Lighting “Paradise”: A Sociopolitical History of
Electriﬁcation in Bali
Received: B/ Accepted: B
q2016 Ministry of Science and Technology, Taiwan
Abstract The article explores the sociopolitical history of electriﬁcation in Bali in the
so-called New Order period of Indonesia (1966 –98). It discusses the intertwining
factors that drove electriﬁcation on the island to move more quickly than in other areas
in Indonesia, culminating in the electriﬁcation of all Bali’s villages in 1995. Bali’s
tourism industry, the New Order’s village electriﬁcation program, the construction
a national television network, and Bali’s selection as a venue of many important
regional and international meetings in Indonesia all contributed to the rapid growth
rate of electriﬁcation on the island. Underlying all these factors was the New Order
regime’s construction and projection to the world of Indonesia’s identity as a rapidly
modernizing nation with a part to play on the global stage. The New Order government
thus poured a huge amount of resources into electrifying the island. Although the
Balinese welcomed the attention and resources provided by the Suharto government to
develop Bali, they wanted to ensure this effort was not merely to use the island to
promote Indonesia’s image overseas. Rather, they wanted development there to be
more meaningful than it was and to improve people’s welfare. Their criticisms shared
the same sentiments of some critiques of New Order Indonesia’s development efforts
Keywords BaliIndonesiaelectriﬁcationNew OrderASEANOPEC
Acknowledgments I would like to thank Ron Kline, Sara B. Pritchard, and Tamara Loos for their helpful
comments on earlier drafts of this article; Sulﬁkar Amir as a guest editor for inviting me to submit it for a
special edition of EASTS; two anonymous reviewers for their critical suggestions to improve the manu-
script; and the Cornell Graduate School for providing funding of my research trips to Indonesia. Any
remaining deﬁciencies in the text are my own responsibility.
Northwestern University in Qatar
East Asian Science, Technology and Society: An International Journal (2016) 10:1–26
On Friday, 11 August 1995, a special event was held in Siakin, a remote village in the
northeastern part of the Bangli District of Bali (see Fig. 1). Siakin residents donned
their best Balinese attire and their village chief, I Made Madi, looked sharp in his
ofﬁcial uniform. He was not the only village head in attendance; his counterpart from a
neighboring and equally isolated village, Subaya, I Wayan Jingga, wearing the same
outﬁt, was also there. Both had been invited to participate in an inauguration ceremony
marking a milestone in the Balinese village electriﬁcation project. Their villages were
the last two villages to receive electricity, making Bali the ﬁrst province in Indonesia
to have all of its villages connected to the power grid.
Ida Bagus Oka, the then governor of Bali, presided over the ceremony. He was
accompanied by several ofﬁcials from the Indonesian State Electricity Company
(Perusahaan Listrik Negara, PLN) and other Balinese local government ofﬁcials.
The governor lowered a kerosene lamp (lampu petromak) that was hung from a tall
bamboo pole and then switched on an electric lamp. His action symbolized the end of
an oil lamp era and the beginning of an electric lighting period in Balinese villages.
Teeming with pride, Governor Oka was quoted in the Bali Post, the island’s widely
circulated daily, as saying, “After all villages in Bali have been lighted, the next goal is
to [electrify the remaining] hamlets” (Bali Post 1995). After lowering the kerosene
lamp, Governor Oka later turned on a PLN-donated television set that was plugged
into an electrical outlet in Siakin’s village ofﬁce (Pelangi Nusra 1995b). The governor
was hopeful that the remaining 250 hamlets (out of 3,481) that were not yet connected
to the grid would be electriﬁed by mid-1999.
Fig. 1 Administrative map of Bali (Cribb 2010).
2 A. Mohsin
A “lit village” (desa nyala) simply meant that an electrical distribution network had
reached at least one point in that village, a criterion that the PLN used in its village
electriﬁcation program (Perusahaan Umum Listrik Negara 1983: 14). Many villages
in Bali consisted of two or more hamlets (in Indonesian they are called dusun and in
Balinese they are called banjar), but when electricity is said to have entered a village, it
did not necessarily mean that all of the banjars in that village have been connected to
This fact notwithstanding, having all 636 villages in Bali electriﬁed at the
time was a noted achievement, especially considering that to this day no other pro-
vince in Indonesia except the special capital region of Jakarta has managed to electrify
all of its villages.
Governor Oka praised the PLN when he said, “PLN’s commitment is very high to
make the people prosper and I am so proud of the accomplishments that PLN Wilayah
XI [PLN Eleventh Region] has achieved” (Bali Post 1995). Ofﬁcials of the PLN
Eleventh Region, one of sixteen PLN divisions that covered Bali, East Timor, and
West and East Nusa Tenggara provinces, were extraordinarily pleased with their
Initially they had planned to electrify the remaining eighteen villages
in Bali by 31 March 1996, the end of the 1995/1996 ﬁscal year. But they managed to
ﬁnish ahead of time, in July 1995, and held the ceremony in August 1995, which
coincided with the ﬁftieth anniversary of Indonesia’s independence.
To commemorate the noteworthy occasion, the company published two cover
articles in the July and October 1995 issues of Pelangi Nusra, its internal magazine.
The headline on the July edition proudly claimed “Bali Propinsi Pertama Bebas dari
Desa Tak Berlistrik” (“Bali is the First Province Free of Unelectriﬁed Villages”). The
issue featured an article describing the company’s efforts wiring the last eighteen
villages in the Bangli District and proﬁled the last two villages (Siakin and Subaya)
that were connected to the power lines (Pelangi Nusra 1995a). In its subsequent
edition, Pelangi Nusra detailed the August 1995 inauguration ceremony.
By the end of 1998, Bali was well electriﬁed and enjoyed a higher electriﬁcation
rate than the national average. Today, it is not entirely clear whether all hamlets in Bali
have been electriﬁed. But when I was on the island in 2012 to conduct ﬁeldwork, PLN
Eleventh Region engineer Nyoman Suriarsa informed me that a concerted effort was
under way to realize the goal of connecting all of the banjars in Bali to the grid and the
hope was that they would all be connected by the end of 2014 (interview with author in
Denpasar, 2 April 2012). In mid-2014, I Made Gianyar, the Bangli District Head
at the time, upon realizing that there were still twenty-one hamlets in his area that
were not yet electriﬁed, decided to provide them with solar-powered electrical
generators after consulting with the PLN (Aditiasari 2014). Right now Bali enjoys a
status as one of the well-lit areas in the Indonesian archipelago. It is connected to
the country’s island-wide 500 kV sophisticated transmission system in Java using two
Bali’s island-wide power grid was completed in 1989.
The PLN’s organizational divisions changed over time. In the 1970s, it was divided into thirteen regional
divisions, two electricity distribution areas, and one ofﬁce that handled the production and transmission of
electricity for the two distribution areas. In 1995, the PLN was divided into eleven regional areas, one special
region of Batam, and four distribution areas that were all located in Java. East Timor was part of PLN
Eleventh Region since it was annexed by Indonesia in 1976 until 1999 when it seceded following a
A Sociopolitical History of Electriﬁcation in Bali 3
150 kV underwater cables, ensuring adequate electricity supply to meet Bali’s soaring
This article examines electriﬁcation efforts in Bali during the so-called New
Order period in Indonesia under the Suharto regime (1966 – 98).
It adds to the
growing studies on electriﬁcation endeavors outside the United States and Europe
(e.g., Coopersmith 1992;McDonald 2009;Shamir 2013;Kale 2014). In particular,
it focuses on a period after World War II when many postindependence countries
were highly inﬂuenced by the ideology and actively involved in the practice of
Temporally, therefore, this study is different from some other elec-
triﬁcation studies that mainly concentrate on looking at early electriﬁcation efforts, in
the colonial period (e.g., Mra´zek 2002;Protschky 2012;Rao and Lourdasamy 2010;
Chikowero 2007). This article also adds a new dimension to one of the most studied
areas of Indonesia by foregrounding the study of one of its sociotechnical systems.
