November 20, 2023
JAKARTA – President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo may have quietly struck a deal with Prabowo Subianto that includes a blank check for the defense minister in exchange for the vice presidential nomination of the President’s eldest son, Gibran Rakabumi Raka, and the continuation of Jokowi’s signature project: construction of the new capital city, Nusantara, in East Kalimantan.
Suppose you have regularly followed President Jokowi’s enthusiastic remarks and actions to accelerate his dream project. In that case, you will very likely share my view that he is ready to write Prabowo the blank check, perhaps he has already done so.
The blank check means Prabowo will get whatever he needs to win the presidential race on Feb. 14, 2024, including protection and support from the state apparatus such as the military and the police, who are supposed to remain neutral as they did in the five elections held after the sweeping reforms of 1998.
The signals of the state apparatus’ breach of impartiality were on display when posters of rival presidential candidate pair Ganjar Pranowo and Mahfud MD were pulled down in several cities in Bali and North Sumatra, both known as traditional strongholds of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) that has nominated the duo.
The capital relocation to Nusantara is one of the everlasting legacies Jokowi intends to leave before he steps down in October next year. The construction of Nusantara is under way and will take many years to complete.
President Jokowi announced his bid to relocate the capital city from Jakarta in 2019. At that time, many believed he could make it during his second term, but the COVID-19 pandemic blew up the plan. For almost three years the government had to focus on efforts to keep the outbreak under control and reallocate funds to fight the health crisis and its repercussions on the national economy, forcing Jokowi to shelve the Nusantara project.
The President has prepared all the resources for the new capital city’s construction. A comprehensive road map, including a legal umbrella, has been put in place, but he has to hand over the job to his son, Gibran, knowing that his presidential term will end in October 2024. His maneuvers to extend his tenure failed too.
Last month, the House of Representatives passed the revised Nusantara Capital City (IKN) Law that not only prevents whoever succeeds Jokowi from ditching the capital relocation, but also expands the power of the IKN Authority to manage its budget.
The revised law states that the IKN Authority can manage the city’s budget for Nusantara and commercial land. It also permits the Nusantara administration to seek funding from private investors for the city’s development.
The government has proposed Rp 40.6 trillion (US$2.6 billion) for the new city’s construction, including Rp 35 trillion for the Public Works and Housing Ministry, and to build an airport, next year.
Reports have circulated that if elected president Prabowo will let Gibran directly supervise the capital relocation and give his predecessor Jokowi a specific position that will enable him to safeguard the project.
Therefore, the victory of Prabowo and Gibran matters to Jokowi. Ignoring public skepticism about Gibran’s capability and maturity, Jokowi believes his son will be more than able to realize his unaccomplished mission of moving the capital to Nusantara. Jokowi must be poised to see Gibran play a premiership role in Prabowo’s cabinet so that the young politician can make his father’s dream come true.
In the final year of his presidency Jokowi may also work very hard to ensure that Prabowo can form a grand coalition that will keep the opposition to the capital relocation at bay.
The problem is will Prabowo strictly stick to his commitment to Jokowi after he wins the presidential election and will Prabowo delegate some of his power to Gibran as vice president, who in practice is perceived simply as a “spare tire”?
At Jokowi’s request, Prabowo as president may grant his predecessor the authority to keep Nusantara development under his control. It is just a matter of legal technicality as in the case of PDI-P chairwoman and former president Megawati Soekarnoputri, whom Jokowi appointed as powerful chair of the steering committee of the National Research and Innovation Agency (BRIN), a merger of five state research and scientific institutions, and the Agency for Pancasila Ideology Education (BPIP).
Earlier this month, President Jokowi oversaw the groundbreaking for construction of a solar power plant with a capacity of 50 megawatts in Nusantara. The President also began the construction of the Nusantara Capital City Airport in North Penajam Paser regency, East Kalimantan.
The President underlined the strategic importance of the airport in the anticipated increase in activities at Indonesia’s new capital, as the mobility of people and goods will increase after the new city begins to work in August next year.
With less than a year remaining before he leaves office, Jokowi is stepping up efforts to accelerate the new capital city development and taking anticipatory actions to get things done, including the controversial nomination of Gibran as Prabowo’s running mate. Jokowi, however, should be more careful from now on because history shows megaprojects in the country are vulnerable to corruption, markup and collusion.
Barring unforeseeable changes, the 256,000-hectare Nusantara in the regencies of North Penajam Paser and Kutai Kartanegara in East Kalimantan will replace Jakarta as the center of government activities. While losing its status as the seat of power, Jakarta will continue as a business hub.
President Jokowi’s game plan looks very sensible when it comes to the capital relocation. But giving Prabowo a blank check comes with a risk, as in politics nothing is certain except uncertainty.
Only time will tell whether Jokowi’s gamble will pay off.