Improving papua’s democracy quality, without violence

The day was Sept. 4. A day before registrations were open for pairs of candidates of the upcoming regional elections, Panuel Maling (26) was shocked to see an array of shops on the Jl. Seradala street in the Dekai district in Yahukimo, Papua suddenly shut down. The crowds of people who usually were walking to and fro the hectic commerce hub suddenly could not be found. What was going on?

Panuel went on to say that the economic paralysis on the Dekai district happened for four full days, from Sept. 3 to 6. “There were rumors of impending riots,” Panuel said upon being contacted by on Sept. 5.

Panuel was referring to a rumor which had started to spread from Aug. 12. At that time, a regional General Elections Commission member from Yahukimo, called Hendrik Johpinski, was murdered. Eight days after, a Yahukimo citizen called Muhammad Toyib was found dead. Then, on Aug. 25, Yausan, another Yahukimo citizen, was found dead as well.

An array of murder cases occurring throughout August 2020 eventually led to the Yahukimo region being declared as one of the five regions in Papua most vulnerable to riots nearing the regional head election process. The other four Papuan regions included Mamberamo Raya, Pengunungan Bintang, Nabire and Keerom.

In Yahukimo, the Brigade Mobile personnel of the National Police along with the National Military were mobilized to survey locals’ houses. They conducted the operations from early morning, on the pretext of finding the culprit of the murders. A number of tools that the locals used for their day-to-day work activities – such as machetes and arrows – were confiscated by the police and military personnel.

“The operations spread anxiety among the locals,” Panuel said.

According to Panuel, who also works as the secretary-general of the Ukem Tribal Association, the objects confiscated by the authorities did not have anything to do at all with the murder cases. In truth, people living in the Dekai district frequently used these objects for their gardening and hunting activities, as part of the locals’ culture.

“The state apparatus’ role is to guide its people. Not to conduct sweepings. It is better for the authorities to track the murderers down without ransacking those who are not suspects,” he said.

Daleng Magayang (41), another Yahukimo resident, said he saw with his own eyes how these state apparatus hunted down some innocent locals merely because these locals ran away from the sites of these joint military operations. He said a lot of locals actually fled the scene and ran homeward because the sight of military and police personnel with all their weapons had scared them.

“The people just didn’t understand [what the operations were about]. They would simply hide themselves by running by taking shortcuts before eventually hiding in their houses. Yet, the personnel considered that they were running away because they had incited these riots, so the personnel chased them,” Daleng told on Sept. 5.

Daleng, who also works as a state civil servant in the local chapter of the Education Agency, requested that the military and the police built decent communication channels with locals, putting persuasive measures first. This, he said, would make locals more cooperative in following the legal measures that the personnel had put in place.

“We knew nothing [about the operations]. Therefore, in the beginning, people were panicking. Yet, we’ve become better now,” Daleng said.

The central General Elections Commission commissioner Arief Budiman also requested the police to uncover the murder case against the Yahukimo local commission chapter members. He requested that the security apparatus complemented their effort to secure the elections cycle with efforts to protect the voting officers on duty.

“I hope that they can process this case as soon as possible, while punishing the perpetrator accordingly,” Arief said during an online press conference on Sept. 12.

Out of the three murder cases happening in the Dekai district, the police had only succeeded in securing the identity of one perpetrator. The Papua police chief Insp. Gen. Paulus Waterpauw said he suspected that the murder against the members of the Yahukimo local commission chapter was committed by a former Indonesian Military member.

Long before the murder occurred, the former Military man was fired from his troop for his involvement in the ammunition trade case in the Mimika regency in 2018. Papua police spokesman, Sr. Comr. Ahmad Mustafa Kamal, said that until very recently the murderer could not be nabbed, due to limited telecommunication infrastructure in Yahukimo as well as obstacles brought by the local weather.

“We’re very serious in tracking the perpetrator down,” Ahmad told on Sept. 7.

Ahmad requested locals to support the police’s ongoing legal process, including when his personnel conducted sweepings in their houses, in a cooperative manner. The police did not want the case to disrupt the elections cycle in Yahukimo, which was kickstarted on Sept. 3 and would last until Dec. 9.

“The term ‘sweeping’ sounds very horrible. We have the Criminal Code to guide us [in our investigations]. We have gathered some information that these perpetrators are actually scattered across several spots in the region,” Ahmad briefed the press on the latest status on the investigation.

He did not specify the zones that his personnel targeted in their operations. Yet, he claimed that the confiscation of the machetes and arrows sought to prevent further riots. “To make public order and security more conducive,” he said.

Through the entire search process, Ahmad said the police did not nab any locals. The police only confiscated sharp objects which they deemed dangerous.

“Nothing, we didn’t nab anybody,” he said twice to emphasize his response.

According to Ahmad, to date there have been at least 11,691 police and military personnel which had been assigned to 11 regencies across Papua. About 2,577 personnel came from the local precinct police offices and 813 of them came the Papuan police office. Meanwhile, the above mentioned force would be supplemented by 500 Mobile Brigade and 627 Military personnel, along with 7,174 personnel of the Public Protection Agency.

“Hopefully, we won’t have to expand on our personnel number. If situations changed we would also send our colleagues from the Papuan regional police to guard several spots on the Pegunungan Tengah (Middle Mountains) area. Obviously, the National Police headquarters would also lend us some support. We hope that situations will stay this [conducive],” he said.

