Debate Over Monas Street Names

Monas (National Monument) on the foreground with rising Jakarta skylines on the background. (Wikimedia Commons)
The National Monument and the Jakarta skyline. (Wikimedia Commons)

A plan to rename four main roads surrounding the capital city’s National Monument continues to spark controversy, with some questioning the motive behind the discussion and others calling it unnecessary.

Among those against the plan is Jakarta Deputy Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama.

“I do not want to comment. There’s a team for that. It’s better to ask the governor,” he said on Tuesday at the City Hall.

“For me, personally, I prefer [the names] Jalan Medan Merdeka Barat, Utara, Timur and Selatan. The names ‘merdeka’ are there for a reason,” he said.

The plan was proposed by a group calling itself the Council of 17, led by Jimly Asshidiqie, a former chief justice of the Constitutional Court.

The group wants to see the names of the roads surrounding the National Monument (Monas) changed to Jalan Sukarno, Jalan Mohammad Hatta, Jalan Ali Sadikin and Jalan Suharto.

But Basuki argued the changes would not stop at the names of the four individuals who have been proposed and instead will prompt demands for other streets to also be renamed, especially to chose of former presidents of the country.

“There are indeed a lot of pros and cons. So what other streets would be renamed for other presidents? Wouldn’t that be a problem? If Sukarno and Hatta’s name [would be included], why not Suharto too?

“And if Suharto is included, why isn’t Abdurrahman Wahid on the list? What about Megawati? Habibie and President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono? Isn’t this how it would all turn out?” he said.

Basuki suggested that the plan be reviewed in order to reach an acceptable solution, although he said he would prefer the four streets to retain their names.

“They are easier to memorize. That is why I am suggesting there should be a team to review this. But this is not my official statement,” he said, emphasizing that he was speaking in his personal capacity.

In a report by Kompas.com, historian Muhammad Isa Ansyari said the plan would only detract from the meaning behind the roads’ names, as Medan Merdeka had been chosen to represent the nation’s struggle for independence.

“If indeed recognition was needed for our heroes, then the governor can move to rename other streets, but not Medan Merdeka, which has high historical value,” he said, as quoted by Kompas.com.

Head of the National Mandate Party (PAN) faction in the House of Representatives Marwan Jafar also questioned the motive behind renaming the streets, and called for clarification before carrying out the plan.

“Yes, I call for an explanation. What is the reason? The public needs to know. What is the motive behind all that? We need an explanation first,” Jafar said.

He also suggested the government held a public consultation before deciding.

“Discuss it first, listen to what the people have to say,” he said. “If the stakeholders approve, then why not.”

Ray Rangkuti from the Indonesian Civil Circle (Lima) said the debate was unnecessary.

“This seems like they’re trying to pry open old unnecessary debates, again showing injustice as well as carelessness,” he said on Sunday.

Governor Joko Widodo last week spoke in favor of the plan to rename Jalan Medan Merdeka Selatan, south of the Monas square, to Jalan Sukarno, after Indonesia’s founding father as well as naming Jalan Medan Merdeka Utara, which borders the park with the State Palace, after Sukarno’s deputy Mohammad Hatta.

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