budgeted at more than IDR40 trillion (US$3 billion).

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Jakarta is known as one of the world’s most congested cities. Source: Shutterstock/AsiaTravel

Firdaus Cahyadi, executive director of SatuDunia, an NGO focusing on knowledge management and capacity building, noted during his run for the Jakarta gubernatorial post, Jokowi had agreed the construction would only end up increasing the number of individual car users on the road.

“There was new hope after Jokowi’s election as governor in 2012,” Firdaus said. “But after Jokowi was elected as president, Ahok changed his tune.”

In 2012, Firdaus launched a petition on Change.org to stop the plan, arguing that the development would worsen Jakarta’s traffic problems.

SEE ALSO: Future of Ahok’s Jakarta Smart City program in question after jailing

Activists campaigning against the project were then invited to discuss the problem with then-governor Jokowi.

“Jokowi said he wanted to reject the plan, but it was the central government’s project, so he couldn’t do much about it,” Firdaus said

“Jokowi said the toll roads would only be built after all mass transport facilities are up and running. So if mass transport facilities can reduce congestion, then the toll roads may not be necessary.”

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Ahok looks on during the Peace Declaration ceremony for Wednesday election in Jakarta, Indonesia, on April 17, 2017. Source: Reuters/Beawiharta

As governor, Ahok was openly insistent on seeing the project through. He declared himself tough enough to take the criticism for embarking on megaprojects that would inconvenience Jakarta folk now but bring them benefits in the long run.

With the latest change in guard, however, the future of the project is now uncertain.

While on the campaign trail, Anies said he would reject the development. But whether he can deliver on that promise remains to be seen.

The inner-city toll road controversy is similar to the Jakarta Bay reclamation project.

The project is currently on hold and under evaluation, but the current administration plans to continue the project with the backing of the Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs.

“I think even if Anies-Sandi plans to stop the project, they cannot do it immediately,” Wahyu said, referring to deputy governor-elect  Sandiaga Uno.

Both the inner-city toll road and Jakarta Bay reclamation projects are enforced by presidential decrees as strategic national projects.

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

No more evictions

Ahok’s move to deal with Jakarta’s regular flooding, especially his use of forced evictions along Jakarta’s waterways and catchment areas had upset many.

His successor Anies, however, has promised there will be no more evictions.

“Ahok decided to focus on outputs instead of the process,” Wahyu said. “It is possible to relocate people without forced evictions. However, it takes time to assist people and persuade them to move.”

Firdaus believes the underlying causes of illegal land occupation have not been addressed and that the incoming Jakarta administrators would need to tackle this quickly.

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A street vendor wades through floodwaters in a flood-hit area at the Mangga Dua business district in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Feb 21, 2017. Source: Reuters/Beawiharta

“The government should develop other areas, so Jakarta can develop within its carrying capacity. The new governor needs to be selective with new investments,” he said.

In his three years as governor and two years as deputy governor before Jokowi became president, Ahok has quite a list of achievements to be proud of.

Some might say he almost singlehandedly transformed the face of nation’s capital, having even led the administration to bag four best governance awards from the National Planning Agency in 2016.

But his unceremonious removal from office shows there is still much to be done for Jakarta in the years to come.

For the city’s new governor, major problems such as transportation, land settlement and flood management must remain on top of the priority list.

“We should learn from the 2012 (previous election) – keep the pressure and not blindly support the new administration, otherwise (these problems) will be forgotten again,” Firdaus said.