Hype over Jakarta's MRT launch turns political ahead of Indonesia election

Indonesian President Joko Widodo (right) and Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan at the MRT inauguration ceremony in Jakarta, Indonesia, on March 24, 2019. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

JAKARTA (THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - The hype over the inaugural operation of Jakarta's first MRT has quickly morphed into a political game involving two former allies: Governor Anies Baswedan and his predecessor and former boss, President Joko Widodo.

While the two political leaders seem amicable in many of their public appearances together, including when they were inaugurating the MRT over the weekend, they both have made statements that observers say could be interpreted as subtle political jabs.

Mr Joko, better known by his nickname Jokowi, has time and again talked about his infrastructure drive on the campaign trail. Last Thursday (March 21), he made a claim that the major transportation project was the result of his "political decision" along with that of his former deputy, Mr Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, who was also Mr Anies' rival in the 2017 gubernatorial election.

The President also reportedly failed to mention Mr Anies' role during the MRT inauguration, prompting criticism from Gerindra politicians who accused Mr Joko of downplaying the governor's contributions to the project.

Only hours after the inauguration, Mr Anies posted on his Facebook and Instagram accounts a "love letter" for MRT workers, saying that the applause given by the public during the inauguration was dedicated to no one but the workers.

He wrote: "Today you might be at home, watching the inauguration only via television screens and not directly witnessing the result of your hard work. But let me emphasise that the thunderous applause (during the inauguration) was actually for you."

In another statement that generated speculation, Mr Anies on Tuesday criticised members of the Jakarta Legislative Council, which is dominated by pro-Jokowi parties and led by Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) politician Prasetyo Edi Marsudi, for allegedly taking politics into account when determining the MRT fares.

The PDI-P, of which Mr Joko is a member, is the main backer of the President's re-election bid.

Mr Anies said he opposed the council's decision to lower the average fare from 10,000 rupiah (95 Singapore cents) per 10km as proposed by the Jakarta administration to 8,500 rupiah, which he insinuated was motivated by politics.

"The rate we set today should be applicable for decades to come, so do not set the fare by only taking into account the April 17 event," Mr Anies said, referring to the date of the election.

Mr Joko's statement on the MRT also provoked Mr Anies' supporters, leading to a war of words between them and Mr Joko's loyal supporters.

Mr Marco Kusumawijaya, a member of Governor's Team for Accelerated Development (TGUPP), posted an angry tweet calling the President "a liar". "I am sick of Jokowi's claim and almost vomited (because of it)," he tweeted.

The urban expert argued in his following tweets that the MRT's planning and development began long before Mr Joko was elected governor in 2012. The ground breaking of the MRT's first phase, which runs 15.7 km from Lebak Bulus in South Jakarta to the Hotel Indonesia traffic circle in Central Jakarta, he emphasised, took place under then-governor Fauzi Bowo's leadership.

Mr Joko's campaign team spokesman Irma Suryani Chaniago hit back. In response to Mr Anies' comment on the MRT workers, Ms Irma said: "The applause was not only for the government, but what we should highlight here is President Jokowi's role in expediting the MRT's development. If he did not execute the plan, the MRT would not be here today."

Separately, Mr Djoko Setijowarno of the Indonesian Transportation Society (MTI) said it was true that Mr Fauzi initiated the MRT's ground breaking in 2012, but Mr Joko had expedited the project's construction in the following year after evaluating the project.

He said Mr Joko went the extra mile to ensure project continuity by changing the board of directors of MRT operator PT MRT Jakarta. "Jokowi dared to execute the project and made remarkable progress," he added.

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