Where Indonesia’s Presidential Candidates Stand On the New Capital Project

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Where Indonesia’s Presidential Candidates Stand On the New Capital Project

President Joko Widodo’s new capital is struggling to attract foreign investors. Will it survive beyond next year’s election?

Where Indonesia’s Presidential Candidates Stand On the New Capital Project

Supporters of Indonesian presidential candidate Anies Baswedan show their support during a campaign event in Medan, North Sumatra, Indonesia, December 3, 2023.

Credit: Facebook/Anies Baswedan

The future of Indonesia’s new capital stands as one of the pivotal policy questions ahead of the upcoming 2024 elections in Indonesia. Launched during President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s administration, this ambitious megaplan seeks to create Nusantara, a new capital city, from scratch on the island of Borneo, at a cost of 466 trillion rupiah (nearly $30 billion) by 2045. The asserted primary objective of the Ibu Kota Negara Nusantara project, or IKN for short, as it is officially known, is to create a new and more geographically central hub for Indonesia and drive the nation’s economic transformation. As Jokowi recently stated, “IKN already operates under the constitution; our objective is not to centralize Indonesia around Java but to make it Indonesia-centric.”

However, given its close association with Jokowi, and its struggle to attract foreign investment, the question has arisen as to whether Indonesia’s future leaders will continue to see the project through to its completion.

The future of the project is clearly an important issue in the upcoming election. In their official vision and mission document, the current presidential frontrunner, Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto, and his vice-presidential running-mate Gibran Rakabuming Raka have expressed a commitment to advancing economic equality, reinforcing micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs), and contributing to the development of the new capital city.

Erwin Aksa, a representative from the Prabowo-Gibran ticket, has put forth the vision that by 2045, IKN will be home to 1.9 million people. Aksa envisions the IKN project becoming the “soul” or “symbol” of a new Indonesia: a green, modern city and the center of what he terms a “new civilization.” He has also emphasized the incorporation of AI technology into IKN’s development. Ahmad Muzani, the secretary-general of Prabowo’s party Gerindra, also affirmed that the former general is resolute in his determination to push forward with the development of IKN. Irwan Fecho, the official spokesperson from Prabowo’s Indonesia Maju coalition, has mentioned that under a Prabowo administration, we can anticipate the functionality of IKN, including the completion of certain administrative offices such as the presidential office, as soon as next year.

In an interview, Gibran, Jokowi’s eldest son, shared his perspective on the term cawe-cawe, a Javanese expression with a literal meaning of “intervention,” which is actively used in Indonesia’s current political discourse. He emphasized the significance of “cawe-cawe,” stating that it mirrors Jokowi’s concern for the smooth continuity of his ongoing projects. Under Prabowo-Gibran, then, it appears that there may not be substantial changes to the IKN project. I argue that by capitalizing on Prabowo’s international charisma, there is a likelihood that they will persist in the strategy introduced by Jokowi, actively promoting IKN to a global audience. This approach may open the door to attracting additional external investors to contribute to the project.

Similarly, former Central Java Governor Ganjar Pranowo and his vice-presidential running-mate Mahfud MD have gone all-in on fast-tracking the IKN project – perhaps unsurprisingly, given that Ganjar is the candidate of the ruling Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle. In their official manifesto, they stated their commitment to gradually developing IKN until it becomes not just a symbol of the future for Indonesia but also a fresh starting point for fair and balanced development.

Tama S. Langkun, a spokesperson for the Ganjar-Mahfud campaign, underscored the firm commitment of the pair to proceed with the IKN plan, emphasizing that it is governed by the constitution and has garnered support from eight political factions. He said that Ganjar’s mission was to double the state budget, enabling more funds for infrastructure development, and emphasized the critical role of foreign investment in achieving these goals.

Langkun also asserted firmly that the IKN project is backed by robust academic research, taking into account the density created by Jakarta’s dual role as Indonesia’s capital and the center of regional government. However, it is also important to note that during his recent appearance in an open dialogue held by Muhammadiyah at Muhammadiyah University Jakarta,  Mahfud MD stressed that the IKN project might undergo reevaluation and revision as time goes by. Given Ganjar-Mahfud’s commitment to continuing the IKN project with possibilities for review, I assert that there is still room for open discussions regarding the project’s continuation, even though the PDI-P appears quite forthright in its support for the project. The likelihood of this pair abandoning the IKN project is minimal, but not entirely impossible, as Mahfud appears open to discussions.

In contrast to his two rivals, the third presidential candidate, ex-Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan, has taken a distinctly different perspective on IKN. In one of his recent speeches, Anies emphasized, “What Indonesia needs now is inclusive growth and equitable development, where development is not concentrated in one location but spread across multiple areas.”

In a recent statement, Thomas Lembong, a spokesperson for Anies and his vice-presidential partner Muhaimin Iskandar, underscored their distinctive stance on IKN. Lembong emphasized that if the objective is equitable development, the focus should extend beyond Kalimantan to encompass the entirety of Indonesia. The goal of the Anies-Muhaimin team is to foster development in at least 14 major cities across the nation. Lembong did not outright reject the continuity of IKN; instead, he articulated that any continuation would be contingent on data, facts, and research, shaped through collaboration and discussions with technocrats.

Sulfikar Amir, as the spokesperson for the campaign, stressed the high-risk nature of the IKN project, citing elements of uncertainty, vulnerability, and potential errors. He highlighted the magnitude of the project’s cost, expressing concerns that the 466 trillion rupiah price-tag could potentially multiply by two or three times by the time of the project’s completion. Amir also highlighted the need for technocratic possibilities to review the continuation of IKN, emphasizing that it doesn’t necessarily have to be completed entirely or abruptly abandoned.

Under a possible Anies presidency, the abandonment of IKN seems highly probable, whether it happens abruptly or gradually. In various discussions with young voters, Anies has consistently stressed the presence of alternative priorities. Unlike with the two other candidates, Anies-Muhaimin’s manifesto contains no emphasis on the continuation of IKN. There is a significant likelihood that IKN will be abandoned, and the government under Anies-Muhaimin is poised to pursue the implementation of their own 14 cities development plan.

Whether to continue the costly IKN project, and how much emphasis to put on it, stands out as a pivotal policy that demands further analysis, particularly in the context of the current political climate. I argue that it is crucial to thoroughly assess the practical elements within the visions of IKN as it aspires to become a “futuristic” city. This review should be conducted collaboratively by the incoming government, academics, and the Indonesian public. It is imperative to meticulously review both the risks and opportunities associated with foreign investment. Additionally, a comprehensive analysis of potential ecological issues that may arise or require addressing is essential. The question also arises concerning whether the people will be able to enjoy the positive outcomes of the project or if Indonesia might really have more urgent priorities, encompassing economic, political, and defense considerations.

A mega infrastructure project presents two distinct possibilities: the potential for wasted funds if abandoned entirely, with the project already underway, or the risk of a failed city, especially given the ongoing challenges of the government to attract the investment necessary to make this hub of the “new Indonesia” a reality.