The Question of Eviction: Should Ahok Loosen Up on His Eviction Policy or Stay True to His Vision?

By Dioputra Ilham | 06 Feb 2017
Political | 0 Participant(s) | 0 Response(s) | 1263 Views

Approaching the Jakarta gubernatorial elections on February 15th, many have only a matter of days to finalise their decision. As a significant portion of media coverage on the election has focused on the issue of gubernatorial candidate Basuki Tjahaja Purnama or Ahok's current blasphemy case and the ethnic and religious issues surrounding it, it is almost undeniable that identity politics play a large role in this election. However, there is a prevailing mistake that many make when engaging in identity politics, that being focusing on sociocultural identities and neglecting socioeconomic ones as well as failing to acknowledge certain conditions in which particular sociocultural and socioeconomic identities intersect. Despite widespread belief that ethnic and religious identities have almost exclusively shaped the voter demographics of each candidate, economic classes have also come into play.


There exists a dichotomy of rich and poor followed by educated and uneducated within socioeconomic identities. These two dichotomies are almost always parallel. When we discuss electoral campaigns, we look at the relationship between the candidates who are rich and educated, and the people who come from all different economic and educational backgrounds. In a city like Jakarta where 384,000 or 3.75 percent of its population live below the poverty line, the urban poor aren’t necessarily seen as a significant voter demographic. However, they are seen as a major issue by both other citizens and the government alike. Within the scheme of politics, the urban poor are discussed under the topic of poverty, which throughout the gubernatorial campaigns has been followed by each candidate’s plan to eradicate it, the most controversial being that of Ahok.


While gubernatorial candidates Anies Baswedan and Agus Yudhoyono have been reaching out to the poor by promising not to go along with Ahok’s current eviction policy if elected, Ahok has been very persistent on moving ahead with his vision of a ‘cleaner’ Jakarta. During an official gubernatorial debate on January 6th, Agus stated "I say that we will manage the city without conducting evictions. Evictions have increased urban poverty. The evictees lost everything, including their homes and jobs.” Anies stated that he plans on focusing on achieving urban renewal over evicting residents. Ahok retaliated by defending his eviction policy, stating that it was crucial to normalise rivers in the city and that it was not right to allow citizens to live on the river banks. Ahok believes that the river banks are prone to landslides and could potentially harm the residents living there. While visiting a populated area in Pesanggrahan, South Jakarta, Ahok told residents “I’m sorry to say but I have to do it [the evictions]. I have no option. I’m worried about the [potential for] landslides, because the foundation of the houses are not supported by concrete.”


Ahok’s justification for his eviction policy will never stray far from the topic of river normalisation and sanitation. Just how important are these two things that Ahok is willing to risk the favour of the bottom of Jakarta’s working class barrel who are currently being utilised by the other candidates’ campaigns?


Jakarta has long been riddled with trash and pollution. This is especially true when you look at the conditions of large bodies of water in Jakarta, many of which are used as a drinking source and bathing place by nearby residents. The existence of illegal settlements along these bodies of water, specifically the 13 rivers that run through Jakarta, are seen to be one of the largest contributors to this pollution. Jakarta Sanitation Office Chief Isnawa Adji claimed that several rivers were found to have been filled with water hyacinth in 2013, an indicator of severe pollution. The pollution that ended up in these rivers were the result of a persistent habit of throwing trash into rivers as well as the domestic waste of unofficial residents who live along the river banks. The severity of Jakarta’s pollution had reached a point where it had become a public health issue that needed to be dealt with urgently. Not only that, but the garbage buildup and narrowing of these rivers are also responsible for the floods that affect the rest of the city.


Over the past 3 years, Jakarta’s city administration under Governor Ahok has employed over 4,000 contract workers who are paid on a daily basis to clean up rivers, canals, lakes, and other coastal areas. These workers, known as the Orange Troops or Pasukan Oranye, are responsible for the removal of 400 tons of waste everyday. As illegal settlements along these bodies of water are largely responsible for the narrowing and pollution of these rivers, Ahok has taken drastic measures to deal with these homes. Ahok has since executed a plan to relocate families who live alongside river banks in unsturdy makeshift homes into government subsidised housing flats where they may have access to water and proper sanitation. Relocated families have also been provided with education assistance for school-age children as well as special transportation cards so they may use public transportation facilities free of cost.


