“This is a way to … shake things up, to say, ‘I am actually in charge and I can [realize] these kinds of big visions for the county.’”


“[O]nly part of this [plan] is environmental,” says Kian Goh, an assistant professor of planning at UCLA, who studies the urban politics and environmental issues of Jakarta. “Indonesia is an incredibly sprawling country across thousands of islands, and moving the capital away from the busiest and most economically driving island may well be both a business decision to open up new avenues for investment in other places, and also a means of political control.”

There is still political uncertainty, Goh points out, since Subianto has not conceded. “So this is a way to also assert a tantalizing image, or to shake things up, to say, ‘I am actually in charge and I can [realize] these kinds of big visions for the country.’”


[Jokowi] ran for president on a platform of economic and infrastructure development and making the government more open and accountable to the people.

Yet many progressives feel he hasn’t done enough to increase transparency and mitigate inequality in both Jakarta and across the country. He hasn’t delivered on his goal of 1 million affordable homes, for example, and his progress on human rights is weak. As Foreign Policy put it, “Jokowi [is] now the establishment pragmatist rather than the hope-and-change upstart.”

“The president faces an incredible weight of potential conflicts and challenges to his national authority, all the way from Aceh on the far west end of the set of islands to Timor on the far east,” says Goh. “A move to literally reposition the capital and assert a different kind of control over the country may have to do with reframing the center of power in the country itself.”

It also comes amid tension between the city and the national government following a grandiose proposal to build a $40 billion seawall—in the shape of a mythical bird, and with a swanky waterfront—to protect the northern coast.