Friday, February 3, 2017

The real reason many poor Jakartans are opposing Ahok in the gubernatorial election

The real reason many poor Jakartans are opposing Ahok in the gubernatorial election

Jakarta: We are being taken on what Dharma Diani grimly calls "rubble tourism". This is her home, but the landscape she shows us looks more like a war zone than a peaceful kampung (neighbourhood) of poor fishermen in North Jakarta. Somehow people are still living amid the piles of debris; there are tents and patchwork shanties cobbled together with plywood and advertising tarpaulins.

Dharma Diani once supported Jakarta's governor Ahok, but after her home was razed with just 11 days' notice and no compensation, she and many others displaced from their homes in feel deeply betrayed.

This is Kampung Akuarium, ground zero in Jakarta governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama's aggressive campaign of forced evictions to tackle endemic problems in the city such as flooding, traffic congestion and lack of green space.

The people of Kampung Akuarium were given an eviction notice 11 days before their homes were bulldozed in April last year.

"We were never told why but Ahok was quoted in the media saying he wanted to turn the area into a religious tourism destination because an old mosque is nearby," Dharma says.

"He wanted a big square where people can meet in restaurants. Ahok keeps saying he wants to revitalise the old city but nothing has happened since the eviction."

Dharma, who makes a living selling gas canisters, is among 70 families who have refused to budge. Her house was flattened but she managed to save some of her belongings and erect a makeshift shack.

"It leaks of course and if the wind is too strong, the roof is gone. The roof in our temporary mosque has gone too."

But Dharma says it is not an option to relocate to low-cost rental apartments provided by the government 25 kilometres away. "Some of us are fishermen or work at the fish market. If you move us somewhere four hours away in heavy traffic, how can we work? How can we pay?"

Dharma's eyes well with tears as she talks to us in a crude shelter - the community's "crisis centre" - which has a banner proclaiming "my kampung is my life". "Ahok labelled us as illegal squatters and says we just occupied empty land and spread tuberculosis. We tried to meet him but he didn't want to receive us. He is too much. He is cruel. For us a leader is not like that."

The irony is that almost all of the residents of Kampung Akuarium, including Dharma, supported Ahok when he successfully ran in the gubernatorial elections in 2012 as Joko "Jokowi" Widodo's deputy.

Jokowi, now the president, visited Kampung Akuarium three times during the campaign. Dharma says he made a political contract to end evictions and give land certificates to those who had lived in the kampung for more than 20 years.

The sense of betrayal is deep.

"Ninety-five per cent of the people from the kampung voted for them. 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."

Asks if there is a anyone left in the kampung who would vote for Ahok in the February 15 gubernatorial election, Dharma shakes her head bitterly. "Null per cent. It's common sense. He makes the poor become poorer. This has made a lot of people more political, including me."

The former red-light district of Kalijodo which was virtually razed overnight last February after Ahok decided he wanted to clean up the so-called den of vice and turn it into a park.

Residents have been living in tents and shelters donated by political parties 

In September hundreds of families were evicted from Bukit Duri, as part of a plan to mitigate flooding by widening the Ciliwung river, despite legal proceedings being before court. 

Murdoch University Research fellow Ian Wilson gets frustrated when so much of the commentary around the sometimes vitriolic campaign against Ahok, who is on trial for allegedly insulting Islam, centres on concerns over growing religious and racial intolerance and radicalism in Indonesia.

"This ignores the fact there are solid material grievances"

Wilson visited Kampung Akuarium soon after the homes were bulldozed. He says the people were shell-shocked. One fisherman, who had been out of mobile range because he was fishing around Kalimantan in Borneo, came back to discover his home had gone.

"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."

The Jakarta Legal Aid Institute estimates that more than 16,000 families have been displaced in the last two years alone. Hafid Abbas from the National Commission for Human Rights says forced evictions violate human rights: "The poor has likely no space to live safely in Jakarta."

Hafid warns that in order to prevent social unrest in Jakarta the Jokowi administration should stop forced evictions for unjust reasons such as development of land by companies.

Visit Kampung Akuarium and you will be left in no doubt for whom its remaining residents will vote. Everywhere you look are banners for Ahok's rival Anies Baswedan and his running mate Sandiaga Uno. The ticket, which is endorsed by government opposition party Gerindra and the Islamist Prosperous Justice Party, has vowed it will not carry out evictions.

A Gerindra flag flutters from the ruins. Dharma says Gerindra distributed tents, food and medication to the displaced people.

"A lot suffered flu because their homes are now open to the elements and skin problems because it is dusty," she says. "Of course we are sympathetic to Gerindra because they give us things. It's not because they want our votes, it's not because of politics because there are not many of us left here."

Wilson, who is researching how evicted neighbourhoods are engaging with the upcoming election,  says political opportunists - including the hardline Islam Defenders Front (FPI) - have capitalised on this disenchantment.

"The FPI, for all its faults, will often be there to provide logistical support during evictions or natural disasters," Wilson says. "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."

Dharma says the FPI were at Kampung Akuarium on eviction day handing out food and mattresses. The eviction occurred months before Ahok became embroiled in controversy for allegedly insulting Islam. "They always help people in a situation like this," Dharma says.

She agrees Ahok's policies may have driven people into the arms of other political organisations.  "Maybe it's just like food," she says. "We know certain food doesn't taste good and another food looks attractive."

Jewel Topsfield  Photo: Irwin Fedriansyah


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