Formula E, Electric Car or Political Race?

Many of us may remember how Sebastian Vettel won the Formula One Malaysian Grand Prix at the Sepang International Circuit, Malaysia in 2017. Perhaps learning from Malaysia, Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan thinks to held similar event in the capital city next June 2022 in the form of electric car racing Formula E.

Although not as prestigious as F-1, this Jakarta first ever international sporting event of Formula E will be perceived as a huge distinction for Indonesia. That is why the Jakarta government has prepared this since 2019, months before the COVID-19 pandemic hit the world.  

Since the 2020–21 season, Formula E is an FIA World Championship, making it the first single-seater racing series outside of Formula One to be given world championship status. The Formula E championship is currently contested by twelve teams with two drivers each. The sport features electric-powered race cars similar in style to the hybrid-drive cars of F-1. Racing generally takes place on temporary city-centre street circuits, 1.9 to 3.4 km long. In accordance with these venues like Jakarta, does not have to build a special circuit such as the World Superbike event at the Mandalika circuit on Lombok Island, last November.

Racing in Mandalika, Lombok, NTT, Indonesia, November 2021

Supposed to take place last June 2020, Formula E has been postponed to June 2022. Anies Baswedan has strongly stated that the safety of the people – due to the pandemic — was not worthy to be sacrificed for the sake of economic benefits nor for or any other factor.

Since the beginning Formula E team has chosen the famous National Monument as the venue for Jakarta. The National Monument (Indonesians call it Monas, Monumen Nasional) is a 132 m obelisk in the center of Merdeka Square, Central Jakarta, symbolizing the fight for Indonesia. Began with the official start of construction on 17 August 1961 with Indonesian first President Sukarno ceremonially driving in the first concrete, Monas was built to commemorate the struggle for Indonesian independence.

That’s why, apart from the fact that this landmark has the most strategic location in the capital city, Monas is considered important to appear on this international sporting event, just like the icons of other countries that appeared when those cities became the hosts of similar global event.

But the meeting held by Monas Management Team held at the Indonesia’s Ministry of State Secretary rejected this suggestion. Apparently, the decision was based by a kind of “collective assumption” that President Joko Widodo would not agree, albeit no direct statement from the president himself at that time. This looked like an elevation of a flag for political intervenes, with the approval of Monas as part of the Jakarta Formula E circuit, the responsible committee is required to consult with the Cultural Conservation Expert team.

Formula E, Paris, 2019

Nevertheless, apparently it is not only about the venue (Monas). Certain parties seemed to do all effort to nullify the event which will uplift, at least in their eyes, Baswedan’s standing in the eyes of the world. People can see this by following events in the realm of succeeding the Formula E.

When the pandemic hit, all preparation processes for Formula E Jakarta were abolished and stopped. Until it’s been almost two years. When the team wanted to go back to work for the preparations of Jakarta Formula E 2022, Jakpro (as the organizer of this event in Jakarta) stated that Formula E Jakarta would use another area for the circuit.

Apparently, the political intervenes did not stop. Apart from political matters, the actual land that can be used for this race could be various. If Monas cannot be used, there are other options such as around Gelora Bung Karno or around Jalan Jenderal Sudirman to the Senayan East Parking field, or recently there were information that said the event could be held in seaside area of Ancol, north Jakarta.

In the end, what Anies Baswedan as the Government might have to do is to prepare a venue that is fully under the control of the DKI Jakarta Provincial Government (and not in the area under the control of the Central Government) such as Ancol or other places.

Even so, Anies Baswedan still showed his good intention to ask for “blessing” from the President, who so far has not yet given any sign, even though June 2022 is approaching.

Since the beginning, there have been many intervenes in the preparation process for Jakarta Formula E. Jakarta Formula E seems to be a big gamble for the Anies Baswedan government. If this international sporting event is successfully held, then the world will see an extraordinary achievement for Jakarta. Its is Anies’ ‘biggest gambit’ in final year in office, wrote The Jakarta Post last 20 September 2021.

Therefore, there are certain parties who do not like this great triumph be achieved by the Governor, by raising various types of interferences from all directions. One of them is the interpellation attempt, especially by Jakarta’s local legislative Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P). This party seemed to do all to prevent the entire implementation process.

On October 15, beyond any expectation of many who opposed the agenda, the Formula E event owner in London established a press conference, saying that it was confirmed that Jakarta will hold the event on 4 June 2022. The announcement silenced those opposing parties, at least for a while. Not long after that, another impediment arose from certain parties who reported the Jakarta Formula E committee to the Indonesia’s Corruption Eradication Commission (Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi or KPK). They claimed that Formula E will bring financial loss to the government. Some will say this as an absurd assumption. (How come some people even thought about that could inflict a shortfall while the event has not taken place?) But Gilbert Simanjuntak from the Jakarta PDI-P criticized Anies’ team to send its representative to the KPK, bringing a big clarification file, and calling that as a lobbying attempt only.

On this financial issue, the total cost of organizing Formula E in Jakarta is IDR 560 billion which has been paid since 2019, using the 2019 regional revenue and expenditure budget. There’s a high chance that the Jakarta could obtain IDR 480 billion to IDR 590 billion from ticket sales and additional economic impact or even more.

Formula E in action: motor or political race?

However, while we are in wait for the KPK to work on the accusation, the Formula E itself in fact can also revive Indonesian economy. Logically, as in any international event the presence of crowds watching the race, or doing some shopping in their spare times, will show that this event is a huge showbiz. In addition, local television stations, perhaps with collaboration with international TV channels, will also gain advertisement benefits since audiences like to follow the entire course of the electric car race on screen. Other benefits, for example, it’s increasing popularity of the nation and its landmarks in the eyes of the international community. It will also be another evidence that Indonesia is concerned with the climate through the promotion of electric cars, which also meets President Jokowi’s commitment in his determination to improve Indonesian environment.

With a venue that does not need a new tracks building (and only using the available streets with some markings and a little refinement here and there instead), we then raise a big question: is not that all the interferences only came up from a group who are afraid if this extraordinary accomplishment is achieved by Anies Baswedan, because it will raise Anies’ prestige when he later runs for the 2024 presidential election?

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