Amid the rapid expansion of oil palm plantations, the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry finds its authority over the forested areas (kawasan hutan) under pressure and continues to pursue strategies to legally maintain the areas within its jurisdiction. Combining insights from legal studies with political economy, this article applies the concept of “political forests” to contemporary contestations and the development of “rule of law” in relation to Indonesia's forested areas. Establishing legal certainty and “rule of law” are widely asserted to be important but never fully achieved. Two cases demonstrate this: the first focuses on the negotiated resolution of overlapping permits in the kawasan hutan between the center and the region in Central Kalimantan Province. The second examines the maneuvers of the Ministry of Forestry to (re)assert its authority over kawasan hutan by classifying palm oil as a tree crop. The article concludes that the widespread quest for certainty and rule of law is quixotic because it ignores the realities of political economy, including social conflict, beneath the veneer of law.

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