Votes in the bag? The noken system and conflict in Indonesian Papua
Votes in the bag? The noken system and conflict in Indonesian Papua
Indonesia's Police: The Problem of Deadly Force
Indonesia's Police: The Problem of Deadly Force
Commentary / Asia

Votes in the bag? The noken system and conflict in Indonesian Papua

Indonesia’s system of direct local elections remains relatively young and in flux. Since their introduction in 2005, a number of changes at national level have broadly sought to strengthen the role of elections commissions in administering elections; results have been mixed. The system remains under review, with some in government even pushing to roll back direct local polls. A practice of voting by consensus, customary in some areas of the Papuan highlands, is one anomaly that deserves greater attention. Known colloquially as the nokensystem after the traditional bag made from bark that highlanders carry, its application varies and it is not covered by either national or provincial electoral regulations. Noken involves the divvying up of votes at village level by community members through consensus. Traditionally, voters may have placed these votes in a noken bag. A case brought to Indonesia’s Constitutional Court by a losing pair of candidates in the Puncak Jaya district has highlighted the problems with this system and underlined the broader issue of weak government in the easternmost province.

In our recent report, Indonesia: Dynamics of Violence in Papua, we looked at how one factor that can play a role in putting the brakes on conflict in Indonesia—strong local government—is largely absent in Papua, the country’s most violent province. There is much frustration among Papuans about the failure of the 2001 special autonomy law, which many had hoped would strengthen their role in local decision-making. But in the absence of a coordinated strategy or good faith effort by either Jakarta or provincial lawmakers in Jayapura to strengthen special autonomy, the cause has provided cover for a number of self-interested ploys by local politicians.

The election of a new governor has been held up for more than a year as a dispute continues over the role of the provincial assembly (DPR Papua) in organising a new election. One group of Papuan lawmakers argued that they deserve a role in the vetting of candidates (a role not given to provincial assemblies elsewhere). Spearheaded by members of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s Democrat Party, headed in the province by Lukas Enembe, who intends to run for governor, the initiative seems chiefly an attempt to block the candidacy of the incumbent, Bas Suebu, whose term ended last year, and who narrowly beat Enembe in 2006. They have since argued that the issue is the last stand in a battle to maintain the viability of Papua’s special autonomy–that if their arguments are struck down, even moderate Papuans will be driven towards support for independence. These claims are disingenuous at best as they ignore the reality that one major obstacle to implementation of special autonomy has been the failure of DPR Papua members to draft the necessary provincial regulations.

Late last year, members of the DPR Papua drafted and approved a provincial regulation giving them a vetting role, drawing on a patchwork of national laws and regulations over the past decade they say support their case. Others, including the provincial elections commission (KPU Papua) do not agree. They point to national laws that have since strengthened the role of the elections commissions in administering elections and that supersede the earlier regulations. The ministry of home affairs, which reviews provincial legislation, threw up its hands over the issue in April following months of strained negotiations, assenting to the DPR Papua’s vetting role. The elections commission then took the provincial assembly to the Constitutional Court claiming the assembly had illegally usurped its role. The court is still deliberating over the case, but issued a provisional order on 19 July that freezes any further steps in the election until it reaches a final decision.

Looking ahead to the election, Enembe’s supporters have also spoken of the need to respect local wisdom and traditions (kearifan lokal) in the holding of the election. They say this is particularly important given a string of district-level elections in Papua in the past two years that have either been deferred or postponed indefinitely due to violence.

But elections held in one district earlier this year provide an example of the dangers of applying local traditions when paired with weak enforcement of electoral regulations. Puncak Jaya, a district (kabupaten) set in the central highlands of Papua, held local elections on 28 May 2012 to replace the district head (bupati) Lukas Enembe, the gubernatorial contender. There were two leading contenders to take over the post: Enembe’s deputy Henok Ibo and a local assembly member named Agus Kogoya. The problem arose over the use of the nokensystem and the failure to keep even basic records of how the communities voted.

