Modernizing Jakarta: Suharto’s ideology and governance

Sukarno, taking over Indonesia from the Dutch in 1945, had a vision for Jakarta as a modern metropolis free of the supposedly unclean and backward kampung. This vision was maintained by Suharto, who was president from 1967 to 1998 (Cowherd, 2002). His attitude is reflected for instance in the argument that developing and reclaiming the Jakarta Bay waterfront – which was dotted with kampung (including the Kamal Muara kampung) and mangroves – would make it more “orderly” (Permanadeli & Tadié, 2014). On the other hand, in deliberate contrast to Sukarno’s communist ideology, Suharto’s New Order government was much more neo-liberal and capitalist (Putri, 2018), as seen in the many new policies inviting foreign investment (Firman, 1998), and the numerous presidential decrees issues in the 90s favoring economic development over social and environmental concerns (Rukmana, 2015).

However, not everyone benefited from this money-driven ideology. The presidential decrees frequently violated spatial plans, leading to drastic reductions in forest and agricultural land, and disregarding recommendations for flood alleviation (Rukmana, 2015). Spatial plans as well as the new land permit system was designed to make acquisition of land (occupied by kampung) easier for private, commercial agents (Cowherd, 2002, Rukmana, 2015). Upcoming posts will explain this further. 

Compensation for displaced kampung residents was often insufficient or in-existent (Cowherd, 2002; Voorst, 2016). “Low income housing” was built during the 1990s to house displaced people, but these were often too expensive for the low-income kampung residents (Firman, 1998). 

Suharto was successful in “modernizing” Jakarta in the sense of increasing investment, economic activity, and development of housing, infrastructure and amenities; but the mentioned issues of kampung evictions and reduction of green areas went unaddressed. Having absolute control of the media in Indonesia, Suharto was able to justify this through framing his vision and style of governance as part of the entrepreneurial Indonesian culture, and that commercial development was a way to “upgrade” the country in the interest of the people (Cowherd, 2002). 




Cowherd, Robert, (2002). Planning or cultural construction. In Peter J.M. Nas (Ed), The Indonesian town revisited, pp 17-38. Muenster & Singapore: Lit Verlag & Institute of Southeast Asian Studies

Firman, Tommy (1998). The restructuring of Jakarta Metropolitan Area: A “global city” in Asia. Cities, 15(4), 229-243.

Leeuwen, Lizzy Van (2011). Lost in Mall : An Ethnography of Middle-class Jakarta in the 1990s. Leiden: KITLV Press.

Permanadeli, Risa; Tadié, Jérôme (2014). Understanding the Imaginaries of Modernity in Jakarta: A Social Representation of Urban Development in Private Housing Projects. London School of Economics and Political Science (Eds.), Papers on Social Representations, 23, pp.22.1-22.33

Putri, Prathiwi Widyatmi (2018). Sanitizing Jakarta: decolonizing planning and kampung imaginary. Planning Perspectives, 1-21.

Rukmana, Deden (2015). The Change and Transformation of Indonesian

Sagala, S., Lassa, J., Yasaditama, H., & Hudalah, D. (2013). The evolution of risk and vulnerability in Greater Jakarta: contesting government policy.  IRGSC Working Paper No. 2. Kupang, Indonesia: Institute for Resource Governance and Social Change.  

Spatial Planning after Suharto’s New Order Regime: The Case of the Jakarta Metropolitan Area. International Planning Studies, DOI: 10.1080/13563475.2015.1008723

Silver, Christopher (2007). Planning the megacity: Jakarta in the twentieth century. London: Routledge.

Sweeting, David (2017). The informal city and rights in South East Asian Cities: the cases of Kampung Improvement Programme and Baan Mankong, DPU working paper no. 192. London: The Bartlett Development Planning Unit. Retrieved 06.12.2018 from

Voorst, Roanne Van. Natural Hazards, Risk and Vulnerability : Floods and Slum Life in Indonesia. Routledge Humanitarian Studies Series. 2016.


Second year undergraduate student of Architecture at HKU, now writing about Kamal Muara, a fishing village / kampung in northern Jakarta, and its political circumstances in the 90s.

2 Comments on “Modernizing Jakarta: Suharto’s ideology and governance

  1. In this post, please complete the last sentence in the penultimate paragraph and try to make the transition between the last paragraph and the whole rest more coherent.

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