Indonesia is relocating its capital, and it’s not the first in Asia to do so

Palangkaraya or Jonggol could replace Jakarta (pictured) as Indonesia’s capital. Source: Shutterstock

THE Indonesian government recently declared (again) that they are planning to move the capital city of Indonesia from its current location in Jakarta. This is nothing new since plans to relocate had been mooted in 1957 during the Sukarno era.

There was another flurry of conversation in 2008 under former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono when the idea was discussed again, although little headway was made on the actual details.

Now the National Development Planning Minister Bambang Brodjonegoro has insisted that the move will definitely go ahead in the next few years, “In 2018 or 2019, there will be activities related to the transfer of the administration of the central government [to the new capital city].”

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It is still unclear exactly where the new capital will be and Bambang remains rather coy on this point, although likely candidates include Palangkaraya in Central Kalimantan, or possibly Jonggol in Bogor, West Java.

Many are opposed to the move, not least because, according to public policy analyst at the University of Indonesia Andrinof Chaniago, it could cost up to IDR10 trillion (US$754 million) per year for around 10 years.

But despite the furor the revitalized plans to relocate have caused, this is not the first time Indonesia has moved its capital.

It is also a common misconception that countries in Southeast Asia have had the same capital cities for centuries. In actual fact, it’s rare to find any part of the region that hasn’t made a move at some point throughout history.

Whether more capital city changes will unfold across Southeast Asia in the future remains to be seen, but previous form tells us that a sudden move could be just the ticket if the current capital no longer serves its purpose.

If the history books are anything to go by, we may well see Jakarta usurped in favor of Palangkaraya or Jonggol sooner rather than later.

Here are a few countries in the region that have seen a change in capital cities.

Indonesia: Jakarta to Yogyakarta to Bukittinggi

Bukittinggi was Indonesia’s capital from 1948 to 1949. Source: Shutterstock

Jakarta used to be called Batavia and was founded in 1621 during the Dutch colonial period. When Indonesia called for independence in 1945, the capital was moved from Jakarta to Yogyakarta in Java from 1946 to 1948 after fears of a security threat from the Dutch forces.

When the fighting spread to Yogyakarta, the capital moved again from 1948 to 1949 when officials briefly hot-footed it to Bukittinggi in West Sumatra. At this time, the capital was known as the seat of the Emergency Government of the Republic of Indonesia, before it was re-established in Jakarta in 1950.

Myanmar: Yangon to Naypyidaw

The Sule Pagoda in the center of Yangon. Source: Shutterstock/Gil.K

Perhaps one of the strangest capital relocations in Southeast Asia occurred in Myanmar on Nov 6, 2005. Apparently, the move came about when former Burma head of state General Than Shwe’s personal astrologer said that he foresaw the downfall of Myanmar (and Than Shwe) if the capital was not changed.

In line with this prophecy, workers were given two days to pack up their belongings and move to the largely empty city of Naypyidaw in the heartlands of Myanmar. Leaving nothing to chance, the official convoy even left Yangon at 6.37am, the most auspicious time to do so according to Than Shwe’s astrologer.

Vietnam: Hue to Hanoi

Hue was once crowned the capital of Vietnam. Source: Shutterstock/Saigonese Photographer

Many visitors mistakenly believe that Ho Chi Minh City is the capital of Vietnam but it is definitely still Hanoi. This was not always the case however and many people don’t realize that the capital used to be located in Hue.

It was named the Imperial Capital of Vietnam in 1802 under Emperor Nguyen Anh, the first emperor of the Nguyen Dynasty. The capital only moved to Hanoi in 1945 when Ho Chi Minh declared independence in the city and the French colonial period came to an end.

Philippines: Quezon City to Manila

Flyovers at the intersection of Ortigas Avenue and Epifanio Delos Santos Avenue in Quezon City. Source: Shutterstock/junpinzon

A relatively late capital relocation happened in the Philippines in 1976. Following World War II, President Elpidio Quirino replaced the capital city of Manila with a shiny new prospect in Quezon City.

Unfortunately, the new capital’s star failed to rise as spectacularly as everyone had hoped and it was moved back to Manila again in 1976.

Despite this cautionary tale, it appears that the present government of the Philippines is once again eyeing a change and looking at moving the administrative capital to Central Luzon in the future.

Thailand: Sukhothai to Ayutthaya to Bangkok

A tourist looks at Buddha statues at Wat Mahathat, Sukhothai. Source: Shutterstock/Aumphotography

Thailand is another country in Southeast Asia that has gone through several different capital cities over the years. The first was Sukhothai which was the capital of what was then called Siam until 1350.

It was then moved from Sukhothai to Ayutthaya, which was considered a more strategic location and fast becoming one of the largest cities in the whole of Southeast Asia at the time. Unfortunately, the capital was attacked by the Burmese Empire and fell in 1767. King Taksin briefly relocated to Thonburi before King Rama I moved the capital to Bangkok in 1782.

Rumor has it however that Bangkok is slowly sinking and could be underwater in as little as 50 years’ time, so perhaps another move is on the cards in the near future.

Malaysia: Kuala Lumpur to Putrajaya

Putrajaya is Malaysia’s administrative capital. Source: Shutterstock

The official capital of Malaysia is still Kuala Lumpur, but it also has a “second capital” in Putrajaya. This came about in 1999 when federal administrative offices were moved out of Kuala Lumpur.

Both the king and prime minister still use Kuala Lumpur as their official seat of rule, so Putrajaya can best be looked at as a sub-capital which oversees all the federal administrative work in the country.

In hedging their bets, Malaysia may be the first country in Southeast Asia to have struck the right balance between an all-out move and a middle ground solution.