Prabowo or Jokowi for the Jakarta-Papua dialogue?

There are only two options for the next presidency — Prabowo Subianto or Joko “Jokowi” Widodo.


They have been portrayed as opposites. While Prabowo’s campaign speaks of “Saving Indonesia” (Selamatkan Indonesia), Jokowi’s proclaims “Indonesia the great” (Indonesia Hebat).


Whereas Jokowi is well known for his impromptu visits or blusukan, Prabowo is famous for his rigid instructions and commands. While Jokowi has risen from the level of a small-town entrepreneur, Prabowo has reinvented himself as a populist figure, distancing himself from the perception of a New Order general with a notorious track record. Jokowi’s camp promotes his vision on human rights at length, Prabowo’s vision does not even mention the word “human rights”.


Both camps, however, hardly mention anything about the Jakarta-Papua dialogue. Instead, both are preoccupied with the welfare approach for Papua as if it was the magic bullet.That is why, despite this whirlwind of national politics, many Papuans remain bewildered. Some of them ask in whom we trust? Some say trust no one. Some others, like West Papua National Committee (KNPB) activists, call for boycotting the presidential election whereas others who are part of the game work extra hard to secure votes for their candidates.


While many Papuan activists seem skeptical about the upcoming election, others are hopeful that Jokowi might be a new entry point for the Jakarta-Papua dialogue. Many are deeply weary of Prabowo due to his legacy in Mapenduma and the human rights record of the Army’s Special Forces (Kopassus) of which he was the commander. So will the new president be true to his promises? “Promise” can be a magic but also dirty word in Papuan politics. Papuans feeling betrayed by failed promises is nothing new.


In the 1960s, the Dutch were clinging onto the territory of Papua, promising to prepare Papuans to govern their own country, before signing the 1962 New York Agreement as a legal basis to transfer the territory to the United Nations Temporary Executive Authority (UNTEA) and then to Indonesia.Successive presidents offered different promises but not all paid serious attention to engaging in meaningful dialogue with Papuans.


The most preferable approach is pursuing economic progress. Sukarno proclaimed his commitment to establishing a prosperous and fair society when he first arrived in Kotabaru (now Jayapura) on May 4, 1963. Similarly, Soeharto was well known for his martial law for Irian Jaya for more than three decades, leaving a legacy of fear. When BJ Habibie took the presidency, he invited 100 Papuan representatives to the Presidential Palace for a national dialogue on Feb. 26, 1999. Instead of achieving any meaningful negotiations, Papuans were told to go home and rethink their call for independence.


They have never heard any follow-up since. It was Abdurrahman “Gus Dur” Wahid who took an exceptional initiative to engage in genuine dialogue with Papuans. He crafted a space for Papuans to reclaim their names as “Papuans”, not “Irianese” or any other labels given to them by outsiders.


He was also supportive of Papuans’ initiatives when they organized their grand deliberation (Mubes) and congress in 2000. But when his then deputy, Megawati Soekarnoputri, took over the presidency, Gus Dur’s initiatives disappeared. She signed a Special Autonomy (Otsus) deal for Papua in 2001, she issued a presidential decree (Inpres No. 1/2003) to divide Papua into three new provinces, contradicting the spirit and the letter of the Special Autonomy Law.She insistently promoted the economic development approach while allowing the military to operate almost independently.


A group of Kopassus soldiers were convicted and punished for assassinating Papuan leader Theys Eluay although the court failed to discover Aristoteles Masoka, the driver. Megawati, of course, is the one promoting Jokowi.In President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s first term, he was successful in ending the prolonged armed conflict in Aceh and religious conflicts in Maluku and Poso, Central Sulawesi.


This achievement is internationally acknowledged and greatly appreciated.This credit, however, did not transfer to Papua. During his second term, he invited the Papuan church leaders twice with a promise of a follow-up for dialogue between Papua and Jakarta, but it never went anywhere.While economic stability and prosperity is a conditio sine qua non for the public good of any nation, this is not the only criterion to assess how a government fulfills its constitutional mandate.Questions of justice and human security are not inferior to economy.


Conversely, these are paramount for Papua. Gus Dur made it very clear that reconciliatory gestures are the right approach for Papua. Another kind of promise comes from neighboring states. In its 2013 summit communiqué, the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) leaders highlighted their concerns over the worrying human rights condition in Papua.They promised to send a mission to visit Jakarta and Papua to have firsthand information of the situation.


Under tight arrangements with Jakarta, the MSG ministerial mission visited Jayapura for four hours and concluded that there were no human rights violations in Papua. Vanuatu, the only UN member publicly supporting Papuans, dissociated itself from the visit and went solo. Last March, former Vanuatu prime minister Moana Carcasses Kalosil rocked the boat of the UN Human Rights Council, requesting a UN expert for Papua to investigate the situation of human rights in the territory.


We are waiting for the follow-up on this appeal.What can Papuans make out of these promises? Perhaps Reverend Socratez Sofyan Yoman was right when he said that Papuans had to trust themselves. Instead of looking for outside assistance, he urged Papuans to rely on themselves in crafting their own future. While this suggestion is not novel, it reiterates the need for Papuans to build self-reliance and critical thinking on the most essential things they have to do for their own future.


We should not forget, however, that Papuans are entangled in intricate power relations both domestically and internationally. They do not live in a vacuum so that they can independently decide and act without taking into account different power relations that influence and sometimes, determine their fate. Perhaps this is the time they have to seize a new opportunity for dialogue with a new regime, despite the silence of both candidates over the very issue.


The writer is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies (KITLV) in the Netherlands.

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