Goverment Policy in Papua must be Consistent

Israr Iskandar, Jakarta

Indonesian leaders were quite disturbed on hearing that two members of the U.S. House of Representatives had questioned the status of Papua within the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia (NKRI). Under Bill No. 2601, the U.S. House cast doubt on the effectiveness of Papua’s special autonomy and disputed the presence of this territory within NKRI. They even broadened the focus, describing as unfair the Act of Free Choice (plebiscite) that took place in 1969.

The Indonesian government should avoid panic in facing such maneuvers in the U.S. congress. The government take a stance and act against the internationalization of Papuan problems. Papuan issues are Indonesian domestic matters, meaning that no foreign citizens or countries have the right to interfere. Foreign intervention in Indonesia’s internal affairs is equivalent to encroachment on sovereignty.

Nonetheless, the U.S. maneuver cannot be taken lightly, either. The government should take the opportunity to seek a comprehensive settlement of outstanding problems in Papua. The sensitivity and sincerity of Jakarta towards this issue at the present stage is badly needed. The government has a great deal of unfinished homework in Papua, and extra attention is required.

Above all, putting off settlement of Papua’s problems means a delay in this region’s development, and accelerated development is imperative. Though abundant in natural resources, Papua has been left far behind other regions in Indonesia. It is faced with crucial political, social, economic, cultural and security problems. Furthermore, suspending the handling of Papuan quandaries also increases the government’s burden in resolving the plethora of other critical issues.

From the beginning, the government has sought solutions to the problems in Papua, but the quest has been neither consistent nor comprehensive. Instead of creating an atmosphere conducive to settlement, the government has left Papua trapped in a protracted crisis, marked by not only separatism, but also human rights abuse and many other forms of violence.

There were high expectations for change in Papua when the government introduced Law No. 21/2001 on special autonomy (Otsus) for the province. In socio-cultural terms, the Otsus law was seen as affirmative action favoring indigenous Papuans of Melanesian extraction over migrants from outside Papua. Politically, many believed at that time that conflicts — particularly those connected with separatist aspirations — would dissipate as most of their political goals were accommodated under the law.

In reality, however, Papuans’ expectations remained unsettled. The trouble again came from policymakers in Jakarta with the support of orthodox nationalists. The government as initiator of Otsus was regarded as inconsistent in its own commitments. For over four years Papua’s fate was uncertain. In fact, Otsus was originally meant not only to resolve conflicts but also to serve as the starting point for accelerating Papua’s development.

Various new cases later appeared, with political conflicts, violence, rights infringements and poverty continuing to engulf Papua. One of the latest sources of conflict in Papua is the plan for direct regional elections in West Irian Jaya, which again indicates Jakarta’s inconsistency.

In actual fact, regional elections in West Irian Jaya should have been carried out after the formation of the Papuan People’s Assembly (MRP). As stipulated by the Otsus law, this body must come first.

All political matters in Papua should refer to the Otsus law, which is the legal umbrella for the region’s overall implementation of decentralization. It is difficult to understand why the government has been so ambivalent. Unless a remedy is found soon, more complicated problems will arise, thus prolonging the political crisis in Papua and attracting even more unwelcome external “”attention””.

The public still remembers President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s promise for dialogue with the Papuan people several months ago to put Otsus into consistent operation. But the long-drawn-out controversy over West Irian Jaya, without heed to the non-existence of the MRP, is an obvious reflection of the government’s policy inconsistency.

The primary solution to the Papuan problem is first of all realization of the Otsus law and the establishment of the MRP. Only thereafter should Papua’s democratization be initiated, including direct regional elections. Why MRP? The empowerment of Papua should start with the fostering of its cultural society as mirrored in the institution of the MRP. The question is now is how to promptly set up the MRP in a transparent, fair and democratic fashion, without in any way denying Papuans their democratic rights.

In future, there should be no more “”rubber band policies”” for Papua, which only serve as invitation for foreign “”concern”” (i.e. involvement). The government should be consistent with its own policies. Any inconsistency, as is happening at the present, will only reduce the confidence of Papuan people and the world in the Indonesian government. The authority of the government and the cohesion of the Indonesian state are therefore at stake.

The writer is a researcher from the Center for Indonesian Regional and Urban Studies (CIRUS), Jakarta


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