Coldplay, Ahok and Fixing Jakarta

Coldplay, Ahok and Fixing Jakarta
Photo Credit : Coldplay Official 影片截圖
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To make progress in Jakarta, it won’t be enough to simply say: 'I will fix you.'

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Shortly after casting his vote for Jakarta governor this month in the midst of a solidly middle class high rise development west of the downtown, Harry Meliala, 43, was rueful.

A fan of Coldplay, he had to make the trip to Bangkok to catch the U.K. band when they made a pass through the region.

Meliala, said he cast his vote for the incumbent, Basuki Purnama, better known as Ahok, at least in part, because the infrastructure and bureaucratic reforms he’s initiated might make the Big Durian a little less challenging relative to its neighbours.

“Why didn’t Coldplay here? There’s money here,” Meliala said.

“There’s a mindset of corruption that just makes things like concerts difficult.”

Before I could ask what he meant, Meliala looked like he wanted to leave rather than talk with a foreign journalist in the tropical sun. Besides he was in for a rough day. Ahok would go on to lose to his opponent, Anies Baswedan, by almost 18 percentage points, according to random ballot sampling. Official results are due in May.

So, I got online with a good friend of mine who was in the concert promotion business in Jakarta up until recently. He didn’t want to be identified because what he was about to tell me was sensitive.

While part of the problem is a lack of venues – stadia are either under renovation or not big enough -- the bigger issue is indeed corruption.

Putting on a show in Indonesia’s capital, it seems, is as much about keeping up with demands by religious conservatives for protection money as it is about lining up talent. To be sure, police in Thailand or the Philippines look for payouts from concert or party promoters. But these are done on a once-off basis. Religious groups in Indonesia are not above circling back for more money.

“In Indonesia a deal is never a deal,” he said, adding he’s never paid protection money.

In 2012, for example, Lady Gaga canceled the Jakarta leg of her “Born This Way” tour, on the day of the show. Organizers refunded some 50,000 tickets after the FPI said her show was too crude and wouldn’t let her off the plane. Police refused to issue permits the concert.

“Artists don’t want/need that sort of hassle,” he said via an instant messaging app.

“A band like Coldplay can play every night anywhere in the world. Why do they need Indonesia?

But what Meliala is suffering is a rich person’s problem. That he can’t take a subway to see a mega band downtown pales in comparison to the six hours of traffic low paid officer workers face everyday during their commutes from the suburbs. Of the country’s 190 million or so adults only 27 million have registered to pay taxes and only about a million pay what they owe.

On the other hand, informal neighborhoods of squatters may face eviction with only a few days notice. Often it’s to make way for a park or to clear a flood plain. No matter the intent it’s still the poor who shoulder the sacrifice to make the city more liveable, while the wealthy suffer only inconvenience. The irony is that many of these poor were once the bedrock supporters of Ahok. That sense of betrayal made the city’s most vulnerable prey for fake news and lies during Friday prayers.

Of course Baswedan, who takes office in October, may make great strides toward turning Jakarta into a regular stop on the international concert circuit by boxing in police corruption and facing down Islamic thugs. But it will take sacrifice from the rich as well as the poor. It won’t be enough to simply say: “I will fix you.”

Editor: Edward White