Tenggara Strategics, Jakarta – President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo officially enacted three laws establishing new Papuan provinces – South Papua, Central Papua and the Papua Highlands – on July 25. Moving forward, the President has six months to appoint caretaker governors while the government addresses how the new provinces will impact the upcoming 2024 elections.
Deputy Home Minister John Wempi Wetipo said the acting governors for the three provinces would be appointed from among echelon I officials at the ministry. While it appears as though the government is intent on appointing native Papuans to lead the new provinces for the time being, there is currently only one Papuan official that meets the requirements, namely Velix Wanggai.
Komarudin Watubun, former chairman of the special committee for the Papuan special autonomy law, urged the government to consider appointing Papuan civil servants currently occupying positions in government agencies and institutions other than ministries to respect Papua's special autonomy. He said appointing non-Papuans as leaders would only prove allegations that the government was mistreating Papua.
Additionally, Komarudin suggested that the government consider Papuan leaders with notable track records of integrity and experience even if they were not civil servants. Wempi, a Papuan politician from the ruling Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), previously said that not even a Papua regional secretary – an echelon II official – would qualify for the acting governor post.
Whoever appoints the interim governors will face daunting challenges in setting up the new administration within three months of their inauguration. Additionally, the appointing authority must facilitate the gubernatorial and legislative elections in 2024. It will be given a year to do so, and the acting governors will be subject to replacement when a definitive governor and deputy governor are elected.
Separately, Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Mahfud MD said on Tuesday that the General Election Law would not be revised to accommodate the new Papuan provinces for the upcoming elections. The government has yet to clarify what legal mechanism it will use to bring the new provinces into the electoral system.
The establishment of new administrative regions comes with increases in the number of electoral districts, as well as seats in the House of Representatives, Regional Representatives Council (DPD) and regional legislatures (DPRD). According to General Elections Commission (KPU) chairman Hasyim Asy'ari following a discussion with the Papuan People's Assembly (MRP), the new electoral districts will be settled this October. He said he hoped that the government would complete the legal basis for the change by the end of the year or before February 2023 at the latest.
MRP chairman Timothy Murib said the assembly, through its discussion with the KPU, sought to ensure that indigenous Papuan constituents in 28 regencies and municipalities in Papua province kept their right to vote. A clear overview of all the new electoral districts should be determined before the nomination stage begins in May 2023.
Amid these rapid changes, many Papuans remain in opposition to the changes. Warpo Wefipo, field coordinator of the Papuan People's Petition (PRP) protest that was held on July 29 in Jayapura, reiterated that Jakarta was imposing a one-sided agenda without ever consulting or involving Papuans. He said this was first illustrated during the amendment to the Papua special autonomy law last year and now with the formation of the three new provinces.
History repeats itself, as the tensions spurred by the formation of the new administrative regions have led Papuans to demand a self-determination referendum. The government had previously dismissed such calls in 2019, when Papuan students made their demands in front of the State Palace in Jakarta. This was followed by a series of riots that resulted in deaths and left many injured. That year, the United Nations eventually rebuffed West Papua's petition for independence, which was signed by 1.8 million West Papuans.
Today, besides Jayapura, large-scale protests have also sprung up in other areas across the region, including in Sorong, Wamena, Paniai, Dogiyai, Nabire, Serui, Biak, Manokwari, Merauke and Yahukimo – some areas of which saw casualties. The government, however, has not responded to these protests. Meanwhile, Wempi proposed that the inauguration of the three acting governors should be held in the three regions, rather than in Jakarta. With the President in attendance, Wempi said the inauguration ceremony would convey the government's good intentions to improve the welfare of Papuans.
Wempi also said that following a recent visit to the three new Papuan provinces – where he mapped and observed government facilities and infrastructure – he drafted a "mini" regional budget (APBD) that the acting governors could use until December. Infrastructure preparation was also discussed by Vice President Ma'ruf Amin in a limited meeting, according to his spokesperson Masduki Baidlowi.
What we've heard
Following the formation of three new provinces in Papua, the Indonesian Military (TNI) has started a preliminary study on the establishment of a new military command (Kodam) overseeing the three new provinces. A source from the Army headquarters said, "we are moving to conduct a feasibility study related to our plan to establish new military command there."
Part of the feasibility study will emphasize the need for military reforms that require the military to act as "a tool to win the hearts and minds of Papuan people". This plan is now being reviewed by the Army chief of staff's assistant for territorial affairs, Maj. Gen. Karmin Suharna.
Following the formation of West Papua province in 2007, TNI established the Kasuari Military Command overseeing the province, in addition to the Cenderawasih Military Command overseeing Papua. Apart from the two regional military commands, TNI has also formed the third division of Army's Strategic Reserves Command based in Gowa, South Sulawesi. The division also covers Papua and West Papua.
To further gain trust from the entire Papuan people, including pro-independence groups, a source said the local arm of State Intelligence Agency (BIN) has proposed that former member of Papuan rebel group be allowed to contest regional elections as long as they pledge loyalty to Indonesia, have never committed crimes or come under criminal investigations. "As part of democratic mechanism, we will allow ex-Papuan separatist group members to take part in the regional elections. They only need to fulfil administrative requirements such as possession of ID cards and loyalty to the state," a source quoted head of the BIN Papua office Maj. Gen. Gustav Agus.
There is no mention, however, whether local parties can contest elections in Papua, as has happened in Aceh, where separatist rebels fought for independence until 2004.