Any consensus-based voting system raises questions over the extent to which it upholds individual rights to vote and to the privacy of voting decisions, as Indonesian and international law requires. It also leaves the system vulnerable to both fraud and intimidation. As detailed in the case, in one sub-district no individual ballots were punched, and no record kept of how votes were awarded at village or even sub-district level. Instead, an agreement was reached that “all 14,394 votes from the people of Mewoluk sub-district [would] be given to the candidate pair that wins overall”. But many of the witnesses called before the court had different recollections of how the villagers had voted, and the parties differed on what an “overall” win signified. Kogoya’s supporters interpreted it to mean the votes would go to whichever candidate won at district level (where they believe they received the most votes), while the district elections commission ultimately awarded it to the incumbents, who had the most votes in the sub-district.

The confusion led to real tension in the district capital, Mulia, in the days before results were announced. Supporters of all the candidates gathered en masse in front of the elections commission office, and the police apparently came to the conclusion that they could not ensure the commission’s security amid alleged intimidation by Kogoya’s supporters. Once “thousands” had gathered, the Puncak Jaya police chief decided the only option was for the commission to be evacuated from the highland district.

The counting of votes by the commission took place instead in the island district of Biak (two hops away by plane), which only increased suspicions over the potential for fraud. All 14,394 votes from Mewoluk were awarded to the incumbent Ibo, based on the commission’s understanding that he had received the most votes in the subdistrict and thus, under the terms of the agreement, should be awarded them all. This proved significant to the overall tally: without the Mewoluk votes, Ibo would have lost to Kogoya.

Following the announcement of results, Kogoya filed suit against the local elections commission (KPUD), claiming they had improperly favoured the incumbents in the administration of the election. The court accepted the complaint and on 7 July ordered the election to be re-held in the six villages of Mewoluk within 90 days.

The noken practice has been upheld by the Constitutional Court in at least three cases. Each time the Court has argued it must balance the violation of the right to an individual and secret ballot with constitutional provisions upholding customary adat law. In 2009, the judges wrote in a case in Yahukimo district that “if forced to hold an election using the laws in effect, there is a concern that conflict could arise between community groups. The court is of the opinion that it is preferable for [the communities] not to be involved in [or] moved towards a system of competition [or] splits within and between groups that could disturb the harmony that they have otherwise preserved.”

But the Puncak Jaya dispute reveals the vulnerability of the system to significant abuse; it also calls into question the logic of affirming the practice of voting by acclamation in an effort to prevent conflict. Problems in this and other local elections in Papua have come not from inescapable cultural differences but from inconsistent application of electoral regulations.

Noken looks likely to be used in large parts of the highlands in the upcoming gubernatorial elections. While it may be too late to draft and approve specific regulations on how to accommodate this form of voting in time for the polls, stepping up voter education efforts should be a priority for the provincial KPU, with guidelines on minimum standards for polling station records. Clearer regulations should then be drafted as soon as possible, in advance of future rounds of local elections.

Much remains to be done to make Papua’s special autonomy regime function as its supporters once hoped. Rather than allowing the issue to be held hostage to electoral politics, a more coordinated approach between the central government and Papuan politicians to addressing the weaknesses would be far more constructive. This should be a priority for Papua’s next governor—once an election is finally held.

Op-Ed / Asia

Indonesia's Police: The Problem of Deadly Force

My four year-old daughter recently came home from her Jakarta kindergarten with a story about a visit to the school from the head of our local police station. 'If there is a robber and he's running away, the policeman will pull out his gun, fire in the air, and if he doesn't stop then he will shoot him in the leg', she recounted breathlessly.

I have spent 25 years working in and around conflict zones, including more than a decade in Indonesia. My reaction might not have been that of the average parent. 'That', I replied, 'is a violation of Perkap Number 8.' Needless to say, my reference to Police Regulation Number 8 of 2009 regarding Implementation of Human Rights Principles and Standards in the Discharge of Duties of the Indonesian National Police was lost on her. She thought the visit was great.

I had recalled Perkap 8 when re-reading the Hansard of the recent sparring between Australian Foreign Minister Senator Bob Carr and Victoria Greens Senator Richard Di Natale over the police shooting of protesters in Papua. But it is not just in Papua where questionable use of deadly force by the Indonesian National Police (INP) takes place. It happens across the country. And this was what Perkap 8 was put in place to prevent.

