Jakarta this week watched the rupiah slide to its lowest point since 1998, recalling the trauma of financial crisis. Meanwhile, it was business as usual in the capital as the governor set about making friends and enemies with work on large-scale infrastructure projects.
Indonesia surpassed Malaysia for having the worst-performing currency in the region as the rupiah this week fell past 14,000 per dollar, its weakest performance since the 1998 crisis. As economies across Southeast Asia suffered losses in recent days as a result of China's devaluation of the yuan, Indonesia's finance minister and newly installed trade minister both suggested that the use of Chinese yuan for trade among ASEAN nations could help lessen the impact of regional currencies dropping in value against the US dollar.
President Jokowi called a meeting with business representatives at his residence in Bogor to discuss further strategies for overcoming Indonesia's economic challenges. Yet the finance minister was positive that Indonesia's currency slide did not signal impending crisis for the nation's economy. Minister Bambang Brodjonegoro said that despite the downturn, Indonesia's economy was still growing and that other indicators, such as inflation, growth and the trade balance, showed a much better situation to that faced in 1998.
In Jakarta, Governor Basuki 'Ahok' Tjahaja Purnama came under fire this week for his approach to various infrastructure projects in the capital. Loved and loathed for his brusque approach to governance, Ahok made one of his least sensitive moves yet by forcibly evicting residents of a neighbourhood called Kampung Pulo to make way for a revitalisation project along the banks of the Ciliwung River, with the aim of prevent flooding in the city.
A 2000-strong security force armed with tear gas, water cannons and riot gear forced the alleged squatters from their homes this week as civil society groups prepared a legal case proving residents' ownership of the land. Several residents reportedly held Dutch-era deeds to the area where hundreds of houses had been established for generations. Evictees received no compensation from the city government after a plan to build an 'elevated village' (kampung susun) near the river was scrapped. Low-cost apartments (rusunawa) were provided for about half of the 1000-plus families evicted.
Despite criticism over the way the eviction was handled, including from the Jakarta Police, Ahok reportedly plans to push ahead with further evictions in Bukit Duri and Bidara Cina in the near future.
The governor nonetheless retains a strong support base in Jakarta, where he plans to run for re-election on an independent ticket. A group called Teman Ahok ('Friends of Ahok') is aiming to collect the required 1 million copies of supporters' identity cards to allow Ahok to run as an independent in the next local election since he quit Prabowo's Gerindra party last year.
Support for Ahok over Gerindra was demonstrated on social media this week when a Gerindra-affiliated singer publicly criticised the governor. Rock singer Ahmad Dhani, best known outside Indonesia for his Nazi-themed contribution to presidential contender Prabowo's losing campaign last year, took to Twitter this week to question Ahok's commitment to overcoming traffic congestion on one of the city's toll roads. From his account @AHMADDHANIPRAST, the singer tweeted '(Ahok)...If you can't overcome congestion on the TB Simatupang toll road...just call me...I'm waiting'.
The singer's comments caused a stir online, particularly in light of the involvement of his underage son in a fatal traffic accident on a Jakarta toll road last year. Netizens rushed to the defence of the governor, who later responded by saying that with the amount of work he was putting into Jakarta's roads and transport, things would get worse in the short term, but would bring long-term results.
Photo by Flickr user Dino Adyansyah.