Visit to the fourth largest urban area on earth (with approximately 23 million inhabitants) may be hazardous to your health. Although there are no exact statistics to prove it and one can hardly rely on official data anyway, the city of Jakarta is rapidly collapsing. It is terribly polluted, but the local press stubbornly refrains from conducting any serious investigation that would analyze pollutants in the air. Visitors get often sick, unless they stick to some luxury and fully sheltered hotels equipped with air conditioners and air purifiers. Eventually they succumb to the coughing spells, poisoned by the grayish substance hanging over the capital; substance which can be, if one uses some imagination, still described as “air”.
Many visitors also develop stomach ailments due to appalling quality of local water supply and food. Some simply collapse psychologically under the weight of sheer ugliness of the place, where traffic jams are the main landmarks of the capital city and where one has to drive to the shopping malls in order to “take a walk”, as almost nothing ‘public’ survived decades of ‘pro-business’ turbo-capitalism of Suharto and post-Suharto era and that of the latest, outgoing governor Sutiyoso.
Continuity is now guaranteed. In the city’s first gubernatorial election that took place on August 8th (before the governor of Jakarta had been appointed by the president or as in 2002, by local legislature), former deputy governor Fauzi Bowo, life-long bureaucrat and “urban planning specialist” (as he likes to be described) backed by a medley 19 mainstream political parties, won around 58 percent of the votes, comfortably winning over Adang Daradjatun from conservative Islamic “Prosperous Justice Party”(PKS).
Talents and abilities of the “urban specialist” Fauzi Bowo are highly questionable. If anything, Mr. Bowo and his outgoing boss, governor Sutiyoso, brought the capital city closer to collapse. Jakarta is dotted with modern skyscrapers as well as smelly, garbage-filled canals with muddy water – the only “playground” for hundreds of thousands of children. According to some unofficial statistics (it seems that pollution is yet another “sensitive issue” with almost no reliable official data available), Jakarta is the third most polluted city on earth after Katmandu (Nepal) and New Delhi (India). This unflattering 3rd place is shared with Chinese city of Chongqing.
“The UN reports that the city’s drinking water system is ineffective, leading 80 percent of Jakarta inhabitants to use underground water, which has become steadily depleted. In low-lying North Jakarta, groundwater depletion has caused serious land subsidence, making the area more vulnerable to flooding and allowing seawater from the Java Sea to seep into the coastal aquifers. According to Suyono Dikun, Deputy Minister for Infrastructure at the National Development Planning Board, more than 100 million people in Indonesia are living without proper access to clean water”, reports Red Orbit in the article on the “Cities of the Future”. It is not surprising, as drinking water had been privatized and ran as pro-profit enterprise by French and British companies, “increasing prices and decreasing quality”, according to The Economist.
Deforestation, over-development and poor city planning led to repeated and devastating floods. The most recent one, on February 2nd 2007, displaced more than 350 thousand people, and destroyed property in more than 50% of Jakarta’s dwellings, as approximately 70 to 75 percent of the city area had been flooded with water 4 meters deep. Infrastructure damage and lost property amounted to almost 600 million dollars. Great majority of the population has no insurance.
City is choked by traffic jams and specialists are warning that it is approaching permanent gridlock, unless there are some dramatic changes in the very near future. Jakarta has almost no public transportation system, considering its size. Sutiyoso’s brainchild: so called bus ways (idea adopted from much smaller cities in South America) never managed to fly. Part of the funds disappeared in corruption, buses are (ridiculously) equipped with only one door for uploading and downloading of the passengers; elevators for disabled people never arrived. One-way fare is going to climb to over 50 cents in the country where the average monthly income is approximately 65 dollars a month and where more than half of the population lives on lesser than 2 dollars a day.
