Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Why dialogue matters for West Papua

In his presidential election campaign, president-elect Joko “Jokowi” Widodo deemed the problems in Papua to be rooted in the misperceptions of the central government.

It is clear, therefore, that dialogue is the most appropriate way to correct them and to build a common perception to find a solution.

There are convincing arguments to justify the need for dialogue on Papua, including the tradition of musyawarah, or deliberation, one of the five principles of the Pancasila state ideology.

However, the central government is inconsistent in implementing it when it comes to the Papua issue, leaving the problem to protract.

While the government needs to be continuously reminded about its responsibility to address the issue of Papua, there are at least three reasons to encourage Jokowi to convene a dialogue about the region.

First, Jokowi is personally committed to resolving any problem with dignity. Known to have succeeded in dealing with complex social and economic quagmires when leading the city of Surakarta and the capital, Jokowi’s personal strategy was to ask disputing parties to talk and find a common solution.

This is a strategic approach proposed also by the UN Development Programme (UNDP), which said “the process is not just about sitting around a table, but changing the way people talk, think and communicate with one another”. Recognition of differences and empathy toward one another are essential elements to generate a productive and constructive dialogue.

Adding to Jokowi’s commitment is his partner Jusuf Kalla, who has proven he was capable of bringing peace and reconciliation to the conflict zones of Poso, Central Sulawesi and Aceh. Apart from his personal political assets and access, Kalla has shown creativity in seeking a way out in the face of deadlock. He is known to offer rational choices for disputing parties to continue dialogue and produce agreements.

Second, Jokowi’s and Kalla’s victory in the last presidential election was officially confirmed by both the General Elections Commission (KPU) and the Constitutional Court (MK), which confirmed the victory of people who support democratic consolidation in Indonesia.

Although some voters were still influenced by money politics, mobilization or even intimidation, many more cast their votes for freedom, fairness and integrity.

Shortly, the Jokowi-Kalla victory must be perceived as indicative of a growing number of democratic constituencies.

This clearly means that, according to democratic principles, all kinds of disputes and difficulties should be better dealt with peacefully and with dignity.

Third, the problems in Papua also include historical questions and human rights violations in the past that could not be overcome merely by economic development.

To a large part of Papuans who show resistance and continuously rebel against the government, the historical problem is of primary and great importance.

The process of integrating the region into the unitary state was seen not only as unjust and unfair according to internationally accepted principles, but was also followed by a series of violent acts undertaken by Indonesian governments and security agencies against those who questioned and rejected the 1969 polling result (Pepera).

 Besides economic programs, successive governments applied the security approach by deploying huge numbers of military forces that were beyond the control of the civilian government in Jakarta and Jayapura, or of other civil society organizations, including the press.

Challenges to dialogue in Papua may come from different corners. First, inner circles within successive governments have perceived that the historical question of Papuan integration has been settled and is thus unquestionable.

As such, any kind of dialogue is seen as useless or would be even viewed as jeopardizing Indonesia’s long-standing position and territorial integration. Such a view is totally incorrect and groundless. In contrast, a dialogue has to be seen as a way to strengthen the legality and legitimacy of Papuan integration.

Another more technical argument in questioning the significance of dialogue is due to the problem of representation within Papua’s widely diverse tribal, cultural and political associations that don’t have any single hierarchical leadership.

As shown in the case of Aceh, this adds to the reluctance and to a lack of confidence in the effectiveness of a dialogue on the part of the government.

But, the second and apparently most stiff resistance comes from the military. To many scholars the Indonesian Military (TNI), after having concluded military and security operations in Aceh, are now seeing Papua as their main battlefield — a region very rich with natural resources, but one that is claimed as presenting the most serious threat to national integration.

The TNI, to a certain degree, has been successful in keeping Aceh as an integral part of Indonesia. Their role in maintaining Papua is not in question, but it is very clear that their positive role should be included in the dialogue process.

In many parts of the world, like in Lebanon, Indonesia’s military has played a role in keeping, making and building peace by winning the hearts and minds of conflicting parties.

Dialogue in Papua is meant to win the hearts and minds of Papuans and the TNI is an indispensable party to the process and is necessary to make it fruitful.

Mangadar Situmorang, is the dean of the faculty of social and political sciences at the Parahyangan Catholic University in Bandung, and the coordinator for the Academic Forum for Peaceful Papua (Forum Akademisi untuk Papua Damai).


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