Wiring the New Order: Indonesian Village Electrification and Patrimonial Technopolitics (1966-1998)

By Mohsin, Anto | SOJOURN: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia, March 2014 | Go to article overview

Wiring the New Order: Indonesian Village Electrification and Patrimonial Technopolitics (1966-1998)


Mohsin, Anto, SOJOURN: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia


In late April 2007 Indonesia's State Electricity Company (Perusahaan Listrik Negara, PLN) launched an ambitious plan. Under the "75-100" vision, PLN aimed to achieve full electricity coverage by 2020, to coincide with the seventy-fifth anniversary of Indonesia's independence. (1) Providing electricity to every household in the country was an audacious goal, considering that by the end of 2006 Indonesia had just achieved a 64 per cent electrification rate (Ibrahim and Faizal 2008, p. 82). Other challenges included Indonesia's vast size and archipelagic geography, in which many communities are isolated from one another. But 2007 was not the first time that a commitment to electrify the entire nation had been articulated, or that resources to achieve that objective had been allocated. In 1960, for instance, Indonesia's founding President Sukarno delivered a speech commemorating the fifteenth anniversary of "Gas and Electricity Day" in which he envisioned that by 1985 all of Indonesia would have been electrified and "in each house on the tops of the mountains there should be a radio set [and] electric lighting] " (Sukarno 1960). In 1976, the director general of the country's Department of Manpower, Transmigration, and Cooperative said that Indonesia aimed to electrify the majority of its 60,000 villages by the year 2000 (Soedjono 1976, p. 17). (2) Twenty-one years later, when slightly more than half of the country's households had electricity, the New Order government made it its goal to electrify all villages by 2004 and to achieve a 100 per cent electrification rate by 2019 (Perusahaan Listrik Negara 1997, pp. 15, 41).

In 1978, for the first time since President Soeharto came to power in 1966, Indonesia's Broad Guidelines of State Policy (Garis-Garis Besar Haluan Negara, GBHN), formulated by the parliament, specifically mentioned the electrification programme. The main goals of the programme, the GBHN spelled out, were "to improve the lives of the village and town societies as well as to propel and stimulate economic activities". (3) PLN officials echoed these goals when they met in 1979 and formulated the "Doctrine of National Electrification Development" (Doktrin Pembangunan Kelistrikan Nasional), based on four principles: social justice according to the state ideology Pancasila and the 1945 Constitution; belief in one's self and adherence to the GBHN's energy policy; equity according to the Three Principles of Development [Trilogi Pembangunan] and Eight Paths to Equalization [Delapan Jalur Pemerataan]; and the unity and comprehensiveness of planning [asas kesatuan dan keutuhan perencanaan] (Berita PLN May 1979, pp. 14-17).

Soeharto's Three Principles of Development aimed to secure national stability, to increase economic growth, and to equalize the benefits of development, in that order, during the first ten years of his rule. At the beginning of the third Five Year Development Plan (Pembangunan Lima Tahun, PELITA) in April 1979, Soeharto reversed the second and third of these goals, out of a realization of the need to address inequities between urban and rural areas and within cities. Equalization (pemerataan) became the key word in the third PELITA and the Eight Paths to Equalization spelled out areas that government programmes must address. These areas included equity in meeting basic needs, in education, income, employment, entrepreneurial opportunities--especially as these concerned women and youth--and in justice, and among regions. Jakarta officially rolled out the national village electrification programme that year, in part to address the uneven development between towns and villages. Bringing electricity to the countryside, the Soeharto government believed, would improve villagers' welfare.

This article argues that, although touted as an effort to improve the economic conditions of villagers, Soeharto's village electrification programme--or Listrik Masuk Desa, as it was commonly known --also served as politics by other means. …

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