Indonesia politician grabs new headlines by banning monkey business

Reuters

By Kanupriya Kapoor and Randy Fabi

JAKARTA (Reuters) - On the congested streets of Indonesia's capital, chained monkeys are a surreal sideshow. Some ride tiny bicycles wearing baby doll masks or shake people's hands for small change.

Not for much longer.

Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo has banned all such entertainment, reinforcing his image as a can-do politician cleaning up one of Asia's most frenetic cities ahead of presidential elections next year in which voters expect him to run.

Widodo has criticized the shows as animal abuse and an unwelcome distraction for motorists who slow their cars to gawk at macaques outfitted in skirts, cowboy hats or plastic baby doll heads that cover their faces.

The ban, which comes into force at the end of the year, is an unusual departure from the big, bold initiatives Widodo has pushed through in his first year as governor. Nevertheless, it has received the same widespread praise from Jakarta's 10 million residents, many of whom are desperate to see tangible improvements in their daily lives.

"Voter expectations are relatively low in Indonesia, and low expectations are easily met," said Douglas Ramage, political analyst at consultancy Bower Group Asia. "So when any government is perceived to be trying something, they get enormous credit for it."

Widodo's popularity has surged since he took office in October 2012. Polls place him as the frontrunner in next year's presidential election if he decides to run.

For now, the 52-year-old governor, known widely as Jokowi, has shrugged off questions over his political ambitions, saying he is focused on Jakarta's biggest problems: poor infrastructure, rampant corruption and abject poverty.

His biggest headline-grabbing initiatives include the start of construction on a long-delayed subway system, the relocation of hundreds of illegal street vendors to ease traffic congestion, and the dredging of reservoirs to prevent flooding.

Widodo's administration is quick to highlight that even though the governor may take on smaller initiatives like the monkey ban, it doesn't mean his priorities have changed.

"The issue of monkey buskers is just a small one but it needs to be addressed simultaneously with the big problems," said Eko Hariadi, a spokesman for the Jakarta administration.

Police last week started to raid neighborhoods and confiscate the monkeys, which animal rights groups have long said were being mistreated by their handlers - they say the animals are tortured to remain obedient and their teeth are pulled so they can't bite.

Widodo said he will compensate monkey owners and the animals will receive proper care before being sent to a zoo.

But this means little for Agus Supriyanto, 21, and the other monkey buskers who don't actually own the animals but rent them. They will not receive any compensation. The former snack food vendor had been able to make up to 150,000 rupiah ($13.62) a day entertaining motorists and pedestrians.

But Supriyanto remains a Widodo supporter.

"It's ok if Jokowi wants to ban the monkey buskers in Jakarta," he told Reuters. "(The governor) is good, there are a lot of differences and changes in Jakarta right now."

(Additional reporting by Viriya Paramita; Editing by Jason Szep and Nick Macfie)

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