Historiography of Bali has been dominated by the historical, anthropological, politi-
cal, and art historical study of the Balinese society (for examples of historical studies,
see Pringle 2004,Vickers 1989; for examples of anthropological studies, see Lansing
2006,Parker 2003, and Picard and Darling 1996; for an example of political studies,
see Robinson 1995; and for examples of art historical studies, see Covarrubias 1938
and De Zoete and Spies 1938). These works contribute valuable knowledge to the
scholarship on Bali but tend to take the historical development of sociotechnical
systems such as roads, airports, and electrical infrastructure as a given. Finally, this
article offers another critical study on the historiography of electriﬁcation in Indone-
sia, others of which have been written mainly by self-serving government agencies,
such as the PLN or the Indonesian Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources.
As a well-known tourist destination, an account of Bali’s electriﬁcation history
would indeed be entangled with its development as a top vacation spot.
And the New
Order government had also rolled out a countrywide village electriﬁcation program
starting in 1979 to electrify the sprawling archipelago (Mohsin 2014). While these two
factors played a role, I argue that there were other intertwined driving forces that
directed Balinese electriﬁcation into a certain direction and thus enabled Bali to have
all of its villages electriﬁed by 1995. Underlying all these factors was the New Order
regime’s construction and projection to the world of Indonesia’s identity as a rapidly
modernizing nation with a part to play on the regional and global stage. The New Order
government thus poured a huge amount of resources into electrifying the island and
also expected that the villagers put electricity to good use as a return on this invest-
ment. An examination of how some Balinese view and use electricity, however, shows
that the government’s hope of how electricity should be used had some unintended
consequences: even with the attention that Bali received from the New Order regime,
Historians of Indonesia mark the New Order period as between 1966 and 1998 to signify the time from the
effective transfer of power from Sukarno to Suharto on 11 March 1966 until Suharto’s resignation on 21 May
For a notion of development, see a brief discussion in Abraham 1998, 11– 12.
See the PLN Bali website for its own brief history: http://www.pln.co.id/disbali/?p¼62; and Darmono
et al. 2009. For a few critical studies on electriﬁcation in Indonesia, see Brodman 1983 and Husin 1989.
For a history of the development of Bali as a touristic area Picard and Darling (1996) provides a good
account. The book’s Indonesian translation Bali Pariwisata Budaya dan Budaya Pariwisata (1998) is an
updated and more comprehensive version.
4 A. Mohsin
not all Balinese necessarily agreed with the way that the regime developed the island.
A famous criticism was encapsulated by Bali’s governor in the 1990s, Ida Bagus Oka,
who urged the central government to develop Bali instead of developing in Bali
(Supartha and Oka 1998: 60).
My study on the sociopolitical history of electriﬁcation in Bali uses three well-known
conceptual tools in science and technology studies: the sociotechnical approach,
national identity and technology, and user studies. The ﬁrst follows Thomas Parke
Hughes’s approach in analyzing what he called large technological systems. Hughes
argued that to understand the development of massive technological systems, histo-
rians need a more holistic analytical framework than just investigating the technical
components of the built infrastructure. Social organizations, economic conditions,
political order, available resources, and key individuals all play important roles in
shaping that infrastructure. Hence, Hughes put forth a conceptual tool he called the
sociotechnical system (see Hughes 1983: 6, 140, 465). In this approach, analysts
should not simply view technology as a stand-alone artifact, but rather as a part of a
seamless web of objects, people, regulations, organizations, knowledge, and technical
know-how (codiﬁed and tacit) that are inseparable from the larger socioeconomic and
political orders. The system builders, then, are not just engineers but also other key
decision makers who help shape the development of the system, including, in this case,
the Balinese village heads. Moreover, the history of electriﬁcation in Bali, as I will
demonstrate, was tightly linked with the simultaneous development of the country’s
national television network that the government built to broadcast its national devel-
opment agenda, which included a projection of Indonesia’s uniﬁed cultural identity.
Although perhaps it should not be entirely unanticipated, this sociotechnical decision
helped create an increasing demand for this particular consumer good and electricity
in the Balinese countryside, which encouraged village heads to request that this tech-
nology be brought to their villages. This is different from how demand for electricity
was created by building an electric streetcar system in some US cities, for example
(Nye 1990: 91– 92).
The second analytical framework involves analyzing national identity and techno-
logical development. Benedict Anderson, in his inﬂuential book about nationalism,
asserts, “Indeed, nation-ness is the most universally legitimate value in the political
life of our time” (Anderson 2006: 3). Many newly created nations following the end of
World War II embraced the idea of nationhood and sought to create their distinctive
national identities. Michael Billig, who has studied how established nations contin-
ually “ﬂag” or remind their citizens of their nationhood, writes, “To have a national
identity is to possess ways of talking about nationhood” (Billig 1995: 8). But nation-
alism and national identity are not just discursive acts about a nation’s character.
Gabrielle Hecht argues that materiality comes into play as well in deﬁning and main-
taining a national identity. In fact, her deﬁnition of national identity as “the ways in
which people imagine the distinctiveness of their country and deﬁne uniquely national
ways of doing things,” encompasses both the discursive and material aspects of it
(Hecht 1998: 10). A nation’s national identity, then, is used as a legitimacy to create a
A Sociopolitical History of Electriﬁcation in Bali 5
sociopolitical order, to bind citizens for justiﬁed collective action that’s called on by
the state, and often, when it comes to technoscientiﬁc development, to place a country
within the global sociopolitical context. Among several examples, historians of tech-
nology have examined the co-construction of national identities with nuclear reactors
in post– World War II France, a long canal in nineteenth-century France, a rocket
program in 1950s Soviet Union, and a countrywide public railway network in post-
independence Belgium in the 1830s (Hecht 1998;Mukerji 2009;Siddiqi 2009;De
Block 2011). Canadian scientists used the distinct Canadian landscape and geography
north of the sixtieth parallel to argue that only Canadians can and should conduct
ionospheric research in the area (Jones-Imhotep 2009). Similarly, South Africa argued
that it deserved to become a member of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
because it possessed a sufﬁcient degree of “nuclearity” (Hecht 2006). As I will show,
New Order Indonesia used Bali as an international showcase of its economic and
technological development, especially its electriﬁcation program. The New Order
government sought to create and maintain an image of a technologically developing
nation capable as a host to many important gatherings.
My third conceptual tool draws on studies on users of technology. Scholarly
works in this area have generated several insights that include how there are different
types of users (and nonusers) and how their uses of a particular technology can shape
how the technologies come to be developed (Oudshoorn and Pinch 2005;Kline and
Pinch 1996). A study on consumers and their perceptions of certain goods they
decide to buy helps us understand why certain products get taken up faster than
others (Cowan 1989). Balinese villagers attributed special meaning to television
receivers as one electrical appliance they value more than other goods. Examining
consumers as part of a larger sociotechnical web can also help analysts discover and
highlight unintended consequences of technology, including the shifting meanings
that users attribute to a particular technology. To many Balinese villagers, electricity
went from meaning the technology that could power their new electrical appliances
(particularly their television) to meaning something that could help transform their
villages into towns. In addition, they did not always use electricity as the government
intended and some had mixed views about the role of electricity in their villages. In
sum, their experiences with new technologies present a more complicated picture
than many in the government had envisioned initially. I go into more detail about the
meanings some Balinese attributed to electricity in the last section of this article.
Pancasila and Indonesia’s National Identity
The Indonesian state founding philosophy and national identity are rooted in Panca-
sila, ﬁve principles that appear in the preamble of the country’s 1945 constitution.
