Democracy Won’t Work unless Political Participation Becomes a Priority: The Case of Papua’s Regional Election

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Masyitoh Annisa Ramadhani — October 2020

COVID-19 has brought a considerable impact not only on the health and economic sectors but also on democracy and governance. It tests the governments’ leaderships to perform responsive containment measures to reduce the pandemic’s impact, ensure the provision of essential services, and commit to transparency and accountability at the same time.

For countries that implement democratic systems such as Indonesia, COVID-19 has also tested the state’s commitment to holding regional elections. The elections are scheduled to be held in December 2020. They are an essential feature of democratic practices and the spirit of decentralization of power. They indeed guarantee the right to vote for eligible citizens.

According to the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), 106 elections have been postponed in 61 countries in the world. However, the decisions about holding elections often become deeply politicized and polarising as some experts warn there are, in many cases, dangers in leaders putting off elections for too long to prevent challenges to their own incumbency.

While others also warn that the health risk of mass gathering during campaigns and the elections themselves are way higher beyond the joy of celebrating the right to vote for having the new leaders.

Another critical thing to consider is, Indonesian Ministry of Finance has to allocate around Rp 5,1 trillion (US$365 million) for holding regional elections in 34 provinces in Indonesia while the country is also facing economic recession due to the pandemic.

Papua and West Papua, like other provinces in Indonesia, will also elect their regional leaders in next December 2020. Papuans will vote in simultaneous regional elections in 11 regions involving 31 candidates.

Waropen, Supiori, Merauke, Yalimo, Boven Digul, Asmat, Mamberamo Raya, Nabire, Keerom, Pegunungan Bintang, and Yahukimo are the regions who will participate in this regional election. While in West Papua, there will be nine districts involving: Manokwari, Manokwari Selatan, Pegunungan Arfak, Teluk Bintuni, Teluk Wondama, Raja Ampat, Sorong Selatan, Fakfak, and Kaimana.

The Uniqueness of Papuan Regional Election

Regional elections in Papua are considered unique and different from other provinces in Indonesia. There is an unwritten agreement that the candidates running for the elections must be of Papuan native. Only those who got recommendations from Majelis Rakyat Papua (MRP) can run for the elections. However, when it comes to Governor and Vice Governor elections, it becomes compulsory that the candidates must be natives Papuan as stipulated in Law number 21/2001 on Papua’s Special Autonomy.

According to MRP, Papuan local political parties are recommended to prioritize the Papuan native candidates. Such elections are thought to be one of the most effective opportunities for Papuan to channel their aspirations — and this becomes the reason why MRP decided to deny any Regent and Vice Regent candidates who are not natives Papuan.

They claimed that this consideration is in accordance with Chapter 28 verse 3 of Special Autonomy Law, stating that “political recruitment by political parties in Papua Province should be conducted by prioritizing the natives Papuan.”

However, three districts, namely Merauke, Keerom, and Boven Digoel will have mixed candidates from both Papuan and non-Papuan. All of the candidates running for the regional elections in Papua and West Papua Provinces are endorsed by various national-based parties such as Perindo, PSI, and PDI Perjuangan.

Unfortunately, there is still a small space for local parties in Papua to get involved in this year’s regional election. Their status is still being considered in the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Indonesia. Despite the clear recognition on the right of Papuan to form a political party as stated in Chapter VII Pasal 28 of Papua’s Special Autonomy, the mechanism on forming the parties — in which still according to Cahpter VII pasal 28 (2) — must be in accordance with the order of the law.

Papua Bersatu Party or Partai Papua Bersatu (PPB), one of Papua’s biggest local parties, sent a Constitutional Court lawsuit. They believe that phrase “political party” in Law number 21/2001 on Special Autonomy does not serve a clear basis for the local party to exist in Papua. Thus it should clearly be stated “local political party” instead. Due to this consideration, PPB could not join the 2019 elections despite the procedures that have been followed.

