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Indonesia passes law to move capital from Jakarta to Borneo

Computer imagery released by artist Nyoman Nuarta shows his modified design for Indonesia's state palace in East Kalimantan. (Nyoman Nuarta/AFP/Getty Images) (Handout/AFP/Getty Images)
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After decades of mulling the matter, Indonesia’s government has passed a law marking its most tangible step yet toward moving the capital from Jakarta to an undeveloped jungle tract in East Kalimantan, Borneo.

The bill approved Tuesday by the House of Representatives provides the legal framework for the relocation. The new capital is to be named Nusantara, a Javanese word for archipelago, reflecting Indonesia’s geography.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo announced the move in 2019, but some analysts have adopted a wait-and-see attitude, as the endeavor would be mammoth and require substantial political will. The project is slated to cost $32 billion.

Jakarta, one of the world’s largest megacities, is straining under the weight of exponential growth, congestion and pollution. It is one of the world’s fastest-sinking cities. Several Indonesian presidents have offered capital relocation plans, but none made it as far as this one.

“The new capital has a central function and is a symbol of the identity of the nation, as well as a new center of economic gravity,” Planning Minister Suharso Monoarfa said to parliament after the bill’s approval, the Reuters news agency reported. Moving government agencies to a new location, of course, does not mean that industry, deeply entrenched in Jakarta, would be quick to follow suit.

Welcome to the jungle: Indonesia picks site for new capital city

The new law details how the project will be funded and governed. The Finance Ministry said the initial phase of relocation will occur between 2022 and 2024, but no time frame for finalization has been set, according to Reuters. Monoarfa said development is expected to last until 2045, CNN reported.

According to the law, foreign embassies and international organizations are expected to begin shifting their offices to Nusantara within a decade of the start of the relocation, reported Nikkei Asia.

Last April, the relocation plans faced a surge of criticism after a proposed design for the new state palace was revealed. The mock-ups showed a building in the shape of the state symbol, a mythical Garuda, with its wings spread. Critics called it campy after the president tweeted a 3D walk-through of the design proposal by artist Nyoman Nuarta.

This month, Nyoman published renderings of a new, more nuanced design, which he said has been approved by the administration.

Environmental advocates have criticized the impact the capital relocation would have on the fast-disappearing jungles of East Kalimantan.

Myanmar’s military built a new capital as a haven for power. Other countries have tried that, too.

If Indonesia goes through with the move, it will not be alone: A number of countries have made such changes, including Brazil, which moved its capital from Rio de Janeiro to Brasília, a city developed for that purpose, in 1960.

Six years ago, Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi set plans in motion to move government agencies 28 miles east of Cairo to a huge “New Administrative Capital” expected to cost about $40 billion. Last month, Sissi directed government employees to begin relocating, according to Al-Monitor. The new development will be home to embassies, government agencies, the presidential compound and parliament, Al Jazeera reported, as well as a central river and 15 square meters (161 square feet) of green space per resident.

In 2005, Myanmar unveiled the relocation of its capital from its largest city, Yangon, to the relatively quiet Naypyidaw. Former military leader Than Shwe pitched the move as a plan to avoid traffic and urban density, but analysts characterized it as an attempt to shield the seat of power from the possibility of protest or popular uprising.

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