They are belief in the oneness of God, just and civilized humanity, Indonesian unity,
democratic rule that is guided by the wise deliberations among representatives, and
social justice for all Indonesians. When Indonesia’s founding president, Sukarno,
delivered a speech formulating these principles on 1 June 1945, he stressed that the
second and third principles, which he then called “internationalism” and “national-
ism,” respectively, are actually inseparable. He remarked, “Internationalism can not
ﬂower if it is not rooted in the soil of nationalism” (SarDesai 2006: 156).
6 A. Mohsin
To accomplish the goal of creating a “just and civilized humanity,” Sukarno helped
establish and made Indonesia one of the leading nations of the Non-Aligned Move-
ment in the 1950s, a group of states that are not formally aligned with or against any
major power bloc. Indonesia’s national identity during the Sukarno era was intimately
tied to its role as one of the anticolonial champions of the newly emerging nations. He
envisioned transforming Jakarta, the new capital of the country, into a “beacon of the
new emerging forces” (Abeyasekere 1987: 168).
President Suharto, however, approached this principle differently. In international
foreign affairs, Suharto preferred that Indonesia work within regional and inter-
national organizations rather than going it alone. In order to do this, the Suharto
government used Bali as an international showcase when it held various regional
and international meetings and hosted world leaders in Bali’s capital Denpasar
(instead of Jakarta). Through these meetings, the New Order government exerted
Indonesia’s role internationally. A well-electriﬁed Bali therefore was an important
element in establishing Indonesia’s identity to the world. Although the New Order
government imposed this identity on the Balinese without their full consent, many
Balinese eventually appropriated this identity and used it to their advantage to ensure
that it received the resources they needed from the Indonesian government to develop
the island including building a good and reliable electrical grid.
Early Electriﬁcation Efforts in Bali
As a place, Bali has long enjoyed a status as an international tourist destination since
the Dutch colonial period. When the Dutch ﬁnally conquered the island in 1908, they
were so enthralled by the Balinese culture that they decided to preserve it from the
intrusion and impact of capitalism and make Bali “a living museum” (Pringle 2004:
112). But successive foreigners, most of them tourists but also artists and anthropol-
ogists, made Bali known to the world and created a long-lasting image of Bali as an
“island paradise” in the 1920s and 1930s (Vickers 1989: 3). Sukarno, whose mother
was Balinese, continued to promote the island as a place for tourism and used it to
welcome his foreign guests “from Nehru to Robert Kennedy to Ho Chi Minh,”
although he did not make the island his central international gathering venue (Vickers
During the New Order period Suharto started to systematically develop the island
as a “show window of Indonesia” (etalase Indonesia) using Bali’s image as a “para-
dise” (Picard and Darling 1996: 39). A 1980 advertisement for the Bali Beach Hotel,
for example, claimed, “Paradise hasn’t changed for thousands of years—except to get
better” (Vickers 1989: 192). The paradise image, however, masked Bali’s long history
of political violence, detailed excellently by Geoffrey Robinson in his book The Dark
Side of Paradise (1995).
As far as Balinese electriﬁcation is concerned, as early as 1969, the head of the PLN
Eleventh Region, Soetrisno Oerip, recommended a power grid expansion to anticipate
the increasing demand of electricity in areas outside Bali’s “international zone” (an
area designated for tourism mainly in the Badung District) to places such as Tuban and
Kuta on the isthmus of Bali (Oerip 1979). Kuta Beach and Nusa Dua would later be
designated as tourist enclaves and consequently were developed and electriﬁed ahead
A Sociopolitical History of Electriﬁcation in Bali 7
of other areas of the island. Tuban would become the site of the current Ngurah Rai
In addition to the areas mentioned above, a small area of Denpasar had also been
electriﬁed using a power plant that the Dutch electric company NV EBALOM (Elec-
triciteits Maatschappij Bali and Lombok) installed in the late 1920s. By mid-1974
there were six villages that had been electriﬁed (Arka 1982). These villages included
Kapal, Sempidi, Sukawati, and Celuk (Bali Post 1975b). But it was Bali’s selection as
a venue for the Paciﬁc Asia Travel Association (PATA) Workshop in March 1974 that
propelled the efforts to signiﬁcantly increase the supply of electricity to the island. The
New Order government sponsored the international tourist convention to explore the
tourism potential of the island. It was at this meeting that the initial plans to further
develop Bali were drawn up (Vickers 1989: 188). The workshop garnered so much
attention and support from the Suharto government that it gave the PLN the funding to
expand the island’s electrical power output. The PLN Eleventh Region promised that
before the meeting, electricity supply in Denpasar would reach 10 MW up from 3 MW
and that the city will be bathed in light (Bali Post 1973b).
Not long afterward, in January 1975, Indonesia’s then minister of public works and
electrical power, Sutami, inaugurated the addition of 26 MW of generating output to
the Pesanggaran power plant, enough to supply electricity to many Balinese villages.
Sutami promised that it was about time that, as one headline of the Bali Post newspaper
read, “Electricity [is generated] for the People, not Just for Industries or the Wealthy”
(Bali Post 1975a). The Balinese welcomed the news excitedly because the plant was
the result of a promise made back in 1973 to have the Denpasar electricity supply
increased from 4 MW to 30 MW (Bali Post 1973a). Moreover, Sutami also promised
that this additional electricity supply would be distributed to the rural areas. He was
quoted by the Bali Post as saying, “We will ensure that the electrical infrastructure we
build will be for our prosperity, particularly in the countryside. We will endeavor so
that people can pay in installments to get electricity if they cannot [pay in full at once]”
(Bali Post 1975a).
To fulﬁll Sutami’s promise of electricity for the people, managers of the PLN
Denpasar Branch, one of two branches of the PLN Eleventh Region at the time,
came up with a new installment payment scheme that allowed low-income villagers
to afford electricity installation in their houses. In November 1976 it introduced what
was called the Village Electriﬁcation Package (Paket Kelistrikan Desa, PKD) to vil-
lagers who lived within a 10-kilometer radius of any of the eight Balinese district
capitals so that they could become PLN subscribers. Whereas before a prospective
customer had to pay three installments with a 50 percent down payment to get con-
nected, with the PKD they only needed to pay as little as 30 percent of the Rp 132,010
connection fee and pay the remaining balance in nine monthly installments (Akwan
PLN Denpasar claimed that this package deal was the ﬁrst of its kind in
Indonesia, which allowed new subscribers to get a maximum power of 450 VA and 5
lighting points in their households (Bali Post 1976a).
This payment plan received
In 1976, the average exchange rate was 415 rupiahs to the US dollar.
Volt-ampere (VA) is a unit of apparent power while watt is the unit of so-called real power. In this
context, residents would know if they could run a particular electrical appliance given the available VA
rating. Utility companies such as the PLN used this information to size electrical wires.
8 A. Mohsin
Sutami’s attention and he formally launched it in Bali in December 1976 in Kemenuh,
one of several villages located within a 10 km radius of Gianyar, the capital of the
Gianyar District (Bali Post 1976b).
The PKD became very popular and many villagers started to sign up to get elec-
tricity connected to their households. They put in their request through their village
chiefs, who were encouraged to enroll new electricity subscribers by the PLN Den-
pasar Branch. Slowly, the number of electricity subscribers increased on the island.
The role of Balinese village chiefs in getting the word out about the PKD was crucial
and this was acknowledged by B. M. Akwan, the head of PLN Denpasar Branch in the
mid-1970s (Akwan 1977: 4). By 31 March 1977 Akwan reported that there were 501
subscribers, in ten villages, who had been connected to the grid using the package
(Akwan 1977: 12).
So effective was this payment plan, in late November 1977, Oerip hoped quite
optimistically that by the end of 1980 all villages in Bali would be electriﬁed (Bali Post
1977b). Perhaps he was very enthusiastic because an important event (the ﬁrst of many
similar future events) would be held in Bali in early December of that year, which was
the second workshop on village electriﬁcation, funded by the World Bank and atten-
ded by representatives of all PLN regions in Indonesia as well as delegates from
United States Agency for International Development and the United States National
Rural Electriﬁcation Cooperative Association (Bali Post 1977c). Denpasar was selec-
ted as a venue because the PLN deemed Bali to be successful in the implementation of
its Village Electriﬁcation Package.
