Fresh speculation on who will head new Indonesia capital authority emerges

President Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo (centre) talks with Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto (right) and Public Works and Housing Minister Basuki Hadimuljono (left) about the government's plan to build a road to connect the Balikpapan-Samarinda toll road with the site of the new capital city in East Kalimantan. - Presidential Secretariat Press Bureau/Lukas

JAKARTA (The Jakarta Post/Asia News Network): As Indonesia moved one step closer to relocating the nation's capital from Jakarta to East Kalimantan with the recent enactment of the State Capital Law, speculation on who President Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo will pick to be responsible for governing the new capital has emerged.

Nusantara -- the new capital -- will be led by an authority head appointed by Jokowi within the next two months.

The position is equivalent to a minister and will be in charge of the preparation, construction and relocation process to Nusantara, as well as its eventual governance.

In a private meeting with the editors-in-chief of several national news outlets last week, Jokowi reportedly said he wanted the head of the Nusantara authority to have experience as a regional leader with a background in architecture.

This set off speculation that some names fit the profile, such as West Java Governor Ridwan Kamil, Makassar Mayor Ramdhan 'Danny' Pomanto and Aceh Governor Nova Iriansyah.

All three graduated with bachelor’s degrees in architecture, while Ridwan and Danny also have master's degrees in urban planning and architecture, respectively. Others have speculated that Social Affairs Minister Tri 'Risma' Rismaharini also has a chance, given she is a former Surabaya mayor and has a bachelor's degree in architecture and a master’s degree in urban planning and architecture.

Ridwan has seen his popularity rise in the past few months, with a survey by Kompas daily in October placing him as the fourth-most-electable potential candidate for president in the 2024 election, after Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto and fellow governors Anies Baswedan of Jakarta and Ganjar Pranowo of Central Java.

Risma, meanwhile, either tended to score poorly in electability polls or did not make the list at all, while Danny and Nova never made the list for any electability polls of possible presidential candidates.

Despite his popularity, Ridwan, whose term of office ends next year, said his commitment currently remained with his work as the governor of West Java.

“I am not the only regional head who meets the criteria of being an architect [...] I don’t want to make assumptions,” Ridwan said on Friday (Jan 21), as quoted by Risma, a politician from the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), also refused to speculate when asked by reporters on Sunday regarding her chances to head the authority of the new capital.

Jokowi’s latest preference for architects with experience of leading local administrations seemingly leaves out former Jakarta governor Basuki 'Ahok' Tjahaja Purnama, who two years ago was said to be among four names being considered by the President for the position. Ahok has no background in architecture.

Unlike the Jakarta administration, which holds elections to democratically elect a governor and deputy governor pairing, residents of the new capital city are left without a choice of who will take charge once the new capital is up and running.

Herman Suparman, a researcher at the Jakarta-based Regional Autonomy Watch (KPPOD) think tank, told The Jakarta Post that the presidential appointment mechanism might prove to be a more time saving and cost-effective option than holding regional elections.

Herman said that selecting a candidate who shared Jokowi’s vision would help to avoid unnecessary conflicts of interest, particularly since Jokowi’s administration was looking to relocate the capital to Nusantara before the end of his second term of office in 2024.

However, with the public not being able to decide the head of the authority through a regional election, Herman urged Jokowi to, at least, make his vetting process as open and accessible as possible to the public.

“Since the head of the [Nusantara] authority is a position with influence equal to or greater than a minister, it's better for the President to make sure that his choice is accountable," he said on Tuesday.

"This should include allowing the public to provide input [on what they think about the candidates] and monitor the process."

Herman said the President must also ensure that his eventual choice for the Nusantara authority head has a reputation for clean, corruption-free leadership.

“The President will have to thoroughly make sure that [the chosen candidate] has the integrity necessary to be in a position that will be prone to corruption and bribery,” he said.

“The President might want to consider getting the Corruption Eradication Commission [KPK] involved in the selection process.”

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