The rapid proliferation of new districts in Papua is strengthening the political influence of highlanders at the expense of the traditionally dominant coast, but it is also producing new conflicts and complicating the search for peace, the Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC) said on Wednesday.
In its latest report, "Carving Up Papua: More Districts, More Trouble," IPAC said that the creation of many of these new districts is driven by clan and sub-clan competition that can erupt into violence around local elections.
The problem, it added, is exacerbated by unreliable population statistics, inflated voter rolls, and especially in the central highlands, a voting-by-consensus method that invites fraud.
"The carving up of Papua used to be seen as a useful divide-and-rule tactic by Jakarta but now it is driven overwhelmingly by local elites looking for status and spoils," said Cillian Nolan, deputy director of IPAC. "The problem is that Papua is becoming fractured along clan lines."
Papua has undergone more administrative expansion than anywhere else in Indonesia. From having 10 districts and mayoralties in 1999, Papua now has been split into two provinces with 42 districts, while 33 more divisions are awaiting legislative consideration.
Much of the expansion has been in the central highlands, the poorest and most remote region of Papua, where the creation of new districts helped build a political base for Lukas Enembe, elected in January 2013 as the first-ever highland governor.
His victory has strengthened support for separate provinces along the north and south coasts, although neither is likely to come into being anytime soon.
The IPAC report examines the voting practices, collectively called the noken system, used in many parts of the highlands that makes accurate vote-counting impossible and that produced a wide range of implausible results in the governor's election, including several places with a 100 per cent voter turnout.
It also looks at two recently created districts, Puncak and Nduga, where election disputes resulted in deadly violence, the first between clans, the second between sub-clans and even extended families.
In both, the district governments ended up paying astounding sums in compensation to victims, funds that could otherwise have been used for social services.
"The solution to local election violence in Papua is not to scrap direct elections, as some top officials have suggested," Nolan said. "What is needed is stricter enforcement of the criteria for creating new districts – and a reduction in the financial incentives that make it so attractive."
Administrative fragmentation may be a way of giving previously unrepresented ethnic groups a stake in the political process but it may not make relations with Jakarta any easier.
It has, however, produced a group of over 1,000 elected Papuan officials whose views on Papua's future will have to be taken seriously, the report said.
A poorly armed and coordinated resistance has fought for West Papuan independence since the 1960s.
The resistance initially fought for independence from the Dutch, and later against the Indonesian government, which took control of the resource-rich province in 1969 following a self-determination ballot held under the auspices of the United Nations, which many called a sham.
Pro-independence sentiments in the poor province have been on the rise in recent years, fueled by discontent that Papua's riches are being siphoned off by the central government, leaving little for Papuans, as well as alleged human-rights violations by security forces there.