Electricity and Televisions
While the PLN’s electriﬁcation package and the Balinese village chiefs played import-
ant roles in creating electricity demand in the countryside, there was another important
factor at play. Bali Post newspapers in the 1970s and 1980s reported how eager
Balinese villagers were to get electricity in their households. One Balinese author
attributed this strong desire to receive electric current to the availability of the elec-
triﬁcation package (Saputera 1978). Another assumption was that people needed it for
lighting their houses and that the price of oil for kerosene lamp was far more expensive
than the price of an electric lamp. Mardjono, the head of Balinese regional ofﬁce of the
ministry of industry put forth this reason and compared the price of electric lighting
(Rp 1,200/month) versus using a kerosene lamp (Rp 4,000/month) in trying to account
for the reason Balinese villagers wanted electricity (Bali Post 1977d). But, as I will
demonstrate, desiring an electric light was not a strong factor. Instead, the appetite for
powering a television set to watch the national television programs was a stronger
The Republic of Indonesia Television (Televisi Republik Indonesia, TVRI) was
founded in 1962 when the Sukarno government built the country’s ﬁrst television
broadcasting station in Jakarta that year. After a trial broadcast showing the state
ceremony on 17 August, commemorating the seventeenth Indonesian Independence
Day, the station broadcast live the Asian Games, being held in Jakarta between 24
August and 12 September. Three years later, the city of Yogyakarta had its own
broadcasting station and was later followed by Medan (1970), Ujung Pandang
A Sociopolitical History of Electriﬁcation in Bali 9
(1972), Balikpapan (1973), Palembang (1974), Surabaya (1978), Denpasar (1978),
and Manado (1978). At the time, Indonesia was developing a microwave transmission
system linking Sumatra, Java, and Bali by erecting link stations to spread TVRI
programs. But Indonesia’s geography and topography made this effort difﬁcult and
expensive, which led the Suharto government to discontinue building additional link
stations on the other islands. President Suharto decided to purchase a communication
satellite from Hughes Aircraft, a US company, to broadcast TVRI programs across the
In July 1976, the Palapa satellite was launched by the United States and TVRI
programs went national (Kitley 2000: 46). Through nationally televised programs, the
New Order regime fostered national unity and informed many villagers of its myriad
development programs and progress (Kitley 2000). Although the medium was differ-
ent, this was akin to the role of vernacular language newspapers in helping instill an
emerging national consciousness among different ethnolinguistic groups in the Neth-
erland East Indies (Anderson 2006) and the function of radio in helping Sukarno
spread his messages of independence and unity during the Japanese occupation of
the archipelago (Soekarno and Adams 1966: 178).
Philip Kitley notes in his book on Indonesian television history that the sales of
television sets soared after the Palapa launch. From 1975 to 1978, he wrote, “the total
number of receivers registered almost tripled (269 percent; from about 400,000 to
nearly 1,200,000). The number of receivers registered outside Java rose by at least 133
percent in Sulawesi, and 165 percent in Kalimantan” (Kitley 2000: 46). At that time,
the government asked television owners to register their units, so it was relatively easy
to track the numbers of television owners. In Bali, the head of TVRI Denpasar reported
that there were 9,429 television units registered on the entire island by September 1978
(Bali Post 1978). This ﬁgure is almost double the number of receivers available a year
and a half earlier in January 1977, which was estimated at about 5,000 televisions in
Bali (Bali Post 1977a). In the subsequent years it continued to increase at a high rate.
The book Data Bali Membangun (Data on Bali Development), published annually
by Badan Perencanaan Pembangunan Daerah (BAPPEDA), the provincial branch of
the National Development Planning Agency Badan Perencanaan Pembangunan
Nasional (BAPPENAS) reported that by the end of 1986 there were 103,577 televi-
sions registered on the island (BAPPEDATingkat I Bali 1986). By 1991, the number
jumped 186,671 (bAPPEDA Tingkat I Bali 1991). The actual number may well be
much higher since not everyone was inclined to register their televisions or report the
correct number of televisions in their households, to evade paying the mandatory
monthly dues. But between 1977 and 1991, there was about a twenty-one-fold increase
in the number of registered televisions in Bali.
Additionally, the Suharto government spurred demands for television sets in part
by handing out many television sets gratis to the villages. Three years after the Palapa
The Cold War concerns drove the US administration in the 1960s to develop a plan for a global com-
munication system. Hughes Aircraft and AT&T were the two private US companies that developed com-
munication satellites for proﬁt. See Slotten 2002. For an analysis of the meanings attributed to the Palapa
satellite by groups of Indonesian engineers, businessmen, and government bureaucrats who helped develop
the network of satellite ground stations and used the satellite discourse for political purposes, see Barker
10 A. Mohsin
satellite was put in its geosynchronous orbit, the Department of Information (Depar-
temen Penerangan) distributed public television sets to many villages as part of a
nationwide program called Televisions Entering the Villages (Televisi Masuk Desa)
(Kitley 2000: 56 –57).
Typically, one village would receive one television tube to be
placed in a public area (usually in front of the village head’s ofﬁce) so that the village
residents could watch the programs together. The rationale (or rather, the hope of the
government ofﬁcials) was that villagers would tune in to watch government-produced
news about the country’s developments so that they would be educated about these
nationwide efforts. The villagers appreciated getting television from the government,
but they tended to view entertaining programs instead of the government’s “develop-
ment programs,” as some elder villagers I spoke with told me (Cokorda Gde Putra,
interview in Kintamani, 16 September 2011).
Some of the televisions donated by the Department of Information came with a
portable electricity generator to power them. The government knew that it would be
meaningless to hand out a public television without the means to power it, since not all
villages had been connected to the grid. But at the same time, the availability of
electricity in a village was used as reason to obtain a public television. Youths in
the hamlet Cabe unanimously decided to spend Rp 300,000 their banjar received
from selling foods at a ﬁve-day bazaar to buy a television because they longed
to see TVRI entertainment programs. Starting on 6 September 1981, a brand new
JVC television unit adorned their hamlet hall (balai banjar) for public viewing (Bali
Owning a television receiver also symbolized one’s socioeconomic status. In Bali,
like in many other areas of Indonesia at the time, television symbolized wealth and
modernity. The price of television was out of reach of most villagers except for the
few wealthy ones. Owning this technology meant that you had the money to purchase
it and to be an electricity subscriber or at least to have a small battery to power it,
which allowed you to get connected to the outside world. In the beginning, typically
a well-off family and/or village chiefs would own a television set in the village.
Increasingly, according to a 1982 study, television became one of the two most
desired new electrical devices in Balinese villages. The other one was an electric
iron (Arka 1982: 28).
Having (and the desire to have) televisions motivated people in rural areas to have
a reliable electricity source to power TV sets. In a report prepared by sociologists
at the University of Indonesia, there is a story about one village where the people
were disappointed because the diesel generator set that used to power their public
television broke down. One village resident turned his dissatisfaction into a determi-
nation to bring electricity to his village. He used his position as a member of his
district’s legislative council to call on his fellow villagers to demand that a PLN
power line be extended to their village, which was eventually successful (Soemardjan
et al. 1980: 50).
