Fed up with protests snarling Jakarta’s already chaotic traffic, the authorities in one of the world’s most congested cities plan to build a park dedicated to keeping public demonstrations off the streets.
The park is also a sign that democracy has taken hold in Indonesia, when demonstrations were almost out of the question during the 32-year rule of autocratic former President Suharto until public frustration with his leadership led to mass protests in the late 1990s that eventually drove him from power.
Since then, colourful and noisy demonstrations have become a common occurence in Indonesia. While they are seldom violent, these protests can sometimes make the capital’s already bad traffic even worse, especially when activists march around a landmark roundabout near Hotel Indonesia.
Jakarta Governor Fauzi Bowo now wants to build a speaker’s corner, with room for 10,000 people, near Indonesia’s National Monument, spokesman Cucu Ahmad Kurnia told Reuters on Tuesday.
“We want to make it so everybody has a place to speak their mind, and so they know the right place to do that,” said Kurnia.
The Presidential Palace, the Vice President’s office and the Governor’s office are within close range of the monument, in the centre of Merdeka Square.
The protests make getting around Indonesia’s sprawling capital and suburbs, home to some 14 million people, even more time-consuming and arduous as they add to the traffic jams caused by rising motorcycle and car ownership, as well as heavy flooding during the rainy season.
Bowo last year banned rallies around the Hotel Indonesia after clashes between opposing demonstrators.
The park, which Kurnia said will be completed some time next year, would also be equipped with a stage for concerts.
The mayor of Jakarta, Sylviana Murni, said it was the government’s responsibility to allocate an area for people to criticise those in power.
“We must do that for our people to be satisfied,” she told Reuters, adding that the inspiration had come from the famous Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park, London.