Separately, the Papua legal aid foundation criticize the sweeping conducted by the joint forces. The foundation’s leader, Emanuel Gobay, requested law enforcement apparatus to avoid sweep people’s homes and confiscate objects from there as long as there were no instructions from the Wamena court to do so.

Emanuel said that the apparatus’ action had violated Criminal Code Law No. 8/1981, chapter 33, which required the police officers to secure permit letter from the local court before entering people’s houses and sweep through the residents’ belongings. In addition to that, sweepings need to be witnessed by two locals, within the approval of the village head or local community leaders.

“They should have conducted their investigations in compliance with the Criminal Code, regardless of increased number of criminal cases. They’re not allowed to arbitrarily invade people’s house to sweep the latter’s belongings,” he told on Sept. 8.

He also requested the government not to send their joint force apparatus excessively during the elections cycle. Edo –as Emanuel is familiarly called – said the upcoming democratic party should be conducted securely and peacefully, instead of being marred by the presence of the joint police-military forces.

“We need to evaluate this; Papua’s democracy quality isn’t safe,” Edo asserted.

Imparsial researcher echoes Edo’s notions. Ahmad said enlisting military personnel to safeguard the election cycles and conduct sweepings to find murder suspects could be considered as illegal actions as it ran counter to the Law No. 34/2004 on the Indonesian Military.

Chapter 7(3) of the law regulated that the military was only allowed to take part in operations other than ones involving war upon securing the approval of the President and the House of Representatives, through Presidential Decree or Presidential Regulation.

“Be it border operations, or operations during the regional elections – all these operations are illegal since they don’t have any legal basis: the state’s political decision. These independent operations are outside the civil operations bounds. This is dangerous,” Ahmad told on Sept. 7.

He regretted that the government always approached the Papua problem with a military lens. He said that military approaches to the Papua problem would further upset the local democracy quality there by running the risk that locals would lose their civilian freedoms and control over military activities.


“Putting it simply, strengthening security personnel always leads to the increase of human rights violations in Papua,” Ahmad said. Imparsial, a non-governmental organization which is a member of the Civil Society’s Coalition for the Human Rights Defenders Protection, also recorded 72 legal violations and violence cases occurring in Papua throughout the President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s administration, claiming thousands of victims.

To go back to the regional elections topic, the upcoming battle for the top executive chair in Yahukimo will be joined by two pairs of candidates – incumbent pair Abock Busup and Yulianus Heluka are backed by the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, Democratic Party, the Great Indonesian Movement or Gerindra Party, the United Development Party, the Indonesian Solidarity Party as well as the National Mandate Party.

The other pair: Didimus Yahuli and Esau Mirah are backed by the Golkar party, the Hanura (People’s Conscience) Party, the United Indonesian (Perindo) Party, the Indonesian Justice and Unity Party (PKPI) and the National-Democratic (Nasdem) Party.

The Yakuhimo regional General Elections Commission commissioner Yeyasa Magayang said the organization guaranteed that the elections cycle across Papua’s 512 villages in 51 districts would be done safely.

“We’re ready to turn the Yahukimo regional elections into a success,” Yeyasa said to on Sept. 6.

Prior to the regional elections cycle, the regional chapter of the commission had already prepared to mitigate several factors which could disturb the voting process. At least 13 police officers are guarding the commission office in Yahukimo until December 2020.

“We’ve been working closely with the police officers. We’ve asked the regional police head to secure the commission compound,” he said.

The Elections Supervisory Body chairman Sipius Mirin said the body was bracing itself to prevent various forms of election violations, including attempts to harbor the ballot boxes and papers, allegations of bribes on the voting committee – commonly occurring during regional elections.

Besides that, bribes can also potentially happen during the voting process using the noken system represented by the tribe head. “We’re obliged to monitor this. There are risks of candidates cheating so we need to keep an eye on them,” Sipius said.

In a similar vein, Titi Anggraini from the Association for Elections and Democracy (Perludem) said that Papua’s bureaucracy, which was yet to be done professionally and neutrally, could exacerbate the high levels of elections violations in Papua.

She said if these things were not solved right away, Papua’s democracy quality would worsen.

“Policymakers, politicians and civil society groups need to come together to find the best solution,” Titi told on Sept. 7.

Referring to data from Statistics Indonesia, the Indonesian Democracy Index in Papua and West Papua scored only 65.25 percent and 57.62 percent, respectively, which pale in comparison to the national democracy index score of 74.92 percent.

Indicators influencing the index included civil liberty, political rights and democratic institutionalization.

Titi said that the suboptimal performance of the national political parties exacerbated Papua’s poor democracy quality. These parties are perceived as failing in delivering Papuans’ aspirations. On the other hand, calls on Papuans to establish local political parties often meet dead end.

She said that the phrase “political parties” mentioned in Law No. 2/2011 on political parties were often interpreted to mean national-level organizations. The interpretation has made the implementation of the mandate of the Chapter 28 of the Papuan Special Autonomy Law – which explicitly affirmed the right of Papuans to form a political party – sluggish.

“The law makes it possible for Papuans to establish a local political party,” Titi said.

Overseas Voters’ Turnout Shrink

Binti Rosidah is one of more than 1.6 million Indonesians living and working in Malaysia. She has been working as a domestic worker in Kuala

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