The widely read Indonesian weekly magazine Tempo featured a cover article about this program (Tempo
A Sociopolitical History of Electriﬁcation in Bali 11
Regional and International Meetings in Bali
The villagers’ wish to own television sets and to get electricity in their household
drove them to get connected to the grid. Demand for electricity in Bali was also created
by another means. In addition to the 1974 PATA Workshop mentioned earlier, Bali
has accommodated a number of important cultural, technical, political, and rec-
reational meetings and contests, as shown in Table 1. This is not a complete list of
gatherings held in Bali, but it gives a sense of just how important Bali has been for
Indonesia as a host country and the New Order’s constructed and projected image to
the outside world since the mid-1970s. The development of tourism in Bali went hand
Table 1 Regional and International Meetings Held in Bali
March 1974 Paciﬁc Asia Travel Association (PATA) Workshop
February 1976 The First summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)
May 1976 The forty-seventh meeting of the Conference of the Organization of the
Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC)
January 1979 The Second Electricity Price Seminar
June 1980 An international surﬁng contest
September 1980 Meeting of ASEAN Economic Ministers for Industry and Energy Cooperation
December 1980 The ﬁfty-ninth meeting of the Conference of OPEC
January 1981 The Third International Austronesian Linguistic Conference
September 1981 The Sixth Asian Association on National Languages Conference
November 1983 The Second ASEAN Rural and Urban Electriﬁcation Meeting
April 1984 The First Working Group Meeting on the Electric Future of ASEAN Countries
November 1986 The Twelfth ASEAN Cooperation on Petroleum (Ascope) Meeting
1990 A World Trade Organization meeting
1991 The Fortieth PATA Meeting
1991 An international conference and festival of Ramayana
November 1991 The seventh ASEAN Electric Power Information Centre (EPIC) meeting
1992 An international conference on Asia Paciﬁc lawyers
May 1992 A meeting of ministers of Non-Aligned countries
1994 The Tenth Convention of the International Apparel Federation
November 1994 The ninety-seventh meeting of the Conference of OPEC
November 1995 Nineteenth Asian Advertising Congress (AdAsia)
1996 The Twelfth meeting of the heads of ASEAN Power Utilities and
2003 The International Literary Biennale
2007 The United Nations for Climate Change Conference
October 2012 Nineteenth Conference of the Electricity Power Supply Industry
October 2013 Asia-Paciﬁc Economic Cooperation CEO Summit
All translations from Indonesian to English are done by the author unless otherwise noted.
12 A. Mohsin
in hand with the selection of Denpasar (Bali’s capital) as a venue for international
gatherings. In a 1983 article, a PLN employee who visited and reported on the status of
electriﬁcation in Bali wrote that because of Bali’s special status as a place for inter-
national gatherings, the “PLN must ensure Indonesia’s image in the eyes of the inter-
national [community] especially in the electricity sector, so that ‘electricity can
always be on.’ [We need] to prove to the international community that the Indonesian
nation is a cordial nation in welcoming its guests in the best hotels with ‘enough’
lighting facility, [i.e., good and reliable electricity supply]” (Gunartati 1983).
As noted in the table, Bali has hosted the Association of Southeast Asian Nations
(ASEAN) gatherings several times. The regional bloc, which was founded in 1967,
had actually established a permanent secretariat in Jakarta. But many ASEAN meet-
ings, including the ones related to electricity, were held in Denpasar, Bali. Holding it
there gave PLN employees a chance to showcase Balinese village electriﬁcation. After
the Second Meeting on ASEAN Rural and Urban Electriﬁcation in November 1983,
for example, PLN ofﬁcials took the conference guests on a tour to visit a few diesel
power stations, the PLN Eleventh Region’s main ofﬁce, and a micro hydropower plant
in Amlapura, a district capital in eastern Bali (Berita PLN 1984). Though not speciﬁ-
cally reported, a similar conference-sponsored tour likely occured when Denpasar
played host to the Seventh Meeting of the Electric Power Information Centre ASEAN
Power Utilities/Authorities in November 1991 and the Twelfth Meeting of the Heads
of ASEAN Power Utilities and Authorities (HAPUA) in 1996. The 1996 HAPUA
meeting produced ﬁve important agreements, one of which was to “strengthen the
ASEAN electrical transmission to realize the ASEAN power grid” (Berita PLN 1996).
Another international organization that Indonesia was part of was the Organization
of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). In 1980, Indonesia was selected to host the
ﬁfty-ninth conference of OPEC in Bali. Three months before the meeting, however,
Iraq and Iran entered into war. The warring member states threatened to cancel the
meeting altogether by refusing to attend, conﬁrming a belief among many countries
that OPEC could not hold itself together as a coherent and uniﬁed organization. Three
days before the meeting, James Tanner, a Wall Street Journal reporter, even expressed
doubt that anything would come out of the conference. Writing, “More than the price
of oil is at stake,” he stressed, “it will be the ﬁrst real test of whether OPEC can still
function as an organization” (Tanner 1980).
OPEC’s unity mattered not just to its members but also to other developing
countries who received OPEC funds and oil. In fact, Tanner also wrote in the same
piece that the breakup of OPEC would not beneﬁt oil consumers at all. OPEC provided
a stable oil price and prevented it from rising in an unpredictable manner. Because
much was at stake, OPEC oil ministers pressed ahead with the Bali conference (Tanner
1980). The Indonesian government worked hard to make the meeting happen. It
created a state-of-the-art pressroom by contracting a local electrical ﬁrm, PT Sigma
Tirta, to install a 15-km communication cable; the ﬁrm expedited the com pletion of the
job despite some challenges. The Bali Post reported that PT Sigma Tirta’s head,
W. Sjafrin, was very thankful that his company managed to ﬁnish the job well because
at stake was not just his company’s reputation, but also indirectly Indonesia, interna-
tionally (C. 1980). The PLN, too, tried hard to make sure that the electricity supply to
the Pertamina Cottages Hotel in Kuta, the resort and beach area not far from Denpasar
where the conference was held, went uninterrupted.
A Sociopolitical History of Electriﬁcation in Bali 13
Subroto, Indonesia’s minister of mining and energy at the time, lobbied his counter-
parts and managed to persuade Iran and Iraq to send their delegations even though Iran
up until the last minute had not made up its mind. The main issue for Iran was that its
minister of oil, Mohammad Javad Tonguyan, had been kidnapped by Iraq. When Iran
ﬁnally agreed to attend, Indonesia acted as mediator literally and symbolically. Pres-
ident Suharto in his opening speech called for a peaceful and speedy resolution of the
conﬂict between the two OPEC members (Soeharto 1980). In the conference seating
arrangement, the Indonesian delegation sat between Iran’s and Iraq’s (Pertambangan
Dan Energi 1980). And the conference was carried out successfully. Indonesia
received the world’s attention for successfully holding an OPEC meeting despite
the sharp internal conﬂict.
The G7 Summit and President Reagan’s Visit
Words about Bali as a paradise or at least a place in Indonesia well equipped to host an
international gathering seemed to be one of the main considerations for President
Reagan who decided to stop over on the island in late April 1986 on his way to
Tokyo to attend the economic summit of seven industrialized countries (G7) in
early May 1986 (see Fig. 2). Moreover, the US president seemed to choose to visit
Indonesia for two additional reasons. First, Reagan wanted to redeem an earlier can-
celled meeting to the region. In November 1983, during his ﬁrst ofﬁcial tour to Asia,
with a scheduled visit to Manila, Jakarta, and Seoul from Tokyo, Reagan had to cancel
his trip to South Korea and Southeast Asia upon learning that the Filipino opposition
leader Senator Benigno Aquino was assassinated. When Reagan ﬁnally had a chance
Fig. 2 President Reagan, Nancy Reagan, President Suharto, and Mrs. Suharto at an arrival ceremony in Bali
(courtesy Ronald Reagan Library).
14 A. Mohsin
to visit the region again in 1986, he chose Indonesia (Bali) knowing that the country
was politically and economically the “center of gravity” of ASEAN (Alsagoff 1986).