There is no transparency and accountability in the governance. Much advertised “monorail” system had to have its first line opened in 2007. Some of the main avenues were blocked, traffic increased and the citizens were asked to be patient as the city government is trying to offer acutely needed transportation alternatives. But at some point, construction of the monorail simply stopped. Trees in the middle of the roads were already cut down; ugly concrete pillars had been driven into the earth, metal bars sticking several meters high. There was no explanation given to the citizens. No hotline to call, no information about the funds that allegedly disappeared. Once again, the government had shown profound spite for its own citizens. Local press unfamiliar with anything even distantly resembling investigative journalism decided not to ask uncomfortable questions: small surprise in the country where the media is owned, without exception, by big business.
Instead of monorail, outgoing governor Sutiyoso introduced “water service”, probably in order to guarantee himself a place in the history of the city. Two pathetic little “public” boats navigate 1.5 kilometers of polluted water of canal, looking like two miniscule icebreakers cutting through the endless rubbish. ‘Service’ is available only for a few hours, on weekends: hardly a solution to almost permanent gridlock.
After being ruled for years by former general Sutiyoso, Jakarta truly resembles filthy military barrack, or maybe a mythical purgatory with its dark sky, endless chain of vehicles, children begging and offering themselves at several major intersections. Some beggars have faces burned beyond recognition; others are showing what is left of their amputated hands and legs, for a fee. And, unlike in other Muslim countries that are broadcasting only calls for prayer, citizens of Jakarta are bombarded at least 6 hours a day by prayers and religious recitations blasted at unbearable volume like in the worst Orwellian nightmare, reassuring the majority and reminding to minorities of who is really in charge.
There is almost nothing “public” left in the capital. Jakarta has only a handful of small parks, of which some are even charging entrance fee (like the one on the coast in Ancol). The city has almost no passable sidewalks. City seems to be fragmented, brutal and compassionless; commercialized to the extreme. No wonder: it had been shaped after the 1965 military coup that killed between 2 and 3 million people, from those belonging to the leftist parties and movements to those belonging to the ethnic and religious minorities.
Indonesia is still governed to a large extent by the old military clique. President of the country – Susilo Banbang Yudhoyono is retired four-star general. Outgoing Governor Sutiyoso is also a (retired) top army brass: Lieutenant general who served in the Indonesian military for three decades, and was involved in Indonesia’s occupation of East Timor. It has been alleged at the inquest that Sutiyoso had been a member of ‘Team Susi’ – one of the units of the Indonesian military that were involved in the savagely brutal advancement on Balibo on the day in 1975 when five foreign journalists were killed.
Not surprisingly, Fauzi Bowo’s deputy will be another retired general, this time retired Major General Prijanto – described by Jakarta Post as “long time army officer”. This is a part of Prijanto’s biography published by Jakarta Post, (as it appears on their website, unedited and linguistically uncorrected): “Maj. Gen. (ret) Prijanto is a long time Army officer who started his career at air defense infantry division of the Army’s Strategic Reserves Command in 1976. He served in the division for eleven years before being promoted as the governor of the Army’s Military Academy in Magelang in 1987. His field expertise was tested when he was deployed to East Timor (now Republic of Timor Leste) as chief squad of air defense infantry at Operasi Seroja (Lotus Operation) to East Timor in 1978.
The operation which last from 1975 to 1979 is aimed to curb efforts from Fretilin, a movement from a group of indigenous Timorese who wants separation from Indonesia. Aside from the operation, Prijanto spent most of his career as an off-field officer. He spent most of his career over the last decade at the Jakarta Military in various divisions, mostly at the defense infantry division, which he knows best. Known as a diligent officer who always complies to his chief’s command, he was appointed in 1995 as head of a team of private assistant of Let. Gen. (ret) AM Hendropriyono who serves as a commander at that time. Prijanto also had served as coordinator of private assistant of Gen. (ret) Wiranto when he was the Indonesia Military Chief in 1998 before returning to the Jakarta Military Command as a regional military commander a year after that”…
It is worth remembering that some of the worst atrocities in East Timor took place during the time when General Wiranto was “in charge”.
