Indonesia’s parliament on Tuesday passed a law approving the relocation of its capital from slow-flowing Jakarta to a site 2,000 kilometers away on the jungle-clad island of Borneo to be called Nusantara.
The House of Representatives vote provides the legal framework for this decision, which was first announced by President Joko Widodo in April 2019, when he cited rising sea levels and severe congestion on the densely populated island of Java.
Home to more than 30 million people in its greater metropolitan area, Jakarta has long been plagued by severe infrastructure problems and flooding exacerbated by climate change, with experts predicting that up to a third of the city could be underwater by 2050.
The new capital will cover around 56,180 hectares in the province of East Kalimantan on the Indonesian part of Borneo, which the country shares with Malaysia and Brunei.
A total of 256,142 hectares have been set aside for the project, with additional land earmarked for potential expansion.
Early plans for the new capital depict a utopian design aimed at creating an environmentally friendly “smart” city, but few details have been confirmed.
Plans to start construction in 2020 have been hampered by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Environmental critics of the capital’s decision said it could damage ecosystems in the region, where mining and palm oil plantations are already threatening rainforests that are home to Borneo’s endangered species.
On Monday, Mr Widodo said the new capital would be one “where people are close to any destination, where they can cycle and walk everywhere because there are zero emissions”.
“This (capital) will not only have government offices, we want to build a new smart metropolis that can be a magnet for global talent and a center for innovation.”
Nusantara, which means “archipelago”, was chosen from a list of 80 names because it was widely recognizable to Indonesians and easy to remember, said the country’s Development Minister Suharso Monoarfa.
The new city will be governed by a body called the State Capital Authority, with leaders appointed for five-year terms directly by the president, according to legislation on Tuesday.
Budget details have yet to be revealed in a presidential decree, although previous reports have pegged the cost of the project at $33 billion.
Indonesia is not the first country in the region to leave an overcrowded capital.
Malaysia moved its government to Putrajaya from Kuala Lumpur in 2003, while Myanmar moved its capital to Naypyidaw from Rangoon in 2006.
Updated: January 18, 2022, 12:14 p.m.
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