by: Iwan Gunawan

The people of Jakarta have witnessed a peaceful campaign in the run up to the gubernatorial election scheduled for Wednesday.

Despite concerns that some independent candidates might not qualify for the campaign, an outdated voter list and money politics, the process surrounding the second direct election of a chief executive has evinced maturation (membuktikan dengan jelas kematangan) in
Jakarta’s politics.

The candidates have made full use of the formal two-week campaign season to promote themselves in hopes that voters will be able to differentiate them from their rivals on election day.

Unsurprisingly, nothing new has been said by the candidates, just the typically hyperbole from incumbent Governor Fauzi Bowo that he has done a great job and comments from challengers that they would do a better job than Fauzi if elected.

It is unfortunate, however, that during the campaign period none of the candidates had demonstrated a thorough understanding of Jakarta’s enormous environmental challenges.

Each seemed unwilling to capitalize on the potential of Jakarta, as the largest contributor to the nation’s economy and the nation and the nation’s most populous city, into a green city.

Look at the basic facts: Jakarta is one of the world’s 50 richest cities in terms of GDP, ranked well ahead of other famous cities, such as Bangkok, Vancouver, Munich and even the model city of Porto Alegre in Brazil.

It is estimated that more than one-third of Indonesia’s wealth circulates around the capital city.

Jakarta also has the fiscal strength to invest in urban infrastructure and environment. The city’s annual budget is expected to reach more than US$4 billion in 2012, with an annual surplus ranging between 15 and 20 percent, mainly because of slow budget disbursement (pengeluaran). 

Jakarta also has the most-educated citizens in the country, if measured by the score of high school national exam.

Environmentally, Jakarta is blessed with a natural endowment (anugerah). Fresh water from upstream highlands to the south flows through the city through its 13 rivers.

It has one of the highest annual rates of rainfall and of sunny days, providing it adequate an adequate supply of water and solar energy.

Mountain and ocean breezes are also equally well balanced, making the city’s climate comfortable for a tropical city, not to mention giving Jakarta the potential to generate electricity through wind turbines. Put a stick in the ground and it will quickly grow into a healthy tree.

However, residents of Jakarta are facing the prospect of flooding during rainy season and droughts (kekeringan) during the dry season. When rain falls, residents will compete each other in bailing out (mengeluarkan air akibat banjir) their houses quickly as they can. Ironically, they will fight for the same water source once the dry season starts.

Strong winds in the city currently do not generate electricity. Instead, they knock down poorly constructed giant billboards, sometimes killing motorists. In short, the city’s natural blessings have been turned into a curse, all because of mismanagement.

Voters cannot simply blame the city government. After all, they elected the governor and the city council to represent their interests in managing the city.

The gubernatorial election this week should at least serve as a time to reflect on what kind of candidate we should vote for.

Fauzi started his first year in office with a green agenda by converting public space occupied by gas stations into parks. But, the rest of his tenure (masa jabatan) has been marked by only green rhetoric. Yes, he has used city money to retrofit his office into a green building.

However, he has also allowed developers to convert public spaces and flood plains (dataran) into luxury apartments and shopping malls.

Thoroughfares (jalanan padat) with greenery were also turned into sites double-decker flyovers without proper impact studies or environmental remediation.

Fauzi’s challengers, on the other hand, come from different backgrounds. A few have some experience, but have not pushed for a green agenda.

Jakarta’s voters cannot turn the clock backward (memutar kembali waktu) to search for more environmentally aware gubernatorial candidates. They will have to live with one of the six. But, there are still ample (banyak) opportunities to make the city’s next leader a environmental governor. Democracy is not once-in-a-five-year event.

The WWF estimates that during Earth Hour observances (kepatuhan) this year, the citizens of Jakarta saved more than 200 megawatts of electricity, four times that in 2009. Yes, it is possible to reshape Jakarta into a green city.

We can make the next governor a green leader if we persistently demand that he promote environment-friendly policies and partake in building the city anew (dengan cara baru) as a healthy place to live for all.

The writer teaches disaster management studies at the Indonesian Defense University. The opinions expressed here are his own.