According to environmental experts, the upcoming elections in Indonesia are likely to lead to increased deforestation as politicians may solicit campaign funds from companies in exchange for favorable access to valuable natural resources.
The country in Southeast Asia, known as the third-largest democracy in the world, is set to have a general election on February 14th. Regional elections are also scheduled to take place in 2024.
Annisa Rahmawati, a member of the board at Indonesian conservation organization Satya Bumi, stated that the upcoming election will play a crucial role in determining the future of Indonesia’s wealthiest and most biodiverse forests.
Experts, including her, are concerned that the increasing expenses of campaigns, combined with insufficient monitoring of expenditures, will diminish efforts to conserve the rainforest.
According to Ward Berenschot, a professor specializing in comparative political anthropology at the University of Amsterdam, the cost of election campaigns in Indonesia is high. As a result, politicians at both local and national levels have formed strong connections with natural resource companies in order to fund their political endeavors.
According to Berenschot, who has conducted research on the matter, efforts to safeguard forests have faced challenges as supporting campaign contributors, and in some cases, family businesses, have used them as a means to finance their campaigns.
Indonesia, known for its abundant nature, contains approximately one third of the world’s rainforests. Unfortunately, significant portions of these forests have been destroyed in the past few decades due to the growth of industries such as palm oil production, mining, pulp and paper, and urban development.
Forests absorb carbon dioxide, a gas that contributes to global warming, as they grow. However, they also release it when they decompose or are burned. Altering the use of land, primarily through deforestation, is responsible for approximately 10-20% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.
The rate of deforestation in Indonesia has decreased in recent years due to stricter policies and measures to control forest fires. However, a global nonprofit organization, the World Resources Institute, ranked Indonesia fourth for primary tropical forest loss in 2022.
VOTE-BUYING WIDESPREAD DESPITE CRACKDOWNS
The act of purchasing votes has become prevalent in Indonesia’s national elections in the past 25 years, despite efforts by the government’s anti-corruption agency to stop it. According to a survey in 2017, approximately one-third of voters are affected by this behavior.
Following the 2019 presidential election, Prabowo Subianto, who came in second place and is now serving as defense minister, initially rejected the outcome. His party claimed there was fraud, including vote-buying. However, the Constitutional Court dismissed his protests.
Next year’s presidential election will feature several candidates, including Prabowo, Ganjar Pranowo (the governor of Central Java), and Anies Baswedan (former governor of Jakarta), as President Joko Widodo’s second and final term comes to a close.
Important concerns for voters are employment, the state of the economy, accessibility to healthcare, the expenses of living, dishonesty, pollution, and global warming.
Those who work towards preserving nature are optimistic that Widodo’s replacement will continue the progress his administration has made in addressing deforestation and reviving mangrove forests. This includes implementing a permanent ban on clearing primary forests.
Due to Indonesia’s population of 270 million, the cost of their elections is rising. This has resulted in parties using forests as a means of obtaining campaign funds, according to Rahmawati from Satya Bumi.
According to the speaker, this behavior must be discontinued as it causes humiliation and hinders the advancement of democracy. It also damages our environment and economy. They suggest that electoral candidates should be obligated to disclose the origin of their campaign finances.
According to Marcus Colchester, a senior policy consultant with the Forest Peoples Programme in the UK, politicians in Indonesia are frequently hesitant to impose regulations on corporations due to their reliance on them for financial support.
According to him, those links can be damaging to the local and Indigenous communities as their land is sometimes given to companies without their permission.
Colchester stated that the combination of impunity and corruption presents a major barrier to achieving social justice and environmental responsibility.
A lack of accountability and democracy is causing difficulties with managing natural resources.
Large corporations dominate the political landscape in Indonesia.
According to Berenschot, a university in Amsterdam, modifications to laws have frequently benefited larger companies. For example, a 2023 ruling aimed at promoting employment and investments was met with disapproval from environmental organizations for potentially weakening protections for the environment.
Berenschot stated that the strong correlation between business and politics has allowed for the implementation of certain policies and laws that may contribute to the rapid depletion of forests.
Furthermore, the primary political parties in Indonesia are frequently helmed by affluent individuals and entrepreneurs, who may place a higher emphasis on the economy rather than matters concerning the environment.
It can be difficult to monitor and understand the amount of money spent by politicians during their campaigns, as it is often not clearly disclosed.
A decade ago, a study conducted by 500 political analysts in the area revealed that a winning candidate for district leader typically used $1.5 million for their campaign, while a chosen governor spent approximately $10 million.
According to Berenschot, in an economy where the minimum wage is around $300 per month, these sums of money are quite significant.
Following an election, forests are under pressure.
According to Toerris Jaeger, the director of Rainforest Foundation Norway, deforestation rates typically decrease during election years, but tend to rise again in the following year.
“In the past we have seen that before the end of a government period, licences and permits in the forest and peatland area were being given to companies that provided or backed up campaign funding or that were tied into political parties that are running in the election,” said Jaeger.
According to the speaker, neglecting to address the correlation between elections and deforestation will create obstacles for Indonesia in achieving its climate objectives, specifically in regards to decreasing emissions from deforestation. This could also result in an increase in the frequency of natural disasters.
According to Jaeger, it is essential to have transparency and accountability in order to sever the connection between deforestation and financial support for political campaigns. This statement was reported by Reuters.