This report examines the latest draft law on special autonomy in Papua, the politics behind it and how it might feed into Indonesia's coming national elections.


The idea of a new law on enhanced special autonomy (otsus plus) for Papua is still alive, but it is not clear who beyond a tiny elite in Papua province really wants it. Teams representing the governors of Papua and Papua Barat provinces have produced a joint draft, but Papua Barat remains deeply unhappy with the final product. It is now in the hands of the central government, awaiting a “harmonisation” process through which it will be reviewed and almost certainly watered down by various ministries. Officials say the target date for getting a final draft adopted by the Indonesian parliament is 17 August 2014. They believe there is still a chance that it can squeeze through, despite national elections and a long list of other legislative priorities competing for attention.

The latest draft contains several new provisions, all of which were inserted by the Papua team and opposed by its counterpart from Papua Barat. It creates the largely powerless position of governor-general to supervise the law’s implementation in both Papua and Papua Barat. It defines indigenous Papuan in racial terms, granting indigenous status to anyone born of a Melanesian Papuan father regardless of the mother’s origin but not to someone whose mother only was Melanesian Papuan. It also requires that only indigenous Papuans be allowed to stand for all elected executive posts from governor and vice-governor down to village head. It abandons direct local elections. It mandates a single and strengthened Papuan People’s Council (Majelis Rakyat Papua, MRP) that would be based in Jayapura.

The most controversial provision, which would have given Papua the right to call a referendum on self-determination if the law is not fully implemented, was removed just before it was presented to the president on 28 January.

The current version—Draft No. 14—pays lip service to the idea of a single Papua, but the drafting process has highlighted deep divisions between the two provinces that have not been erased, even after a meeting on 15 February produced a formal consensus. From the outset, the push for otsus plus has been driven by Papua Governor Lukas Enembe and a small circle of advisers in Jayapura. Their main aim was to strengthen provincial authority. They never seriously invited input from their colleagues in Manokwari, the Papua Barat capital, and even after the latter produced an alternative draft with innovative proposals, they failed to incorporate many of its key provisions.

The central government has encouraged the process to date for several reasons. President Yudhoyono reportedly wants to ensure a concrete legacy in Papua before he leaves office in October 2014. His political party, Partai Demokrat, whose Papua provincial branch Enembe heads, has plummeted in the polls and is looking for a success, if possible before the April legislative elections. The Ministry of Home Affairs likes the bill—or at least some aspects of it—because with its provision on the removal of direct elections, it promotes the concept of “asymmetric decentralisation” or different governance arrangements for different parts of the country. The Ministry is hoping to drive through new laws on local government and local elections before the end of the legislative term that that will also feature this concept, and with Enembe’s team backing it for Papua, the Ministry can say it has local support.

In the meantime, for all the effort that has gone into revising drafts, it is still the case that there has been no public consultation or debate, and Papuan civil society seems to regard the whole idea of revising special autonomy with deep cynicism, if not derision. Other issues have captured far more attention:

• The inadequacy in Papua of preparations for the general elections that will be held in only six weeks’ time, including uncertainty about whether the noken system, an allegedly traditional practice that gives the authority to local leaders to vote on behalf of their communities, will be allowed. The potential for violence one way or another could be high, especially in the highlands.

• The continuing pattern of attacks on security forces in Puncak Jaya district and mixed messages from local officials on the nature and success of informal efforts at dialogue with the armed guerrilla movement, the Free Papua Organisation (Organisasi Papua Merdeka, OPM).

• The unsolved rash of shootings in December and January along the road to the giant Freeport mine, and the prospects of massive layoffs at the site because of the provisions of a new mining law.

• The sentencing of ALL the members of the Papua Barat legislature to terms ranging from twelve to fifteen months for their role in a corruption case involving alleged private loans from the provincial budget. None are yet in prison, and business continues as usual in Manokwari pending the outcome of an appeal at the Jayapura court.

• The conviction of a notoriously corrupt police official from Sorong, Papua Barat on illegal logging charges. He was sentenced to only two years’ imprimsonment when the prosecution had asked for fifteen, and most of the more serious money laundering and smuggling charges against him were dropped.

• The failure of the Mimika kabupaten government to hold a second round of elections, where the leading candidate is a non-Papuan.

• The active consideration by the Ministry of Home Affairs of at least 30 new kabupaten across Papua and Papua Barat and three new provinces (Papua Tengah, Papua Selatan and Papua Barat Daya).

With everything else going on, the otsus plus debate seems like a sideshow, but the implications if some version of it does get adopted could be huge.

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