Krisman Dedi Awi Janui Fonataba, Chairman of PPB, emphasized the need for the central government to reconsider giving Papuans more opportunities. It is to articulate their aspirations through the establishment of such local parties. He also tried to compare the government policy in the past which accommodated the local parties in Aceh through Law number 11/2006 on Governing of Aceh by stating,

“Until now, the Indonesian government only looks Papua from a political perspective, so that blood continues to flow over our land. The government unfortunately, does not see us from legal and statutory aspects related”.

Political Decentralization Needs Clear Mechanisms

As a big nation consisting of more than 268 million people living in 34 provinces and speaking more than 700 local languages in where its citizens comprise around 1300 ethnic groups, Indonesia is facing both challenges and opportunities to run the country. It is mostly in advancing the national objectives, as stated in the Constitution of the Republic of Indonesia 1945.

This constitution mandated that the nation’s goal are protecting the whole people of Indonesia and the entire homeland of Indonesia, advancing general prosperity, developing the nation’s intellectual life, and contributing to the implementation of a world order based on freedom, lasting peace, and social justice.

In achieving those objectives, it requires an accountable government and active participation of the citizen to ensure good governance at all levels. As a manifestation of a democratic and high-integrity governance system, Indonesia, the third-largest democratic country in the world, regularly holds general elections through which citizens can directly elect the president, vice president, member of parliaments at both national and regional levels, as well as the regional leaders in every 4–5 years period.

Indonesian Law 7/2017 on General Elections guarantees that citizens in all provinces can convey their aspirations in a direct, general, free, secret, honest, and fair manner.

Free and fair elections, public participation, and accountability are indeed the implementation of political decentralization in the context of local development process. In Papua’s case, for almost 20 years of special autonomy implementation, there has been low political participation at the local level.

Despite the establishment of Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat Papua (DPRP) and Majelis Rakyat Papua (MRP) at the provincial level, the unsolved problem about the voice of Papuans is not yet clearly addressed. One of the reasons is that the central government seems not to give a wide channel for Papuan to articulate their needs by establishing local parties.

Unlike in Aceh, establishing local parties’ mechanism regulation is guaranteed by Law number 11/2006 on Governing Aceh. As a result, in the 2019 election, four local parties contested with other national-based parties in Aceh; they are Partai Aceh (the former Gerakan Aceh Merdeka), Partai Sira, Partai Daerah Aceh, and Partai Nanggroe Aceh.

Even though the candidates from these parties may only sit in the regional and district legislative, this is a milestone of democracy that recognizes Aceh’s special status since 2009 after the complex, violent conflict in the past.

They Need Trust, not Just the Money

A question for the central government would be, when will they trust Papuan to establish a local party that will better represent Papua’s voices? Suppose the central government is committed to advancing Papua’s development. In that case, they should focus on infrastructure development, economic and other tangible progress, and recognition of the political and social rights of the Papuan.

Unfortunately, Some people still considered Papuan are clueless about participating in politics, which would be dangerous for the future. Therefore, the government should prioritize the empowerment of Papua as the decision-makers with full support through robust and clear mechanisms, for instance, in the establishment of local parties.

This time is the right momentum as the Special Autonomy Law will expire for everyone to recognize the political rights of Papuan as one of the essential elements for advancing development in the province. A claim that the central government has been disbursing a lot of money for Papua’s growth is not reasonable because, without civil and political rights, the development would be incomplete.

Papuan Traditional Council Secretary John Gobay hopes that President Joko Widodo can respond to this inquiry by issuing a government regulation on the mechanisms for establishing local political parties in the Land of Cendrawasih.

By giving more space for Papuan to form such local parties, hopefully, it could increase their participation in elections, reduce the practice of money politics, and surely end the conflict and establish long-lasting peace in Papua.

On the other hand, Papuan should also understand that any privilege given to them, including the special status, is a form of national’s commitment envisioning prosperity, justice, peace, and welfare with Papuan as the central subject of development.

Besides, they also have to trust both the government and the process within. These would catalyze the progress towards development, which focuses on the material progress and the realization of civil and political freedom based on the law. (*)

This piece fully represents the writer’s idea. It does not express any ideas or stances of specific institutions or organizations she/he works at or is affiliated with.

Enriching discourse and understanding. A protest to Indonesian govt that unsuccessfully serves the world fair info about West Papua.

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