Article 47 of Perkap 8 says that 'the use of firearms shall be allowed only if strictly necessary to preserve human life' and 'firearms may only be used by officers: a. when facing extraordinary circumstances; b. for self defense against threat of death and/or serious injury; c. for the defense of others against threat of death and/or serious injury.' This is Indonesian law, taken from the UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials, and this is what should be used to assess police actions, wherever in the country they occur.

The fatal shooting on 14 June 2012 of Mako Tabuni, deputy head of the National Committee of West Papua (KNPB), in Jayapura, capital of Papua province, made Senate Estimates in 2012. The shooting of three protesters in Sorong on 30 April 2013, West Papua province, was mentioned in the testy 5 June 2013 exchanges between Senators Carr and Di Natale. You can watch it above.

In the first incident, detectives shot a suspect in the leg as he was running away and then left him to die in a hospital allegedly without making any effort to treat his wounds. In the second, police claim they were threatened by armed KNPB activists. Without more information it is difficult to judge if their response was disproportionate. Police always say they are shooting in self-defense, but it has become such a common excuse that it has started to lose its plausibility.

Cases outside Papua do not garner much attention in Australia, but lethal shootings happen all the time. On 1 September 2011 seven villagers were killed during a rowdy protest against police brutality in the Central Sulawesi district of Buol, a place so obscure even most Indonesians cannot find it on a map.

On 7 March 2013, soldiers burned down a police station in Baturaja, South Sumatra, after their off-duty comrade, First Private Heru Oktavianus, was shot dead by a police officer while speeding away from a traffic violation.

On 8 May 2013 police in Java killed six suspected terrorists in a series of raids. The police usually claim the suspects were armed and resisted arrest. But it is not always true, and many could have almost certainly been captured alive.

Ordinary criminals are shot with distressing frequency, as my daughter's visitor suggests, without any outcry at home or abroad.

Perkap 8 was signed by the then police chief Sutanto, a real reformer. It has not gotten very far. One foreign police officer working on a bilateral community policing program in a large metropolitan command told me he had once seen a copy of the Perkap on the chief's desk but suspected it had been disseminated no further.

Even when progressive regulations or orders are issued and disseminated, they are not always followed. In October 2012, the police chief of Papua, Tito Karnavian, former head of the anti-terrorism unit Detachment 88 (Densus 88), announced that he had banned police from using live ammunition when handling demonstrations in the region. This was progress and it was implemented for some demos, but the deaths in the Sorong case suggest live ammunition was used.

As Article 46 of Perkap 8 says, 'all officers must be trained in the use of power, equipment and firearms that can be used in applying force' and 'must be trained in non-violent techniques and methods.' Training almost 400,000 officers across 33 provinces is a logistical challenge, though it might be a good idea to start with elite units such as Densus 88 or personnel in the Papua provinces.

The new national head of the INP, about to be appointed, might breathe new life into two reforms already in place: implementation of Perkap 8 and Chief Sutanto's other landmark regulation on community policing, Perkap 7. The INP is a very hierarchical organisation that does follow firm orders from above. While its size makes complex reform difficult, its hierarchical nature makes implementing existing regulations with firm orders easier.

The first duty of the incoming INP chief, who reports directly to the president, will be to secure the 2014 elections. Making sure those deployed to safeguard this 'festival of democracy' are properly trained and equipped to use non-lethal force will be an important first step. After a new head of state is elected, he or she should consider issuing a directive that would see Perkap 8 properly implemented. The use of less deadly force could even be politically popular in some parts.

Outside help may also be needed, and this is where Australia comes in. A few decades back, the Victorian state police had a problem of using too much deadly force and created Project Beacon to try to rectify it. They changed the way they thought about the problem, overhauled training, and gave officers on the beat new tools, like pepper spray. Foreign assistance along these lines could help the INP improve performance and increase accountability. Crisis Group has long argued that the INP needs better orders, training, and equipment for the use of non-deadly force.

If the INP is to be more the service it aspires to be rather than the force it is, it needs to shed its military mindset, hold serious post-operation reviews after each fatal incident, and decrease reliance on shooting first and asking questions later, regardless of whether officers are following locally accepted standard procedure. When the time comes and the INP is ready to carry forward the reform of Perkap 8, Australia should be there to help.

Subscribe to Crisis Group’s Email Updates

Receive the best source of conflict analysis right in your inbox.