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Indonesia’s Presidential Election: What’s at stake for a just transition?

By S. Al Ayubi



Surabaya, Indonesia, January 11, 2024. Motorists pass by campaign billboards for legislative and presidential candidates ahead of the Indonesian election. Photo by Ridho Sakti

Amid the growing risks posed by the climate crisis, coal-reliant Indonesia is facing an urgent need to transition to cleaner sources of energy. In the run-up to the presidential election on February 14, 2024, which will determine the successor to Joko Widodo (who is not eligible to run for another term), climate issues have gained traction on the national political stage.

By signing up to the Just Energy Transition Partnership (JETP) in 2022, the current Indonesian government has, in principle, emphasised the importance of justice aspects for workers and communities who will be affected during the transition. Through its nationally determined contribution (NDC) to the Paris Agreement, Indonesia has also stressed the importance of just transition by emphasising the need to consider gender and inter-generational equality when enhancing workforce capacity, to consider the needs of vulnerable groups, and to enhance participatory public dialogue.

By signing up to the Just Energy Transition Partnership (JETP) in 2022, the current Indonesian government has, in principle, emphasised the importance of justice aspects for workers and communities who will be affected during the transition.

However, research carried out by Yayasan Indonesia Cerah (CERAH), an Indonesian non-profit organisation working to advance the country’s energy transition policy agenda, shows that there are ongoing discrepancies between this aspiration and the current regulatory environment and political reality. For instance, there are regulatory gaps that may hinder the implementation of a just energy transition in relation to social protection, reskilling, social dialogue, and protecting affected local communities.

Research by CERAH and the Center of Economic and Law Studies (CELIOS) also reveals a need for better involvement of local governments in formulating and implementing policies for a just energy transition, including the provision of adequate funding. A CERAH survey of 299 people living within 10 kilometres of coal-fired power plants considered for early retirement found that 80% of respondents did not know about the JETP and the government’s proposed policies to advance the energy transition. This finding indicates low levels of awareness, which increases the risk of an unprepared transition.

The Candidates

This year’s election features three candidate pairs, each with one presidential and one vice-presidential candidate:

1. Anies Baswedan, a former Jakarta governor, and his running mate Muhaimin Iskandar, chair of the National Awakening Party (Partai Kebangkitan Bangsa [PKB]), which has strong historical connections with Indonesia’s largest Islamic organisation, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU).

2. Prabowo Subianto, current defence minister, who was unsuccessful in the last two elections, and Gibran Rakabuming Raka, the current president Joko Widodo’s eldest son and the mayor of Surakarta, a historic royal capital on the Indonesian island of Java.

3. Ganjar Pranowo, a former governor of Central Java and a member of the ruling and largest party, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (Partai Demokrasi Indonesia Perjuangan [PDI-P]), and Mohammad Mahfud Mahmodin, known as Mahfud MD, a former security affairs minister who boasts a strong support base among NU followers in Madurese communities.

Where the Candidates Stand on Just Energy Transition

To better anticipate the extent to which issues related to climate and energy transition will influence the political agenda of Indonesia’s next president, CERAH, in collaboration with the Markdata research centre, analysed the track records of all the 2024 presidential candidates. This analysis tracked candidates’ mentions of key words and phrases connected to energy transition in news stories, social media posts, and vision and mission documents from October 2022 to October 2023. These words and phrases were then grouped in three categories—basic, moderate, and advanced—to assess the level of depth of the reference.

This analysis revealed that during the research period, all three candidates adopted a rather normative approach to energy transition but failed to set out concrete plans. Their statements primarily focused on high-level, generic visions, such as the “green economy” or “renewable energies.”

Among the candidate pairs, however, Anies–Muhaimin and Ganjar–Mahfud took a stronger stance, with Anies and Muhaimin by far the most vocal. Most of the keywords mentioned by Anies and Muhaimin fell into the “basic” category, despite “moderate” and “advanced” terms being much more widespread in their vision and mission documents. In contrast, although Ganjar and Mahfud were found to be less vocal overall, their proportion of “basic” keywords was smaller. Finally, Prabowo–Gibran not only were the least vocal on energy transition and climate issues but also accrued the largest share of “basic” references and by far the fewest “advanced” references.

To examine the “justice” element, the research also considered the key phrase “just energy transition” and other terms that go beyond simpler references to the “green economy” and “renewable development.” Anies–Muhaimin’s vision and mission documents featured various references to “green jobs,” including the target of creating 15 million such jobs between 2025 and 2029, as well as references to “upskilling” and “reskilling.” In their news releases, they also mentioned “just energy transition” (twice) and “green industry” (once) as a replacement for the current, fossil-dependent industry; however, these were minimal compared with the 585 mentions of “energy transition” more broadly. Ganjar–Mahfud referred to “green industry ” once in their news statements and once in their vision and mission statement. No coverage of this topic could be found for Prabowo–Gibran.

Final Campaign Weeks

In the months since the study was carried out, the pace of Indonesia’s election campaigns has accelerated. Debates and small discussion forums have been held in which the candidates and their campaign teams have further outlined their visions for the energy transition. This recent campaigning reinforces the study’s findings, with Anies–Muhaimin and Ganjar–Mahfud placing a stronger emphasis on the dynamics of the energy transition.

Anies and Muhaimin, for example, introduced the concept of “humanist energy,” a term that pertains to prioritising inclusive participation and mitigating the social and economic impacts of energy transition. The pair also promised “ecological justice” to protect and include marginalised communities that will be affected by development. They further pointed out some of the longstanding bureaucratic issues hindering a just energy transition, such as sectoral ego and conflicting interests, and proposed setting up a dedicated agency for just energy transition to lead ministries in the effort to tackle climate change.

Ganjar–Mahfud have also touched on bureaucratic reforms; in particular, the involvement of subnational governments, drawing on Ganjar’s first-hand experience as a former provincial governor. Among other proposals, they support decentralising the energy system, which would, in theory, allow villages to produce and consume power locally and ensure that the benefits of a transition to renewable energy are more widely shared.

Prabowo–Gibran, on the other hand, have used the election debates to share misleading statements about the state of Indonesia’s energy transition, including bringing the widely criticised term “greenflation,” which refers to the sudden increase in the cost of green technologies, into the discussion. They have also expressed support for solutions that may extend the use of coal and that are clearly not in line with just transition principles; among these solutions are carbon capture and storage technology and biomass, including biodiesel from palm oil.

Can a Vision for a Just Coal Phase-out Emerge?

Despite the importance of energy transition and, in particular, the “just” element, the candidate pairs have failed to address this topic with the urgency it requires during their campaigns, including in relation to institutional aspects, funding, regulations, and structural reforms. This raises questions about their overall commitment to the transition.

None of the candidates have explicitly called for a coal phase-out and the early retirement of coal-fired power plants.

Even more importantly, none of the candidates have explicitly called for a coal phase-out and the early retirement of coal-fired power plants. All three candidate pairs approach this issue hesitantly, and all three of their campaign teams have several members with direct ties to the coal industry among their ranks. Prabowo, one of the presidential candidates, was revealed by a recent report from environmental group Mining Advocacy Network (Jatam) to have the largest number of personal ties to the coal industry.

The upcoming election will determine whether Indonesia will stay the course in shuttering coal plants and deploying more clean energy while ensuring that the transition leaves no one behind. Despite some convergence among the three candidate pairs on the general direction of the energy transition, there are nuanced differences. Indonesians therefore need to consider their vote carefully to maximise the chances of a truly just energy transition.

S. Al Ayubi is Climate Justice and Project Manager at CERAH, an Indonesian non-profit organisation working to advance energy transition policies.

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