West Papua election: to be continued

by  Paolo B. Maligaya, NAMFREL Senior Operations Associate
from NAMFREL Election Monitor Vol.2, No.23
After being delayed three times, the West Papua gubernatorial election finally took place on July 20, 2011. However, acting on a lawsuit filed by three losing candidate-pairs in said election, and with voter turnout of only 53% (with the lowest turnouts recorded in West Papua's two major cities - Manokwari and Sorong, with less than 40%), Indonesia's Constitutional Court nullified the results of the election, ordering the holding of another round of election, to be held on November 9, 2011. In the voting that took place in July, the incumbents -- Governor Abraham Octavianus Atururi and Vice Governor Rahimin Katjong -- won with almost 60% of the votes. The candidate pair led by former Manokwari regent Domingus Mandacan, who is said to have led the call for the disqualification of the incumbents to run for re-election, the boycott of the election, and the nullification of the results, came in second out of four candidate pairs. In the lawsuit filed by the coalition formed by the three candidate-pairs, they sought the annulment of the results of the election as only one candidate-pair (the incumbents) fully participated in it, while they called for the cancellation of said election and refused to campaign.

In the provincial capital of Manokwari, by morning of the day after the election, 18 out of 25 districts were able to deliver all election paraphernalia. However, 12 districts out of these 18 either had failure of elections due to very low turnout, or did not conduct election at all (people "rejecting" the election), returning the materials unused. In Sanggeng sub-district in the capital, the PPS (Panitia Pemungutan

Suara di tingkat Desa - ad hoc election commission at the village level) did not distribute the election materials to the polling stations on election day, necessitating the holding of a special election on July 23 on all 25 polling stations in Sanggeng. (The administrator in said PPS office, which was locked on July 20, is said to be related to candidate Mandacan).

Regarding the low turnout of voters, a member of the election commission in the city admitted that voters may have been "intimidated" to vote, because of the white paper that was circulated prior to election day, signed by representatives of the three candidate pairs -- themselves Papuan tribal elites -- who ran against the incumbents. However, in the context of Papua, where tribal loyalty runsan> strongly, it may be difficult to ascertain whether it was truly fear that made people avoid the polls, or could it be out of respect for their tribal elites.
Despite the general low turnout of voters, on election day there were suspiciously high turnout of voters (100%) in some precincts where voting actually started late but finished early, possibly due to unscrupulous poll workers doing proxy voting. An extreme case, as reported by the Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL) in their report on the July 20 election, was in Maybrat district, which supposedly had a 99.97 turnout, which means that only 5 out of the 19,831 registered voters were not able to vote, a highly unlikely outcome in a province where the voters list is believed to be padded, in an election where there was a generally low turnout. There were also allegations of vote buying: the camp of Mandacan alleged that the Governor gave away sacks of rice and canned goods -- originally donations from the central government for earthquake victims -- with his campaign stickers on them. All throughout the election period, there were reports of intimidation not just of voters, but also of election officials, poll workers and the police, either through direct threats or through SMS. Electoral violence and damage to election commission facilities also occured in some districts prior to election day.
Since the term of the incumbents expired on July 24, the central government in Jakarta installed a caretaker governor for West Papua, whose term would end when a new governor is elected.

In its terminal report, ANFREL's recommendations for future electoral exercises in West Papua include the following: review the voter list and make it more accessible; modernize the registration system, to be done by independent parties to increase credibility; ensure that all laws are in place and tasking has been clearly identified prior to the election period, to ensure timely conduct of activities and to minimize disputes; investigate and punish poll workers who acted unprofessionally, and to improve the recruitment process; increase and enhance activities related to civic education, penetrating the rural areas of West Papua; strictly enforce proper polling procedures to prevent fraud; invite more election observers, both domestic and foreign; and encourage dialogue between opposing parties.

The case of West Papua clearly demonstrates the fact that, in spite of similar expectations with regard the conduct of elections that adhere to internationally accepted standards of free and fair elections, each place is unique, with differing attitudes and varying degrees of acceptance of democratic principles. This makes looking for solutions always a challenge: there is no uniform strategy that could be followed since each place and the situations therein are shaped heavily by the local culture. The strong tribal culture in West Papua seems to undermine our concept of democracy, where individuals are supposed to be free to exercise their will and to decide for themselves. The list of problems and proposed solutions for West Papua elections would look familiar to any election observer though, as these are shared by many countries all over the world; indeed, however daunting the situation is, this should not prevent democracy advocates to reach out to said societies to share expertise and give guidance on how best they could be applied. However, in settings such as these, in areas where there is strong local flavor in the way politics is practiced -- like in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao in the Philippines for example -- it seems the solution to their problems could only come from the people themselves, to make concepts like democracy and freedom work in the context of their own culture. Ultimately, with reinforcement, it is them who will shape their own destiny.

Focus on West Papua
Part I, Part II, Part III