Lotus Operation (Operasi Seroja) in which Prijanto actively participated began on December 7th, 1975. With the US approval, Indonesian forces landed a massive air and sea invasion utilizing almost entirely the US-supplied weapons and equipment. By mid February, around 60.000 men, women and children of tiny East Timor were dead. United Nations never accepted occupation and colonization of East Timor.
But the story doesn’t end here. The opponent of Fauzi Bowo was no civilian either. He served as the former Deputy National Police Chief; a military man as well, considering that in the past police and the army were parts of the same organization. In a “touching” biography, Jakarta Post writes: “Adang Daradjatun’s ambition since childhood was to join the police or military? After Adang graduated from high school, his father wanted him to apply to Bandung’s Padjadjaran University or the Bandung Institute of Technology. But Adang insisted on becoming a police officer. He told his father he was impressed by the discipline of police officers. Eventually his father relented and Adang was accepted at Akabri in 1968, graduating in 1971”?
That’s some ambition, considering that he joined the force just 3 years after Indonesian military massacred between 2 and 3 million innocent people.
CHOICE? WHAT CHOICE?
“We definitely don’t support any candidate who would implement regulations that limit women’s rights, like those in Tangerang City”, said Masruchah, the secretary-general of Indonesia’s Women Coalition (KPI), referring to the Tangerang bylaw that prohibits women from leaving their home at night.
Most of the citizens of Jakarta did not go to polls to vote for the candidate of their choice, as there were no candidates willing to address the grievances of the majority. They voted to prevent calamity, and the face of calamity was resembled, at least for the most of them, an Islamic party taking over the governance of their capital city. Several areas of Java are now facing discriminatory restrictions imposed by sharia-law. In theory, sharia bylaws are unconstitutional, but extremely weak and indecisive administration of SBY is unwilling or unable to confront increasingly strong Islamist movements and organizations. Many citizens of Indonesia worry that secular essence of Indonesian state is in danger.
Primarily, pre-election campaign consisted of colorful pop music concerts and “stars” expressing support for one of two candidates. Eventually, both candidates appeared on television screens hugging elderly, children and the poor. Neither of them offered serious analyses of devastating future Jakarta is facing. And the media, as always compliant, restrained from asking hard questions. As a result, only a handful resident of the capital believes that elections will have deep impact on their lives. Cynicism is growing but the opposition is fragmented and weak, natural for the country where the military and religion play decisive role.
In the meantime, rotting garbage contaminates poor neighborhoods and clogging canals. Corruption is so institutionalized that police would not investigate car theft or burglary, unless offered considerable sum of money in advance. “When one of our correspondents is robbed, we call police and complain”, says one of editors of national news magazine who doesn’t want to be identified. “They often apologize and bring the loot back in just a few hours. What does it mean? That police is working with the thieves. How can you fight corruption with such police force?”
Millions of uninsured and unprotected people are living in shacks. Even those surviving under the bridges in the makeshift carton dwellings are facing extortion: they are forced to pay “rent” to local thugs and “officials”. Social services already collapsed, and so did the infrastructure. Next to the luxury hotels, people eat in dirty stalls, often washing dishes with the water from open sewage. If the situation doesn’t change dramatically, citizens of Jakarta may be tempted to turn to conservative Islam, considering it the only force willing to “protect” them. But in these latest elections they had still opted for “secular” candidate, for the “city planner” and his deputy who had “proven himself” by bombing East Timorese civilian population more than 30 years ago.
ANDRE VLTCHEK: Czech/American novelist, playwright, filmmaker and journalist, co-founder of Mainstay Press (www.mainstaypress.org), publishing house for political fiction, editorial director of Asiana Press Agency (www.asiana-press-agency.com). Senior fellow at Oakland Institute. He presently works and resides in Asia and South Pacific and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org