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House presses ahead with Papua redistricting despite protests

Jakarta Post - June 29, 2022

Nur Janti, Jakarta – Lawmakers have pressed ahead with a plan to create new provinces in resource-rich Papua after securing support from local elites, as politicians aim to pass a set of bills that will lay legal groundwork for the major redistricting before they go into recess early next month.

On Tuesday, House of Representatives Commission II overseeing home affairs unanimously endorsed three bills to be passed into law at a House plenary session on Thursday. The bills will divide one of the two existing provinces in Papua into four new ones. The second, West Papua province, will be left as it is. In an apparent bid to fast track the deliberations smoothly, lawmakers recently invited some senior Papua administration officials – who also represented Governor Lukas Enembe – and representatives from the provincial-level legislative council (DPRP).

They won their support for the plan. But critics insist that the invited Papuan elites do not represent voices at the grass roots who have rejected the plan over fears that it will be used as a pretext to tighten government control over Papua.

The government, meanwhile, has heard concerns about the major redistricting from the Papuan People's Assembly (MRP), which represents Papuan indigenous people and opposes the plan.

But the government later sent a letter to the House to continue the deliberation of the bills. The government's push to form new provinces in Papua intensified after the House passed a new law on Papuan special autonomy last year that bypasses the need for consultation with the MRP or the DPRP in the event of the creation of new administrative regions.

The Special Autonomy Law was listed under the initiative of both the government and the House. And late last month, lawmakers decided to list the three bills on the new Papuan provinces as their initiative.

Protests persist

Only hours after the House Commission II endorsement on Tuesday, civil groups including the Papua Legal Aid Institute and the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) pleaded with the government to drop the plan.

An organization called the Papua Indigenous Council has also demanded the government resolve long ongoing discrimination against Papuans – and alleged human rights abuses – rather than forming new provinces. "This was born out of the ambiguity of opportunist groups of politicians," chairperson Dominikus Sorabut said last week, local news reported.

Demonstrations against the Jakarta plan have occurred in parts of Papua since March, including in Yahukimo where at least two people were killed when a protest in March turned violent. On Monday, Papuan students in Manado, North Sulawesi held a rally against the same plan, local news reported.

The MRP, which recently was also invited to one of the House meetings, insisted on rejecting the bills, repeatedly calling on the House to suspend its passing until the Constitutional Court rules on a petition against the autonomy law. "And besides, there is no scientific grounds behind the plan to establish new provinces," chairperson Timotius Murib said last week.

Regional Representatives Council (DPD) member Filep Wamafma from West Papua told The Jakarta Post that a majority of indigenous Papuans rejected the plan over fears that it would exacerbate inequality and discrimination against them.

Filep also questioned the government's readiness to financially support the development of new provinces.

But House Commission II chairman Ahmad Doli Kurnia from the Golkar Party said on Tuesday that there were no longer significant objections from Papuans after lawmakers promised that most of future positions in public offices in the three new provinces would be filled by indigenous people. "Disagreements are normal in any decision-making process," he added.

He insisted that the process of drafting the three new bills would continue despite the Constitutional Court still reviewing the autonomy law.

Meaningful public consultations

Experts say policymakers must hold meaningful public consultations accommodating those at the grass roots rejecting the plan, despite it having gained support from Papuan elites – or else conflicts might arise. "People at the grass roots think it will only benefit the Papuan elites because there will be new positions [in the new provinces] that must be filled," National Research and Innovation Agency (BRIN) researcher Cahyo Pamungkas said.

Certainly there is a need to provide adequate public services in Papua, such as higher education and health care, Cahyo said, but not necessarily through the formation of new provinces. He accused policymakers of trying to push through the plan without urgency.

Papuan expert Arie Ruhyanto of Gadjah Mada University said that having Lukas support Jakarta's plan would not necessarily reduce opposition at the grass roots. "I think there are a lot of elements that the governor can't control."

Amnesty International Indonesia deputy director Wirya Adiwena said the government must map out the consequences of the plan to avoid worsening conflict and discrimination against native Papuans.

However, the intimidatory atmosphere in Papua due to the government's security approach has made it difficult to hold a meaningful dialogue. "Because the situation is still unsafe in Papua, it seems impossible to hold it.

It is better to make peace first before carrying out a meaningful public consultation," he said.

Source: https://www.thejakartapost.com/indonesia/2022/06/28/house-presses-ahead-with-papua-redistricting-despite-protests.htm