Many rolled their eyes late last month when Indonesia’s Government yet again declared its intention to move the national capital.
- Mr Widodo has inspected a number of possible sites in Kalimantan on the island of Borneo
- Countries like Malaysia, South Korea and Egypt have embarked on similar projects
- Experts say moving a capital city is ‘possible and feasible’ but could also go very wrong
The idea was first proposed by the country’s founding father Sukarno in the 1950s and has been put toward a few times since, including under President Joko Widodo’s predecessor, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
“But it has never been decided or discussed in a planned and mature manner,” Mr Widodo recently explained.
Sceptics speculated that it was likely a ploy to distract from the fallout of the recent presidential election in which both Mr Widodo and his opponent Prabowo Subianto claimed victory.
But just a week after Mr Widodo’s announcement, he appeared to be putting his money where his mouth is.
Mr Widodo has now ordered the cabinet to develop a finance plan for the relocation, which reportedly could cost up to $US33 billion ($47.3 billion) and take up to 10 years to complete.
But why does Indonesia want a new capital city? Could it logistically and financially pull it off? And how has such an endeavour fared for other countries who have tried to do the same in the past?
Why does Indonesia want to move its capital city?
Jakarta has a population of more than 10 million people and is world-renowned for its struggle with pollution and traffic congestion, which is estimated to cost the economy some 100 trillion rupiah ($10 billion) annually.
Ground water drilling for drinking and the weight of its skyscrapers also mean the city is sinking at an alarming rate.
Modelling from researchers at the Bandung Institute of Technology has shown that 95 per cent of northern Jakarta could be under water by 2050.
The city’s low-laying nature also makes Jakarta chronically prone to regular flooding during the annual tropical wet season — a problem that consecutive governors have failed to solve.
In a Facebook post published late last month, Mr Widodo outlined Jakarta’s woes and invited Indonesians to suggest alternative locations for the capital.
“Jakarta currently carries two burdens at once: being the centre of government and civil services, as well as being the business centre,” he wrote.
“In the future, will this city still be able to carry that burden?”
Where will the new proposed city be and why?
The proposal is not only to move the capital outside of Jakarta, but off the island of Java altogether.
Earlier this week, Mr Widodo inspected a number of possible sites in Kalimantan on the island of Borneo.
An obscure capital city of fewer than 250,000 people in Central Kalimantan, Palangkaraya was initially proposed as a capital by President Sukarno in 1957 — on Wednesday, Mr Widodo went to Palangkaraya to inspect the site.
His official Instagram account later posted a video of Mr Widodo flying over Kalimantan in a helicopter with the caption: “reviewing the readiness of one potential new national capital in the middle of Borneo”.
According to a statement from the Indonesian cabinet this week, the new capital needs to meet certain criteria.
One is that the city must be strategically located in the centre of Indonesia, another is that the area must be large enough and free from the threat of natural disasters.
Indonesia is one of the most disaster-prone nations on earth — its archipelagic nature, and as the meeting point of numerous tectonic plates, makes it vulnerable to earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and tsunamis.
Despite the natural resource riches of its outer regions, Indonesia’s wealth and power has historically been concentrated in Java which is home to 60 per cent of the nation’s 260 million people, and the world’s most populated island.
Which other countries have tried moving their capital?
Associate professor Wendy Steele of the Centre for Urban Research at RMIT University told the ABC that relocating capital cities was not an impossible idea and had been discussed and done many times by various countries over the past decade.
“Indonesia would not be the first to do this, so it is certainly possible and feasible,” she said.
Mr Widodo also recently said that many countries have pondered and anticipated the direction of their nation’s future development by moving the national capital city.
He pointed to examples including South Korea, Brazil, Kazakhstan, and neighbouring Malaysia, which moved its administrative capital from Kuala Lumpur to the planned city of Putrajaya in 1999.
With nearly 40 per cent of the land earmarked as green spaces and having ambitions of becoming a smart city, Putrajaya draws comparisons to Canberra and could potentially offer a model for Indonesia.
That said, Putrajaya is only a 40 kilometre drive from Kuala Lumpur, foreign embassies and several ministries remain in Kuala Lumpur — in comparison, Palangkaraya is more than 1,000 kilometres from Jakarta.
What could possibly go wrong relocating the capital?
Naypyidaw, the modern capital of Myanmar since 2005, is one example critics cite of a capital city relocation gone wrong.
While official statistics claim Naypyidaw is home to 924,000 people, its empty highways tell a different story.
Historical capital Yangon remains the bustling economic capital, while many who have visited Naypyidaw describe it as a “ghost city”.
“Cities are both the built environment and the experience of citizens,” Ms Steele explained.
“The best design may not generate a vibrant city culture.
“Think of Canberra for example — whether it’s best practice or a white elephant depends on who you ask and what criteria you are applying.”
Another example is Egypt, where in 2015 the Government announced it would endeavour to replace the historic-yet-overpopulated capital city of Cairo with a new smart city boasting vast green landscapes.
The new capital is being located in an undeveloped area out in the desert some 40 kilometres east of Cairo, with the Government maintaining the $US45 billion ($65 billion) could be completed as soon as this year despite the country’s struggling economy.
However, as a significant portion of Cairo’s economy remains informal as well as the country’s only water resource being the river Nile which runs through Cairo, critics maintain that the project is likely to be an extravagant pipe dream that may never materialise.
Is it feasible for Indonesia to move its capital?
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Indonesian President gives green light to capital relocationABC NEWS
Indonesia’s cabinet claims that moving the capital outside of Java will make the country’s economic development more “Indonesia-centric”.
But despite the apparent fast-tracking of the Government’s plans, Mr Widodo has openly admitted that the moving process will not be quick nor cheap.
“It requires stability, champions, resources and support,” Ms Steele said.
One Jakarta-based urban economist, who asked not to be named, told the ABC that “moving capital cities generally carries massive hidden costs, has little impact on the congestion or growth rate of the original city, and historically takes 50 to 150 years to establish a fiscally viable municipality”.
Indonesia’s Planning Minister Bambang Brodjonegoro said this week that the new capital must have abundant water resources, be free from pollution and other environmental issues, and be a place where the locals have a welcoming attitude towards domestic migrants.
But given Indonesia’s budgetary constraints, challenges with the natural environment, and history of civil conflict, observers say that Indonesians might have to wait for quite a while for a relocation to feasibly eventuate.