Voting concluded in Indonesia this morning, as hundreds of millions of residents decided on their next president. Nearly 193 million people are registered to vote in the country, spread across the nation’s 17,000 islands. They started voting this morning at 7am local time in restive Papua (12am BST) and concluded at 1pm in Sumatra (7am BST). The decisive and politically complicated elections are a runoff against incumbent Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and Prabowo Subianto, a nationalistic former army general.
Palm oil use has risen to the top of the agenda as the two candidates battle it out in the polls.
The vegetable oil is taken from the oil palm tree, and in nearly all types of processed food and biofuels such as biodiesel.
However, in order to extract the oil, palm ‘plantations’ are formed deep in the rainforest where the trees are found.
The continual growth of these plantations causes extensive deforestation, which is a threat to both global warming and a number of animal species.
Mr Widodo had formerly been key resistance against palm oil, but recently he threatened to renege a national moratorium on new palm-oil plantations with his reelection.
This is in the name of self-sufficiency and aligns his view on the practice with opposition Prabowo Subianto.
The push for self-sufficiency is likely a tactic from both candidates to drum up support from nationalist voters.
However, re-engaging palm oil harvesting would quickly escalate deforestation in Indonesia and flies in the face of European Union plans to curb use of the product.
On March 12 this year, the EU voted to label biofuel from palm oil “unsustainable” and banned subsidies of the product.
Bas Eickhout, a Dutch Green member of the European Parliament and key proponent of the vote claimed global concern for the rainforest had “paid off”.
He said: “The vital mobilisation and efforts of thousands of citizens who have voiced concerns we have seen over the last few weeks over the damaging effects of mass palm oil production on forests, animal habitats and the environment, seems to have paid off.
“Burning food for fuel is nonsense and has a huge impact on climate change and biodiversity.
“Today’s decision sets the tone that Europeans want to shift away from unsustainable biofuels.
“Soy oil is the new palm oil.
“The Commission’s own estimates show that at least eight percent of global soybean expansion caused direct deforestation since 2008.
“This is in complete contradiction with the EU’s commitment to halt deforestation by 2020.”