Despite great deals of government subsidies and free public facilities, why are many refusing being relocated to a home with higher living standards? Why are many insisting on staying in their rickety homes beside open dumpsters and mosquito-infested river banks? One concern many residents have is losing their jobs. Many get their income from owning small snack stands in their neighbourhoods that thrive off of a small, intimate, and populated community. This is something that cannot be achieved if living in an apartment complex where people live in closed off rooms and don’t have many opportunities to interact with each other. The issue of employment and income is even more complex for those who have resource-oriented jobs such as the fishermen who live in Kampung Akuarium.


Kampung Akuarium is a small village of poor fishermen located in North Jakarta whose residents were evicted and homes destroyed in April of last year. As many of its residents are small-time fishermen and fishmongers whose convenience lies in their proximity to the ocean, being relocated to an apartment complex 25 kilometers away that will take them 4 hours of commuting in heavy Jakarta traffic to reach the shore will be a hassle. Before Ahok’s aggressive forced eviction campaign, 95 percent of Kampung Akuarium residents voted for him when he ran as current president Joko Widodo or Jokowi’s deputy in the 2012 Jakarta gubernatorial elections. In an interview conducted by the Sydney Morning Herald, Dharma Diani, a Kampung Akuarium resident, stated “Ninety-five per cent of the people from the kampung voted for them [Jokowi and Ahok]. It didn't matter to us Ahok was Christian and Chinese, we never cared about race and religion. Now we have this problem because of Ahok himself. He is a troublemaker.” When asked if anyone in the village would still vote for Ahok, Diani said “Null per cent. It's common sense. He makes the poor become poorer. This has made a lot of people more political, including me.” Ian Wilson, a Murdoch University Research Fellow commented “When I first went out there, people had signs of post-traumatic shock disorder and real psychological damage because of what had been done to them. This neighbourhood was fully supportive of Jokowi and Ahok. You can't explain [the opposition to Ahok] by saying they are sectarian or racist against the Chinese—it is simply not the case. It happened as a direct outcome of the impact of policies.”


It is clear that Ahok’s blasphemy trial is not the only thing that has cost him his popularity amongst Jakarta’s citizens. His aggressive policy of forced evictions have also garnered negative feedback from Jakarta’s urban poor, and Ahok’s rivals are capitalising off of it. According to Wilson, “The FPI, for all its faults, will often be there to provide logistical support during evictions or natural disasters. People have a genuine affection for the group because of that. Most of the FPI members come from kampungs originally, so [people] relate to them more than middle-class intellectuals. Many kampung members have become bona fide FPI supporters over the past few months, taking part in the [anti-Ahok] demonstrations.” Here, we see where socioeconomic identities and their dynamics come to play and also overlap with sociocultural identities.


With reportedly 16,000 families displaced in the last two years as a result of Ahok’s forced evictions, many are saying that this policy is in violation of human rights. From a legal standing, how exactly is Ahok’s administration violating any rule of law?


In terms of legal basis, the policy itself faced mixed receptions. According to Law No. 39 Year 1999, it is the right of all citizens to have live within acceptable standards of living. This is supported by the first clause of Article 5 of the Constitution that proclaims that the state is responsible for the housing of its citizens. This serves as justification for Ahok’s program to provide a better alternative for illegal settlements and a more effective urban planning strategy. However, other legal documents such as the first clause of Article 28H of the Constitution that every citizen has the right to live in prosperity, possess residency, and live within a living environment that is healthy as well as receive healthcare services. Within Ahok’s eviction and relocation program, Ahok has made sure to provide all of the above within an affordable apartment with proper plumbing and sanitation as well as subsidised education and other financial services. This concludes that in some way Ahok’s policies are justified for city development, despite  certain violations of protocol.


To say that Ahok has lost the “poor vote” would be a false conclusion as many families have benefitted from his relocation program. Other citizens have also mostly been content with Ahok’s work in making Jakarta a cleaner, neater, and more organised city. However, is it worth all the disenchantment Ahok has received from the urban poor and the victims of his evictions that is being used against him by his very rivals and contenders? Should Ahok loosen up on his eviction policy to regain the support and trust of Jakarta’s neediest? Or should Ahok stay true to his vision of a Jakarta that is free of floods, severe pollution, and unsafe housing?