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Briefing 135 / Asia

Indonesia: Averting Election Violence in Aceh

Election monitors should begin deployment to Aceh long before the 9 April election to deter intimidation.

I. Overview

In less than two months, on 9 April, Aceh will go to the polls to elect a governor and vice governor, as well as seventeen district heads and deputies. Despite rhetorical commitments on the part of all contenders to a peaceful election, the potential for isolated acts of violence between now and then is high; the potential for trouble after the results are announced may be even higher, especially if it is a close election. Getting as many trained monitors to Aceh as possible in the coming weeks is critical.

Whether violence materialises may depend on several factors:

  • the number of election monitors deployed and the speed with which they get to Aceh. The campaign is already well underway for all practical purposes, even though officially it does not begin until 22 March. The monitoring needs to start now, not days before the election;
     
  • the speed with which the police can identify and arrest the gunmen responsible for shootings in December 2011 and January 2012 that took the lives of ten men, most of them poor Javanese workers. The killings are widely believed to have been politically motivated;
     
  • the ability of the election oversight committee (Panitia Pengawas Pilkada) to investigate reported violations and quickly take action; and
     
  • the ability of leading candidates to control their supporters in the Aceh Transition Committee (Komite Pera­lihan Aceh, KPA), the organisation of former guerrilla commanders.

Partai Aceh, the local political party created by the leadership of the Free Aceh Movement (Gerakan Aceh Mer­deka, GAM), the former rebel group, has played on the threat of renewed conflict to get the election on its own terms. Its main goal was to have Irwandi Yusuf, who was elected governor in December 2006 and now seeks a second five-year term, forced from office so that he could not use his position to keep himself in the public eye, ensure funds flowed to his supporters or request the deployment of security forces in a way that might have a bearing on the election.

To this end, it engaged in a number of legal manoeuvres, on the pretext of safeguarding Acehnese autonomy and the integrity of the 2006 Law on the Governing of Aceh (Undang-Undang Pemerintahan Aceh), the legal underpinning of the Helsinki Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that ended GAM’s 30-year insurgency against the Indonesian government. In particular, it challenged a Constitutional Court decision that annulled one provision of the law, thereby enabling independent (non-party) candidates to contest the elections originally scheduled for late 2011. Irwandi, based on the court’s ruling, intended to stand as an independent, and Partai Aceh was hoping to block him. The provincial parliament, which Partai Aceh controls, also refused to pass a regulation (qanun) on elections allowing independent candidates, a move that prevented the local election commission from scheduling the polls.

With the help of pressure from Jakarta and a series of killings in December and January that seemed to suggest a high potential for violence, the election was repeatedly postponed, from 10 October 2011 to 14 November to 24 December, then to 16 February 2012 and finally to 9 April. With the last change, Partai Aceh achieved its objective: on 8 February 2012, when his term expired, Irwandi stepped down as governor. The home affairs ministry appointed a caretaker, Tarmizi Karim, a native of North Aceh, who will serve until a newly elected governor is inaugurated.

The manoeuvring deepened a bitter divide between Irwandi and the Partai Aceh leadership under Malik Mahmud, GAM’s former “prime minister”. Their mutual antagonism first came to public attention in the run-up to the 2006 election in which Irwandi ran against Malik’s choice for governor and won. Its history goes back much further, however, to differences between the exiled diaspora, represented by Malik and the man who is now Partai Aceh’s candidate for governor, Zaini Abdullah, and GAM members like Irwandi who stayed behind in Aceh. The shootings in December and January have raised concerns that more violence between these two camps will follow.

Jakarta/Brussels, 29 February 2012

Report 232 / Asia

Indonesia: Dynamics of Violence in Papua

The only measure likely to halt violence in Indonesia’s Papua province in the short term is a major overhaul of security policy.

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I. Overview

A spate of violence in Papua in May and June 2012 exposed the lack of a coherent government strategy to address this multidimensional conflict. Shootings of non-Papuans in the provincial capital Jayapura in June, likely involving pro-independence militants, were followed by the death of one of those militants at police hands, highlighting the political dimension of the problem. In Wamena, a rampage by soldiers after the death of a comrade shows the depth of distrust between local communities and the army, and the absence of mechanisms to deal with crises. The shooting of five Papuans by newly arrived members of a paramilitary police unit (Brigade Mobile, Brimob) in a remote gold-mining area of Paniai highlights the violence linked to Papua’s vast resource wealth and rent-seeking by the security apparatus with little oversight from Jakarta. While these events are still under investigation, they signal that unless the Yudhoyono government can address these very different aspects of the conflict, things may get worse. An overhaul of security policy would help.

Two factors are driving much of the violence: a wide range of Papuan grievances toward the Indonesian state and a security policy that seems to run directly counter to the government’s professed desire to build trust, accelerate development and ensure that a 2001 special autonomy law for Papua yields concrete benefits. To date the law has failed to produce either improvement in the lives of most Papuans or better relations with the central government. Its substance has been frequently undercut by Jakarta, although provincial lawmakers also bear responsibility for failing to enact key implementing regulations. One of the last measures to prompt accusations in Papua of Jakarta’s bad faith was the 2011 division into two of the Papuan People’s Council (Majelis Rakyat Papua, MRP), an institution set up under the law to safeguard Papuan values and culture that was supposed to be a single body, covering all of Papua. In many ways the MRP was the keystone of special autonomy but it has been plagued by problems since its much-delayed establishment; the division, with Jakarta’s active endorsement, has further reduced its effectiveness.

These problems would be hard enough to manage if Papua had functioning political institutions, but it does not. An ineffectual caretaker governor appointed in July 2011 has left the Papuan provincial government in limbo. Meanwhile, the organisation of a new election has been stymied by a provincial legislature that has focused most of its energy on blocking the former governor from running and vying in national courts with the local election commission for control over parts of the electoral process. The picture is just as grim at district level. This leaves the central government without an engaged partner in Papua, and Papuans without a formal channel for conveying concerns to Jakarta.

The role of a new policy unit – the Unit for Accelerated Development in Papua and West Papua, known by its Indonesian abbreviation of UP4B – established in September 2011, increasingly appears limited to economic affairs, where it will struggle to show visible progress in the short term. Hopes that it might play a behind-the-scenes political role in fostering dialogue on Papuan grievances are fading, as it becomes increasingly clear that dialogue means different things to different people. Efforts to hammer out some consensus on terms and objectives have been set back by the violence, as the government is reluctant to take any steps that might be perceived as making concessions under pressure.

The challenge for the government is to find a short-term strategy that can reduce violence while continuing to work out a policy that will bring long-term social, economic and political benefits and address longstanding grievances. That strategy must involve clear and visible changes in the administration, control and accountability of both the police and military. The security apparatus is not the only problem, nor are police and soldiers always the perpetrators of violence; many have been victims as well. But they have come to symbolise everything that has gone wrong with Jakarta’s handling of the Papuan conflict. It therefore follows that a change in security policy is the best hope for a “quick win” that can transform the political dynamics and halt the slide toward further violence.

Jakarta/Brussels, 9 August 2012