May 21, 2019 / 12:51 PM / 2 months ago

Faster land reform on the cards with Indonesian president's re-election

BANGKOK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - With his election win confirmed on Tuesday, Indonesian President Joko Widodo is set to push ahead with his promise to register all land in the country by 2025, redistribute land to indigenous people and resolve disputes over claims, land experts said.

Indonesia's Incumbent President Joko Widodo reacts after making a public address with his running mate Ma'ruf Amin, following the announcement of the last month's presidential election results at a rural area of Jakarta, Indonesia, May 21, 2019. REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan

Widodo - popularly known as Jokowi - was re-elected last month, after vowing in his first term to return 12.7 million hectares of land to indigenous people following a historic 2013 court ruling to lift state control of customary forests.

In addition, Widodo last year issued a decree on agrarian reform aimed at redistributing land and issuing titles on some 9 million hectares of land.

“The policies are all there, they just need better execution,” said Rukka Sombolinggi, secretary general of indigenous rights group AMAN, adding that implementation was slowed by conflicting claims and a lack of records.

“It may be faster now, because the officials know the problems, and what has to be done. And Jokowi has indicated he will support communities in case of conflicts,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, referring to a recent order.

Earlier this month, Widodo told authorities to settle land conflicts quickly, and favor communities with prior claims on land given to investors in palm oil and mining.

Land concessions may be revoked if companies do not settle such disputes, he said in a cabinet meeting.

Indonesia has the world’s third largest total area of tropical forest and is also the biggest producer of palm oil. Environmentalists blame much of the forest destruction on land clearance for oil-palm plantations.

More than 800,000 hectares (3,088 square miles) of land were caught in disputes at the end of last year, according to advocacy group Agrarian Reform Consortium (KPA), many involving palm oil plantations.

“There are hundreds of land disputes, but authorities can prioritize cases that land rights groups have documented, where we have clear evidence of community ownership and violations by companies,” said Sombolinggi.

Widodo would be more committed to the successful execution of his policies in the second term, as they will help cement his legacy, said Chaula Rininta Anindya at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.

“But execution still depends on local authorities who have sole authority in issuing land certificates and titles,” said Anindya, a research analyst at the Indonesia Programme.

“It all depends on how he can negotiate with local politicians to ensure execution.”

Reporting by Rina Chandran @rinachandran; Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit news.trust.org

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