A motorist drives past the Alexis Hotel in Jakarta, Indonesia, Oct. 19, 2017.
A motorist drives past the Alexis Hotel in Jakarta, Indonesia, Oct. 19, 2017.

JAKARTA, INDONESIA - Jakarta’s Governor Anies Baswedan made good on a major campaign promise when he shut down Indonesia’s infamous Alexis Hotel, widely rumored to be a site of prostitution. But it is not clear if it was an isolated move, or if it signals a larger crackdown.

The order not to renew its operation license, issued last week, was effective immediately, and the hotel and massage parlor have closed for business. (The building includes other venues like restaurants and karaoke rooms that remain unaffected.) Anies was vague on the details of illegal activity, but told reporters that he had “all the data” of its violations on file.

“We are firm. We don’t want Jakarta to become a city that allows prostitution to take place. We have received reports and complaints from residents as well as media reports,” Anies said Monday at City Hall.

The hotel has contested the decision, with its legal representative claiming the hotel did not violate regulations, contributed significant tax revenue, and employed hundreds of people who were their families’ sole breadwinner.

But Anies was unconcerned about the lost tax revenue (roughly $2.2 million a year) and said he is only interested in “halal money,” or money that comes from sources acceptable by Islamic law.

FILE - A disco ball rests near civil service polic
FILE - A disco ball rests near civil service police unit members as buildings are demolished at Kalijodo red light district in Jakarta, Indonesia, Feb. 29, 2016.

?Prominent watering hole

Jakarta’s previous governor, Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaha Purnama, was not able to close the Alexis, even though he made inroads with prominent nightclubs like Stadium and lower-class sites of sex work, like the Kalijodo red light district. 

Anies criticized him on the campaign trail for essentially attacking low-hanging fruit, since the Alexis is better known and attracts a wealthier clientele.

There was a small protest last month outside the Alexis, when about 70 people showed up before it was broken up by thugs, and it was largely dismissed as a bust. Alexis has long been viewed as a Jakarta fixture and claims of illicit activity have failed to stick. The Tourism Ministry even cleared it for business after an inspection last year, all of which makes Anies’ closure even more significant.

But some critics say the move against the Alexis is purely political.

“I find the decision not to grant the license for Alexis hotel to be a rather gimmicky action from Anies-Sandi’s administration,” said Tobias Basuki, a researcher at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Jakarta. “From the pattern and track record of Anies’ campaign style, much of his policy and action will be heavy on rhetoric (be it nationalism or Islamic narratives) but not a solidly packed set of ideologically driven policies.”

Others argue that shutting down the Alexis does nothing for underlying social ills.

“The closure does not solve the real problem, namely prostitution, drugs, human trafficking, and unemployment,” said Ayang Utriza, a researcher at the State Islamic University of Jakarta. “These are the real problems faced by the people of Jakarta. Upon [Alexis’] closing, then what? Where do those prostitutes go? As long as there is no provision of jobs and decent salaries and as long as there is human trafficking … and men with deep pockets, the question of illicit after-hours entertainment will not be resolved.”

Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan, right, and his de
Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan, right, and his deputy Sandiaga Uno wave to reporters before a swearing-in at the Presidential Palace in Jakarta, Indonesia, Oct. 16, 2017.

?A more Islamic Jakarta

The closing of the Alexis on moral grounds is one sign of an increasingly Islamic capital city, if the stated intentions of Anies and his deputy governor, Sandiaga “Sandi” Uno, are to be believed.

Since taking office, Anies has also reopened the National Monument in Jakarta to religious activity and Quran recitation and loosened regulations on the slaughter of animals for Id al-Adha, an important Muslim holiday, undoing restrictions on both practices by his predecessor, Ahok.

He is also attempting to divest from PT Delta Djakarta, a beer production and distribution company in which the city holds shares, and Sandi has spoken frequently on introducing more “sharia-compliant” entertainment to Jakarta — including halal hotels and public spaces for Islamic courtship, or ta’aruf.

The secretary-general of Indonesia’s largest Islamist political party, the Prosperous Justice Party, congratulated Anies on his action. 

“We salute Anies for his consistency regarding Alexis and the reclamation [of Jakarta real estate],” Mustafa Kamal said.

The leader of the hard-line Islamic Defenders Front, which organized large Islamist rallies last year against the previous Jakarta governor, also congratulated Anies, and promised to mobilize his followers again if the hotel management pushed back on its closure.