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President Jokowi arguably has given more personal attention to Papua than any president since Soeharto, but his government has made at least three miscalculations in its policies there: that economic development would make political grievances go away; that past human rights violations would be easy to resolve; and that fraudulent local elections could be safely ignored.

All Indonesian governments have made the same assumption about economic development, although “development” also has too often been equated with funds made available rather than actual poverty alleviation: Papua remains the poorest province in Indonesia according to the 2016 Human Development Index. Jokowi has made serious efforts to lower prices for basic goods, reduce the isolation of remote areas by building more roads, build markets for Papuan women and increase access to education (see Appendix 1). Nevertheless the political wing of the independence movement inside Papua has grown more active, not less. Higher levels of income and education do not automatically mean greater loyalty to the Indonesian state.

The second miscalculation was that outstanding human rights cases could be speedily resolved, producing increased trust and good will on all sides. The government had little understanding of the depth of trauma and anger in Papua over human rights violations, particularly in the central highlands or the the complexity of the cases it chose to examine. It had little idea of the obstacles it would encounter when in March 2016, it promised that all cases would be resolved by the end of the year. More importantly, it showed little interest in to dealing with the much larger issue of holding security forces accountable at the command level for human rights violations in Papua. The credibility of the committee set up by the Coordinating Ministry on Political, Legal and Security Affairs (hereafter Security Coordinating Ministry) to resolve the cases was also undermined by the way it was used as a public relations tool to demonstrate its human rights bonafides to diplomats from Pacific countries.

The third assumption was that other goals could be achieved without addressing the abysmally poor administration of local elections. Papua is now moving into in full election mode, with direct elections for governor and seven district heads scheduled for June 2018. The current governor, Lukas Enembe is Papua’s first governor from the highlands, which is also the stronghold of the independence movement. He has presided over the expansion of highland political power, including through supporting the creation of new districts that have decisively shifted provincial political power away from the traditional coastal elite. With vast sums of money available for patronage, local elections in Papua, especially in the highlands, have turned into a sordid spectacle of fraud, corruption and sometimes violence that Jakarta has never really tried to clean up. Specific election disputes go to the Constitutional Court in Jakarta to resolve, but no one has made an effort it would take to ensure credible voter rolls, informed voters, neutral local election commissions and a secret ballot.

Instead, the Jokowi government seems to have made a political calculation that Jakarta’s interests would be best served by bringing the governor onside and turning a blind eye to the tactics that he and others have used to get elected. This has resulted in widespread corruption, appointment of relatives and cronies, chronic absenteeism of local officials and failure to improve basic social services. By perpetuating poor governance, election fraud undercuts the economic development goals that President Jokowi himself has set.

This report examines the three assumptions in more detail.

  • It looks at the current state of the independence movement and how the Jokowi government has responded, with a particular focus on the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) as the broad coalition working overseas and its main partner inside Papua, the West Papua National Committee (Komite Nasional Papua Barat, KNPB). It argues that the Indonesian Foreign Ministry has been successful in blunting the ULMWP’s bid for a broader role in the Pacific but the real challenge remains at home.
  • It examines how the Jokowi government has handled the human rights issue and argues that while the approach thus far has been flawed, this is one area where genuine progress could be made if only there were the political will and sustained attention to follow through.
  • It looks at the sorry mess that local elections in Papua have become, using the Tolikara district elections as a case study, and suggests that the best first step the central government could take if there is to be any hope of serious economic development is to get accurate statistics on how many people now live in Papua.

One note on terminology: the focus of this paper is on Papua province rather than the entire Papuan territory which is now comprised of two provinces, Papua and Papua Barat (West Papua). When we use the term “Papua”, we are referring to the province, except when otherwise indicated. Independence activists use the term “West Papua” to refer to the entire territory, which in earlier incarnations was successively called the Dutch East Indies, West New Guinea, West Irian, Irian Jaya and Papua.

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