This way, Reagan could get Indonesia to convince ASEAN member countries to meet
with him on this visit and ask for their input ahead of the G7 meeting. Second, Reagan
wanted to reduce the political fallout after the United States bombed Libya in mid-
April in retaliation to the bombing of a nightclub in West Berlin on 5 April 1986. The
choice to visit Indonesia, the largest Muslim-majority country in the world (a national
identity Indonesia was aware of and acknowledged but rarely used to exert its role
politically on the global stage),
was to dismiss the perception that the United States
was against Islam. Moreover, Indonesia and Malaysia were not the only two ASEAN
countries that protested US action, but so was Thailand, which had sent workers to
Libya (Alsagoff 1986). Thailand used its membership in the UN Security Council to
rebuke US action (Hess 1986).
The New Order government seized this opportunity to show the world that it had
enough clout to help shape the agenda of the Tokyo Summit. They were also gathered
to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Bali summit and to discuss the venue for the
upcoming ASEAN summit in 1987. President Reagan arrived in Bali on 29 April 1986.
The US secretary of state George Schultz, who was among the top-ranking ofﬁcials
accompanying Reagan, also planned to meet with the ASEAN foreign ministers indi-
vidually. Reagan’s visit drew worldwide attention as is typical of a prominent world
leader. Around six hundred foreign and domestic journalists came to Bali to cover
Reagan’s visit, the largest contingent of reporters to have visited Indonesia. One
Indonesian security ofﬁcial was quoted in the Bali Post as saying, “Bali has never
seen this many journalists before even though it has been a venue of international
gatherings” (Bali Post 1986).
To prepare for this important informal gathering, the New Order regime renovated
the hotel where the Bali Summit was held, repaired streetlights along the main road
from the Ngurah Rai airport to Nusa Dua, installed communication equipment (tele-
phone, facsimile, and telex) with international connection, and beefed up security
(Bali Post 1986). At the hotel where President Reagan would stay, a special driveway
was built to allow him to go straight to his hotel room without going through the main
lobby. The operations manager of the hotel informed a foreign reporter, “The hotel
will install bulletproof glass in the presidential suite, which includes two bedrooms, a
lounge, study, dining room, kitchen, and a private swimming pool with direct access to
the new beach,” which was made to look nicer earlier (Reuters 1986).
According to the Indonesian government’s perspective, widely covered by its
national press, the meeting between the six ASEAN foreign ministers (by this time
Brunei, which joined in 1984, also participated) and President Reagan went well.
ASEAN put forth two main recommendations to President Reagan for him to bring
to the G7 summit: to request that the industrialized countries eliminate trade protection
for goods that ASEAN and other developing countries produced and exported and to
initiate a normalizing of relations between the United States and Vietnam in support of
ASEAN’s attempt to resolve the Cambodian issue (Kompas 1986a).
Although Indonesia is a member of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), it never hosted an
Islamic summit in the country.
A Sociopolitical History of Electriﬁcation in Bali 15
From this meeting the New Order government also managed to put in a few requests
with the United States, one of which was to ask the United States to prioritize the
launching of the Palapa B2 satellite (a backup satellite for Palapa B1, which would
expire in 1990) using an unmanned US rocket after the suspension of the shuttle
program following the Challenger disaster, to which the United States agreed
(Wong and Lengell 2012). But when the news of the explosion of the unmanned
Delta rocket broke just two days after Reagan left Bali, the initial agreement was
thrown in limbo (Surabaya Post 1986). ASEAN’s recommendations were not taken up
by the G7. The main agenda of the seven industrialized countries concerned antiter-
rorism (a special win for the United States) and the Chernobyl nuclear accident. As far
as the economic concerns of the developing nations, the G7 Summit’s communique´
asked them to readjust their political economy along the lines that have been set by the
industrialized nations in order to receive more ﬁnancial aid and direct foreign invest-
ment (Kompas 1986b,Abdulgani 1986).
The PLN’s Java-Madura-Bali Grid
Up until April 1987, the PLN’s regional grids on Java were segregated. PLN branches
in West Java, Central Java, East Java, and Jakarta had each built and operated its
network independently from one another. When the New Order government decided
to build large-scale non-oil power plants on various locations on Java starting in the
early 1980s, PLN managers initiated the construction of an extra high voltage (500 kV)
transmission connecting these four separate networks. The ﬁrst phase of the ambitious
project started on 3 February 1983 in the village Paniis. On that day, the then PLN chief
Sardjono commenced the construction of the Suralaya-Bandung-Cirebon-Ungaran
line with a small ceremony. A picture accompanying the Berita PLN article showed
Sardjono tightening a nut on a transmission tower. When completed, the power line
would span 741 kilometers, supported by 1,470 towers. The government funded the
construction project using the World Bank’s and the Asia Development Bank’s loans
as well as the state and PLN budgets (Berita PLN 1983).
About two years later, on 29 April 1985, Sardjono again presided over a small
ceremony marking the start of the second phase of the project: a power line from
Ungaran in Central Java to Krian in East Java. This time, Sardjono’s symbolic gesture
initiating the project was to pour a spade of concrete into the foundation of tower 392,
one of several hundred towers that would be erected to support the high-voltage
transmission cables (Berita PLN 1985). The PLN also linked Madura, an island off
the coast of East Java with an 8-km underwater 150-kV transmission cable. In late
March 1987 Subroto visited the province to inaugurate the operation of the underwater
cable and thirty-seven newly electriﬁed villages (Berita PLN 1987a). By 16 April
1987, all of Java’s regional networks were united in one integrated grid. PLN Power
Research Institute Director Artono Arismunandar’s call to transmit electricity using
high-voltage power lines almost ten years earlier had ﬁnally been realized.
Dr. Arismunandar recommended that Indonesia build a high-voltage transmission line to economically
transmit and distribute electricity in the country. He made this suggestion in a speech delivered on the
16 A. Mohsin
The PLN headquarter’s monthly publication Berita PLN framed this huge technical
undertaking indirectly in terms of Indonesia’s identity. It claimed that this project was
the ﬁrst of its kind in the ASEAN region and the second one in Asia after Japan (Berita
PLN 1983). To be able to claim such a thing was a big deal for Indonesia. It helped put
the country on the global map, technologically. In an earlier instance, when Indonesia
bought the Palapa satellite and paid to put it in the earth’s orbit, the country was the
third nation on earth to have owned a communication satellite. A later version of the
satellite (Palapa D), launched by the United States in 2009, covers not just the Indo-
nesian archipelago but also the entire ASEAN region (Indosat 2009). The technologi-
cal breakthrough of linking all of Java with the high-voltage power line placed
Indonesia one step ahead technologically among its Southeast Asian peers. Through
this project New Order Indonesia projected an identity as a developing country with a
notable infrastructural achievement that it could be proud of.
Meanwhile in Bali, in the mid-1980s, Indonesia’s Department of Mining and
Energy signed a contract with Fichtner Consulting Engineers (a West German tech-
nical consultant) and PT Indra Karya (a local construction ﬁrm) to standardize rural
electriﬁcation construction. At the time, standards for power lines construction varied
widely in several regions in the country. East Java had its own construction standard.
So did West Java and Central Java (Made Artha, interview with author in Denpasar, 21
December 2012). The variations in technical standard were driven by how the infra-
structure was built and which foreign government funded it. Thus, for example, Cen-
tral Java’s standard followed the US standard that funded seven electrical co-op
projects in the late 1970s.
For a year, a PLN Eleventh Region engineer worked with Fichtner to produce a
construction design handbook. He recounted that he traveled throughout Bali to
inspect the existing power lines and produced many engineering drawings (Nyoman
Suriarsa, interview with author in Denpasar, 20 December 2012). The handbook
consisted of engineering drawings of the major components of distribution power
lines: electrical poles, tension support cables, load break switches, pole-mounted
transformers; as well as various assembly drawings and sheets of pole schedule
materials both for low-voltage and high-voltage overhead line (OHL) constructions.
