Yerica Lai, Jakarta – With the early stages of the 2024 general elections underway, the creation of three new provinces in Papua still left plenty of legal holes to fill as policymakers have only until mid-October to decide how the elections will be run in the new provinces.
In July, President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo officially signed a controversial legislation that split the provinces of Papua and West Papua into five new administrations, via the creation of South Papua Province, Central Papua Province and the Papua Central Highlands Province.
The split came after the House of Representatives, which is dominated by pro-government parties, fast-tracked the deliberation of the bills and passed them into laws in late-June, to pave ways for local voters to elect for the first time the new provinces' regional leaders and legislative representatives in the 2024 general elections.
Government officials have described the decision as an effort to accelerate the development of the outlying region, which has long lagged behind the other, more densely populated islands. Critics, however, feared that doing so would give the central government more power over the resource-rich region.
The split will inevitably set forth a redrawing of electoral districts and reallocation of legislative seats for the new provinces in Papua, a requirement that election watchdogs called the most complex and taxing consequence for the organizing of upcoming polls in the country's easternmost region.
Such requirements are stipulated in a transitional provision in the new laws, which states that these changes are "to be regulated in the Law on the General Elections", hence a revision to the General Elections Law is needed. Lawmakers however have shown a preference to not revise the General Elections Law, fearing that it would widen the scope of the discussion to other provisions, opting to recommend the issuance of a regulation in lieu of law (Perppu) instead.
Election watchdogs and proponents of the General Election revision were quick to reject the idea of issuing a Perppu, arguing that this would leave the public participation out of the decision-making process as the executive instrument is issued solely at the discretion of the President.
Guspardi Gaus, a member of House Commission II, acknowledged that issuing a Perppu would be unlikely, saying, "It has strict pre-conditions, which can only be issued in an emergency or coercive situation. Our current situation is neither a state of emergency nor a compelling urgency."
Guspardi is of the opinion that the electoral-district redrawing of the three new provinces in Papua could emulate the organizing of 2014 general elections in the then-new province of North Kalimantan. "In the 2014 legislative election, North Kalimantan still used the electoral district of its parent province, East Kalimantan.
It was only in the next five years, during the 2019 elections, that North Kalimantan had its own electoral districts that were separated from its parent province," Guspardi Gaus, a member of House Commission II, said in a statement.
Ihsan Maulana, a researcher at judicial-watchdog KoDe Inisiatif, argued that such an option could not be made as the two provinces are two different cases with two different legal preconditions. "Seat allocation for the regional legislative councils (DPRD) in the three new provinces in Papua follows the calculation of the Election Law and the Special Autonomy Law," Ihsam said.
"In contrast, North Kalimantan does not distinguish the mechanism for filling out the provincial DPRD because all of it is carried out through elections," he added. Ihsam said that the most-realistic option available is to issue a Perppu to give the authority to arrange electoral districts and seats allocation fully to the election organizer – that is, the General Election Commission (KPU).