Focus on West Papua (Part 2)

by Paolo B. Maligaya, NAMFREL Senior Operations Associate
(Mr. Maligaya was in West Papua to observe the July 20, 2011 gubernatorial election for the Asian Network for
Free Elections - ANFREL)

from NAMFREL Election Monitor Vol.2, No.19

In 2003, the Indonesian half of New Guinea -- called "Irian Jaya" (IRIAN said to mean "Ikut Republik Indonesia Anti-Nederland"), and then officially called "Papua" up to that point -- was divided into two administrative provinces: Papua in the east, retaining the city of Jayapura as capital, and West Papua, with the city of Manokwari as capital.

The decision by then-President Megawati Sukarnoputri to split the region --- originally into three provinces including one that was to be named Central Papua -- remains controversial, as, it is argued, that it was done without consulting the Papuan people, and that it was against the terms of the special autonomy. Following various show of force in 2000 by Papuans demanding independence, the Indonesian government granted special autonomy status to western Papua in 2001 -- reportedly without the involvement of Papuan organizations
and political parties -- to quell the calls for independence and to provide solutions to the problems in Papua. A draft of the autonomy law was made by a Papuan team of academicians precisely to address the numerous issues troubling the region, but many of the provisions were reportedly rejected for the final bill. According to the autonomy law, any policy that would affect Papuans would have to be approved by the Papuan People's Council (Majelis Rakyat Papua - MRP); however, this provision did not make it to the final version of the law. In 2004, Megawati's decision was declared unconstitutional by the courts, but it was too late as the two provinces had already been established. The establishment of a third one, Central Papua, was prevented. In the post-Suharto era, the creation of new administrative districts became prevalent throughout the country, purportedly to enable citizens to have greater access to government services and facilities, although many argue that the division/splitting up of existing provinces and districts are encouraged by those who want to head said districts and just facilitate corruption. Some see the move as divisive, to the extent of calling it “divide and conquer,” in a country where calls for independence have been initiated in not a few of the archipelago's island provinces inhabited by numerous distinct ethnic groups. In western Papua, the people also saw transmigrants getting the white-collar jobs created by the establishment of new districts, as they are unable to compete effectively.

The province of West Papua, with less than a million in total population, is now composed of 11 regencies (kabupaten/kota), with Sorong as the largest city, and Manokwari as the administrative capital. Two of these regencies -- Tambrauw and Maybrat -- were recently formed, taking areas that used to belong to South Sorong regency (in the case of Maybrat), and Sorong (in the case of Tambrauw). The legality of the creation of these two districts are still being questioned, and the residents are said to have rejected the idea. The heads of these two new regencies were scheduled to be elected in 2011 along with the new governor and vice governor.
Abraham Octavianus Atuturi, a Papuan and a retired general of the Indonesian military, had been the governor of West Papua since the province was established in 2003, winning reelection in 2006. Before getting elected governor, he was the Bupati (regent) of Sorong from 1992 to 1997, and deputy governor of Irian Jaya (the whole of western Papua) from 1996-2000. For the 2011 gubernatorial election, he ran for re-election, along with the incumbent vice-governor, Rahimin Katjong. As the incumbent and being very influential, he was touted as the frontrunner to win the election, and many believed that his victory was a done deal.

The gubernatorial election in West Papua had already been postponed three times: from the original date of April 30, it was postponed to May 23, then was re-scheduled for June 27.

The reasons for the postponements may be more complicated than what the voting population knows through media reports. Along with the team of incumbents, the gubernatorial election was also being contested by three more pairs of candidates, the most prominent of whom was Domingus Mandacan, an elite from the Arfak tribe and who was the former Bupati of Manokwari. As reported through the media and through public pronouncements, the three pairs of candidates seemed to have formed a loose coalition against the incumbents. The
candidacies of the incumbents were being assailed: Governor Atuturi for not being able to comply with a recent requirement that candidates should have a college degree, and Vice Governor Katjong for not being of Papuan origin ethnically (although there is no legal
document that officially defines who may be considered a Papuan). An appeal was officially endorsed to the MRP (Majelis Rakyat Papua) or
the Papuan People's Council based in Jayapura in Papua province. The MRP is tasked to ensure the upholding of Papuan culture, a task set forth in the autonomy law, but a limited one if to be compared with the original intention of those who first drafted the said law. The involvement of the MRP was made more complicated when elites in West Papua province decided they wanted to have an MRP of their own, thus was born MRP-B, Majelis Rakyat Papua Barat, or the West Papua People's Council, who now wanted to be the one to approve the candidacies of those who wanted to contest the election, after being approved by the provincial election commission. However, the MRP-B would not be inaugurated until June 15, which caused the election to be delayed, and the identities of the members of the MRP-B were not divulged immediately to the public, said to be for security reasons. The central government in Jakarta reportedly approved of the creation of the MRP-B, but many of those who voiced opposition said that its creation is not enshrined in the autonomy law; that it was created to cause disunity; and that the members of the MRP-B might be more inclined to approve of the candidacy of the incumbents, which they did almost immediately after the MRP-B's inauguration.

While all of these were happening, election related violence against election officials and inter-tribal conflict occurred in kabupaten Tambrauw and Maybrat, which forced the offices of the election commission in said areas to relocate to nearby regencies. Meanwhile, the KPU (Komisi Pemilihan Umum - the election commission) had delivery of election materials to attend to, which, in a province like West Papua, can be a big challenge due to the rugged terrain.

The three pairs of candidates running against the incumbents intensified their opposition, calling for further postponement and even cancellation of the election through direct lobbying in Jakarta. They refused to participate in the campaign, though curiously their campaign billboards were not taken down. Demonstrations of supporters in Manokwari were held, especially after the three pairs of candidates were unsuccessful in Jakarta, and even the office of the Panwaslu (election supervisory committee) in Manokwari was forcibly closed. There
were reports of intimidation and death threats directed to the members of the election commission and their families, and even the chief of police, although it was not clear from whom the threat was coming. As a final push, the three candidate pairs urged their tribe members to boycott the election, through word-of-mouth and pamphlets distributed in the villages, which made people unsure whether the election would even push through. It was in this environment of uncertainty and confusion that the gubernatorial election in West Papua indeed
pushed through on July 20, 2011.

(To be continued)