When the Fichtner Construction Design Handbook was published in 1987, the PLN
engineer informed me, the existing transmission lines that had been built were pulled
down and rebuilt again. All the poles, isolators, cross-arms, and cables that did not
meet the handbook standard were taken down to be replaced (Nyoman Suriarsa,
interview with author in Denpasar, 20 December 2012).
When I spoke with another former PLN Eleventh Region ﬁeld engineer, he men-
tioned that one value of the handbook was its ease of use; it was even easier than the
current national construction standard book (Nyoman Sudara, interview in Denpasar,
7 January 2013). In this case, the Fichtner handbook served as a “boundary object” or a
shared entity among different social groups (surveyors, material procurement people,
PLN engineers, and local contractors) as a way to connect and communicate with each
other (Star and Griesemer 1989). The handbook became a bible for village electriﬁ-
occasion of his appointment as full professor in the Faculty of Engineering of the University of Indonesia on
22 November 1977 (Arismunandar 1978).
A Sociopolitical History of Electriﬁcation in Bali 17
cation construction in Bali and was later adopted by the PLN headquarters in Jakarta as
the national standard.
As rural electricity demand in Bali increased rapidly, PLN headquarters mapped
out an ambitious goal to connect Bali’s electrical grid with that of Java using under-
water cables across the Bali Strait. The Suharto government thought that Bali could
now be linked to Java’s sophisticated grid to meet soaring demand and provide a
reliable electricity supply. The PLN’s plan was to connect Java with Bali ﬁrst and then
in the longer term Bali with Lombok, Flores, and other islands in the two Nusa
Tenggara provinces. Connecting Java’s inter-island grid to that of Bali, however,
was not the only plan to expand the huge transmission system. There was a plan to
link Java’s grid to Sumatra in the fourth and last phase of its construction (Teknologi
1987), but that has not materialized to this day.
At ﬁrst the PLN predicted that the interconnection system would be in place by
1986 at the latest (Bali Post 1981a). But the two 5-km-long cables (each delivering 100
MW) from Java did not start to channel electricity until May 1989 (Berita PLN 1989).
The delay was caused in large part by the need to survey the best route to lay the cables
on the bed of the Bali Strait. Additionally, the PLN’s previous experience laying
underwater cable between Java and Madura could not be replicated due to different
cable designs. The Java-Madura cable, fabricated by a British company and funded by
a grant from the UK government, was designed to be connected on site (site joint),
while the cable between Java and Bali was joined in its Japanese factory (manufac-
turer’s joint) and obtained through supplier credit (Berita PLN 1987b). Several Indo-
nesian institutions including the military; Department of Transportation; and
Department of Tourism, Post, and Telecommunication were involved in laying
down the underwater cables (Berita PLN 1987b).
“Our Face to the Outside World is the PLN Eleventh Region”
Even though in 1989 Bali’s island-wide power grid was already connected to the
country’s ﬁrst interconnected system in Java, Balinese leaders kept pushing for
more electricity supply. Bali’s repeated selection as the place in Indonesia for holding
regional and international meetings gave an important leverage for Bali’s governor to
demand that the island’s electriﬁcation development be given special priority. In one
village electriﬁcation inauguration ceremony, held in 1991, for instance, Governor Oka
commented, “The presence of electricity in Bali is strategic because it can help stimu-
late other sectors such as tourism and small-scale industries.” More importantly, he
continued, “Bali is often visited [by foreign dignitaries] and has hosted international
events. Electricity istied to the nation’s image. We would feel uncomfortable if during
an international event, all of a sudden the electricity goes out” (Bali Post 1991).
By early 1992, Bali enjoyed the status as a region with a high electriﬁcation ratio,
which is the number of electriﬁed households over total households. At the time, Bali
had a 53-percent electriﬁcation ratio, much higher than the national average of 33
percent. As a comparison, for all of the Eleventh Region’s area of coverage, the ratio
was 27 percent in 1992. Out of 960 villages electriﬁed in the four provinces, more than
half (about 500 villages) were in Bali. And out of about ﬁve hundred thousand cus-
tomers, roughly three hundred thousand were located in Bali.
18 A. Mohsin
The PLN Eleventh Region, headquartered in Bali, became the face of the PLN and
to an extent the New Order government. The PLN’s main director at the time, Dr.
Zuhal, for example, was quoted as saying, “Our face to the outside world is the PLN
Eleventh Region. Therefore, the PLN Eleventh Region’s reliability is of paramount
importance to project a positive image to the international community and we need to
maintain and increase its reliability and services” (Pelangi Nusra 1993).
Bali featured solidly on the map as a region with special privileges when it came to
building an electrical infrastructure. But its special status was at the expense of other
regions. Not only were other areas in the nearby Nusa Tenggara provinces largely
neglected (they held little importance to Indonesia or to Indonesia’s image to the
outside world), but village electriﬁcation programs in most other areas in Indonesia
were simply ignored. By the end of 1995, a few months after Bali electriﬁed all of its
villages, the PLN reported that in the PLN Eleventh Region’s areas of operation only
444 out of 505 villages in West Nusa Tenggara (88%), 392 out of 1626 villages in East
Nusa Tenggara (24%), and 83 out of 442 villages (19%) in former East Timor had been
electriﬁed (PLN Headquarters 1996).
Balinese Views of Electricity
Even though Balinese villages had been connected to the grid by 1995, the kind of
social transformations that the New Order government had hoped for did not occur
evenly. Some villagers managed to improve their welfare, but others did not, despite
having an electricity supply. Many villagers went along with the government’s pro-
gram to electrify villages, but they did not necessarily conform to the desired use of the
electricity for productive purposes (e.g., to generate extra income). As I have indica-
ted, many desired electricity to power their new electrical appliances, most notably the
television set, a technology that marked a high sociotechnical status to own.
Electricity also meant more than just a necessity to power some of their new
electrical devices. Some Balinese I spoke with emphasized the urban aspect of elec-
tricity, or the “city” in electricity, so to speak, that is, they viewed electricity as a means
to transform their hamlets to be more like a city or to aspire to having lives like those of
city dwellers. My interview with a Bunut village chief whose remote village grew out
of a hamlet and was about to get electricity soon in mid-2012 attests to this idea. When
asked about why his fellow villagers wanted electricity, he replied, “So that our village
can be well-lit like a city, in addition to wanting to buy a few electrical appliances”
(Wayan Karben, interview with author in the villiage Bunut, 27 April 2012). His view
mirrors that of the government’s early perception of electricity. In a report on village
electriﬁcation, University of Indonesia social scientists noted that the Indonesian
Central Bureau of Statistics (BPS) used electricity as an indicator to distinguish a
“town” from a “village” in their 1961 and 1971 censuses, a measure that they said was
used by the United Nations agencies as well (Soemardjan et al. 1980: 22 –23). They
also wrote that Central Java, East Java, and North Sulawesi villagers who were too
impatient to wait to receive the PLN’s electricity built their own generators. Their
initiative was driven in general to create living conditions like those in the city,
namely, houses, stores, and recreational facilities that are well lit at night and the
ability to power radio and television in their houses.
A Sociopolitical History of Electriﬁcation in Bali 19
Implicit in the villagers’ desire to turn their villages into brightly lit towns was their
desire for all the amenities that a city offers. But when job opportunities did not
increase or access to schools was still limited because of their village’s remote
location, even after their village had been lit, many village youths decided to migrate
to cities to ﬁnd these opportunities. Ironically, television programs helped encourage
them to seek jobs outside their villages in nearby towns, in effect stimulating
A similar unintended consequence occurred with electricity and education. One of
the government’s aspirations was to use electricity and television to teach villagers
and it did so by offering a variety of educational programs alongside news and enter-
tainment. But a 1979 survey conducted by the Directorate of Radio, Television, and
Film of the Indonesian Ministry of Information showed that villagers who watched
television and listened to radios preferred to watch entertainment programs, followed
by news and then educational programs (Bali Post 1979). For example, the University
of Indonesia social scientists reported that villagers in the village Sepuluh, in Madura,
East Java, preferred to watch religious programs such as Koran recitation, religious
sermons, and Malay Dangdut orchestra performance (there were two Malay Dangdut
orchestras in this village). They did not like to watch news bulletins at all. In fact, they
would leave the public television area when a news program started (Soemardjan et al.
