The reception to Indonesian President Joko Widodo's plan to move the country's capital from Jakarta to East Kalimantan has been mixed. A nationwide survey last month showed that 39.8 per cent of respondents disapproved of it, while 35.6 per cent backed it. Commentators have made understanding noises about the many problems faced by Jakarta as capital of South-east Asia's most populous country of 260 million. But many have asked whether it would be better to spend the money to fix the problems of the metropolis - traffic gridlock, air pollution, subsidence and flooding, overcrowding - rather than on building a new city. After all, moving 1.5 million people from the city of 10 million (nearly 30 million if the metropolitan area is included) will do little to solve its issues. It could, instead, bring a whole host of problems such as possible environmental damage to the pristine forests of East Kalimantan.
Yet, there are persuasive arguments for the move. Apart from easing the problems of Jakarta, a more compelling reason for shifting the capital is that it could help foster more balanced development in the sprawling archipelago. Right now, Java island on which Jakarta is located is home to 54 per cent of the country's population and produces 58 per cent of its gross domestic product, with Jakarta alone making up 20 per cent. Yet, Java is the smallest of Indonesia's five major islands, accounting for only 7.9 per cent of its total land area. By moving the capital north-eastwards, Mr Joko is hoping to boost the economic development of the underdeveloped eastern regions which have seen unrest, including recent protests in West Papua. Said Mr Joko of the move: "This is for the realisation of economic equality and justice." Certainly, Indonesians outside Java welcome it. Last month's survey showed that 48 per cent of respondents in Kalimantan approved of it, with 29 per cent opposed to it. Tellingly, the highest support of 68 per cent came from the less-developed island of Sulawesi, which is close to East Kalimantan and therefore expects to gain economically.