Pacific Scoop

Special Autonomy Plus: A Legacy from SBY

Article – Hipolitus Yolisandry Ringgi Wangge

The two former presidents, namely Abdurahman Gus Dur Wahid and Megawati had leaved their respective policies in Indonesias easternmost Papua. Gus Dur restored the name of Papua in place of Irian Jaya, the name given by former long ruler …Special Autonomy plus: A Legacy from Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono?

The two former presidents, namely Abdurahman “Gus Dur” Wahid and Megawati had leaved their respective policies in Indonesia’s easternmost Papua. Gus Dur restored the name of Papua in place of ‘Irian Jaya’, the name given by former long ruler Suharto. His successor, Megawati Soekarnoputri granted the 2001 Special Autonomy Law No.21 (Otsus) to improve the welfare of the Papuans. Ironically, though Otsus regulates the transfer of authority politically, economically and culturally, the majority of Papuans simply understand Otsus as the pouring of an abundance of cash into the province.

Moreover, what will be the legacy of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) for the Papuan people? That is the key question that has been raised among Papuans currently. Given the fact that SBY will remain in power for only less than a year, many Papuans are concerned about what has been recently debated regarding the “gift”, the so called special autonomy plus or Otsus Plus. It is a gift because this regulation proposed following a meeting between local leaders and President SBY on April 2013 in Jakarta. This regulation would introduce changes modifying the previous policy dealing with Papuan issues. There are two facets to be highlighted about Otsus plus, namely, the political sphere and the security sphere.

During his 10 year in office SBY has been undertaking a number of policies to solve Papuans’ problems ranging from poverty, education, health, and corruption to security. In 2011, in order to calm the growing distrust among Papuans toward the central government, SBY launched The Unit for the Acceleration of Development in Papua and West Papua (UP4PB). UP4PB’s main duty is to build a basis for sustainable development, in line with the aspirations of local communities, leading toward social integration. Another program that has been widely known for many Papuans is The Merauke Integrated Food and Energy Estate (MIFEE). This program initially aims at providing sufficient food and energy for Indonesians. These two programs have been amplified by a vast amount of money per year.

Those two programs and a large amount of money have been ineffective so far at tackling Papuans’ basic problems, particularly aspiration for independence from Indonesia. Thus, when the idea of Otsus plus emerged, it has widely been rejected by the Papuans. That rejection can be seen by a rising number of social and student protests.

In terms of politics, Otsus plus will be seen as the middle way to silence the aspiration of Merdeka (freedom) among Papuans. For the last 5 years, the Papuan issue has been recognized not merely domestically but also internationally. Internationally, the Free West Papua Campaign continually conducted by certain Papuan’s leading figures, such as Benny Wenda and Timothy Mote raises concern about what is happening in Papua. On the local side, the Papuans regularly launch varied protests against the central government but have always been muffled by the government’s security apparatus. This activity has been exacerbated by the central government’s tight censorship of international media over Papuan issues.

One crucial demand by Papuans is to set up dialogue between Papuans and the central government. Though, there are many fractious figures of Papua, they have one thing in common: to promote constructive dialogue. However, the central government knows exactly that its every single policy in Papua has to be gauged by the effect it has a separatist feeling. So, late in his tenure, SBY is trying to give Papuans more authority to manage their daily activities. However, the majority of Papuans sees that kind of policy as an extended tricky policy to suppress the idea of independence. Papuans see Otsus plus as the way to divide Papuans into several provinces, regions, districts and villages without strong political will from the central government to amplify the local capacity to govern.

Otsus plus is also seen as a covert method of further increasing the massive militarization of Papua. It was expected earlier that after revoking a military operation zone (DOM) in Papua in 1998, the level of security would be slowly decreasing. However, the military presence in Papua has steadily increased. By imposing the Otsus plus, Papua will be divided into 3 more provinces. In this regard, the military has a reason to put more combat troops in those provinces. It is in line with Indonesian army structural commands. The army is able to maintain a presence and administrative structure that parallels the civil administration, from the provincial all the way down to the sub district and village levels. This presence extends into very isolated areas in Papua.

The estimated combat troops in Papua are roughly 12,000 under the Trikora Military Command (Davies, 2007 & Imparsial, 2011). This huge number of troops will be subsequently increasing in the easternmost province of Indonesia in line with the enforcement of the Otsus plus. Each new region automatically gains its own military and policy company, and each further province each gains their own battalions of military and police.

Otsus plus will partly be evidenced as the increasing number of combat troops in Papua. Even today, it is easier to see military soldiers in remote areas than the presence of teachers, doctors, and nurses. Deliberately or not, this fact will steadily lead to increasing clashes between the military and civilians. In addition, it is collectively known, the military in Papua has been associated with human rights violations.

Otsus plus should be reconsidered. The growing distrust among Papuans cannot be solved merely by extending the current policy. If the central government wants to build a trust, they have to immediately consider two feasible solutions. First, imposing a moratorium on pouring money into local governments and involve people representatives to control all the using of money. The second solution is to reduce the number of military troops in Papua. In doing so, the central government creates mutual trust which is essential for a successful modification of the current special autonomy regulation.



Hipolitus Yolisandry Ringgi Wangge is Visiting Scholar in the Equality Development and Globalization Studies Program at the Buffet Center for International and Comparative Studies, Northwestern University.

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