1980: 113– 14). My interview with I Wayan Jingga, head of the village Subaya,
conﬁrms this. After electricity entered his village in the mid-1990s, Jingga recalled
that the TV programs most watched by the villagers were those produced by private
TV broadcasting stations such as RCTI and ANTV, which offered a variety of enter-
tainment programs to attract a large number of audiences for commercial purposes.
Their parabolic antennae could receive television programs from other countries such
as Malaysia, Singapore, and Australia, but because of the language barrier they pre-
ferred to watch Indonesian television programs (I Wayan Jingga, interview with
author in the village Subaya, 13 June 2012).
One Balinese offered an interesting insight into television and education. In a
published interview, Made Asmara opined that primetime television programs, broad-
cast in the evening, distracted children from studying. He said, “This of course cannot
be controlled by the PLN, which provides electricity, but if there is no electricity, they
will not watch TV” (Suluh Dewata 2004: 6). This is not to say that children did not
beneﬁt at all from electricity. Asmara also admitted in the same interview that children
could now study until late at night and his fellow villagers no longer needed to go to a
nearby city to buy food essentials. In general, he thought that the village atmosphere
was livelier than before there was electricity. And some villagers did build home-
based and other small industries where many youths are employed. But the general-
ization that ofﬁcials often made in public about the “beneﬁts” of village electriﬁcation
and putting television in villages simpliﬁed the reality on the ground.
Balinese today regard electricity as a basic need, like water, that should be provided
to them reliably and cheaply. This idea continues to motivate them to ask for adequate
supply from the PLN and to push for the full electriﬁcation of hamlets in Bali. For
example, I Gusti Alit Putra, a writer and editor for the Bali Post, writes, “In this global
era, electricity has become a vital need of society and it needs to be readily available”
(Putra 2009). Putra made this statement in support of a plan to deliver additional
electrical power to Bali from Java using ultra-high-voltage above-ground trans-
20 A. Mohsin
mission lines called the “Bali Crossing.” The plan would add an additional 3,000 MW
of power in Bali and is said to safely meet Bali’s electricity demand for the next
twenty-ﬁve years (Teja 2011). The chairperson of Commission B of the Balinese
Legislative Assembly in Badung Putu Parwata also lent his support of the plan
when he was quoted by the Bali Post in December 2009 (Bali Post 2009). Villagers
who have not received electricity, such as the village heads of Belong Dauhan and
Belong Danginan hamlets, whom I met in April 2012, wanted the technology to arrive
there soon. At the same time, many people in Bali, including those in the villages, hope
that Bali’s development, particularly Bali’s electrical infrastructure, is not just
directed for tourism or for promoting Indonesia overseas. Governor Ida Bagus Oka
coined a famous phrase that captures the essence of this aspiration. In the 1990s he
urged investors “to develop ‘Bali’ not to develop ‘in Bali’” (membangun “Bali” bukan
membangun “di Bali”). Oka’s phrase criticized the New Order development efforts
that in general paid much more attention to erecting buildings and other ediﬁces than to
really improving the lives of poor villagers. A similar criticism is made by Lynn Parker
in her book From Subjects to Citizens: Balinese Villagers in the Indonesian Nation-
State (Parker 2003: 142). The political scientist Donald Emmerson captures this sen-
timent well. The New Order’s narrow interpretation of development ( pembangunan),
he argues, was mainly to build (bangun) physical structures. But the Indonesian word
bangun also means “to wake up” or, as Emmerson writes, “ﬁguratively, to enable
millions of individuals to improve their lives through heightened awareness ...not
merely to concentrate value for growth, but to enable people to shar e in its beneﬁts, and
thus to ensure development of a broad popular base” (Emmerson 1978, 116). Ariel
Heryanto traces the genealogy of the word pembangunan and reveals that its meaning
was historically contingent and shifted from when it was ﬁrst used in the 1930s among
Indonesian intellectuals who participated in the debate called polemik kebudayaan
(cultural polemics). Sutan Takdir Alisjahbana, one of the leading voices in the
debate, used the word to mean nation building. A better word, Heryanto suggested,
was kebangunan (“revival”), to capture the process of improving people’s condition
(Heryanto and Lutz 1988).
The development of the Balinese electrical infrastructure was driven in parallel by the
development of the national television infrastructure and the motivations to build
these two systems were tied to a desire to create and project an identity of Indonesia
to the international audience in order for the Indonesian government to play a larger
part on the world stage. This identity work allowed Balinese local government and the
PLN Eleventh Region to get the resources they needed to develop the island. As a
result Bali’s electrical infrastructure was more advanced than that in many other
regions of the country. Bali’s island-wide grid was successfully connected by 1989
using underwater cables to the integrated Java-Madura electrical transmission system.
Subsequently, the PLN Eleventh Region succeeded in expanding its power lines to
rural areas so that all Balinese villages were connected to the PLN grid by August
A Sociopolitical History of Electriﬁcation in Bali 21
The role of Denpasar as a location for a number of ASEAN, OPEC, and other
gatherings attests to the importance of Bali to Indonesia as a showplace to perform the
act of a modernizing nation. The more economically developed province allowed
Indonesia to showcase its development programs to the outside world by hosting
and showing foreign delegates what Indonesia had accomplished and to allow the
New Order regime to exert its role as an important representative of the developing
world. The international and regional trusts placed on Indonesia were reﬂected, for
example, when after his stint as a cabinet minister, Subroto was unanimously elected
as the secretary general of OPEC for two consecutive terms (1988 to 1994) and when
Indonesia brought together ASEAN representatives to meet and give input to Pres-
ident Reagan ahead of the 1986 G7 Summit.
Examples of these endeavors (some more successful than others) helped put Indo-
nesia on the global map, important identity work for a country trying to establish its
part in international relations. Additionally, in the New Order period, highly charged
issues that also drew international attention in a negative light, such as Indonesia’s
occupation of East Timor (which made it into the news in the foreign press prior to
Reagan’s visit) (Hess 1986),
marred Indonesia’s commitment “to abolish colonial-
ism from the face of the earth,” as its 1945 constitution declares. To counter this
notion, the Suharto government tried hard to construct and project Indonesia’s exter-
nal national identity as a benign nation devoted to development projects and commit-
ted to helping other developing countries achieve their development goals. Thus to the
New Order regime, Bali seemed to be an ideal case (and place) to showcase this
commitment. The tradition of selecting Bali as a venue for international gatherings
continues to this day. Indonesia recently hosted the Nineteenth Conference of the
Electricity Power Supply Industry in mid-October 2012, and the Asia-Paciﬁc Eco-
nomic Cooperation CEO Summit in October 2013.
Balinese views of electricity, although some mirrored those of the government, did
not always translate to the government’s expected uses and outcomes. Throughout the
years, Balinese perception of electricity has shifted from a technology that symbolizes
modernity and progress to something necessary and vital for people’s livelihoods. For
Balinese, the main drive to demand electricity in the villages shifted from wanting a
new technology to power their electric appliances and to make their hamlets into well-
lit towns to seeing electricity just like piped water, as a basic necessity that must be
made available to them widely and inexpensively.
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Anto Mohsin is an assistant professor in residence in the Liberal Arts Program at Northwestern University in
Qatar (NU-Q). He received his PhD in science and technology studies from Cornell University. Prior to
joining NU-Q, he held a Henry Luce postdoctoral fellowship in Asian environmental studies at Hobart and
William Smith Colleges.
26 A. Mohsin