Pacific Scoop

‘New dawn’ Jokowi may offer hope for West Papuans

Joko Widodo

Indonesian President-elect Joko Widodo campaigning in West Papuan ceremonial dress in Jayapura during June. But the future for West Papua is uncertain. Image: Djefri Pattirajawane /

Hope rises after the people of Indonesia voted for Joko Widodo as their new president-elect. Now activists and journalist are putting their faith in him, hoping he will bring a new dawn for democracy, reports Asia-Pacific Journalism.

Pacific Scoop:
Special Report – By Lasse Underbjerg

After an election campaign filled with turmoil and nerve-wrecking rivalry, Joko Widodo has been elected as the new president for the world’s third largest democracy with 53.2 percent of the votes.

Seven out 10 of the nation’s 194 million eligible voters visited one of Indonesia’s nearly half a million polling stations and exercised their right to directly elect a new president.

The General Elections Commission announced Widodo’s victory over Prabowo Subianto (former chief of special forces in Indonesia) and Hatta Rajasa on July 22. Joko Widodo won in 23 of the country’s 33 provinces and is expected to fend off the legal challenges from his rivals.

APJlogo72_iconThe new president, known as “Jokowi”, will be the first person from an ordinary background to hold the highest political office. He and his vice-president, Jusuf Kalla, are expected to be sworn-in on October 20 for a five-year term.

As the dust settles after the heated election campaign, opinions differ about whether Jokowi will have the power to make real changes for a controversial contested part of the republic such as West Papua.

Victor Mambor, editor of the Jayapura-based newspaper and website Tabloid Jubi, as well as West Papua branch chairperson of Indonesia’s Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI), believes Jokowi comes with a desire for change, and he is looking forward to meeting him.

West Papuan journalist Victor Mambor visiting the Pacific Media Centre this week. Image: Del Abcede/PMC

West Papuan journalist Victor Mambor … “I hope it is a change for the better.” Image: Del Abcede/PMC

“I think – and I hope – that it is a change for the better,” he says. “I hope to be able to talk with him about the self-determination of the West Papuan people.”

Change possible
Sony Ambudi, a former journalist from Indonesia, now a human rights activist with the Asia-Pacific Human Rights Coalition (APHRC), has been following Jokowi for several years and he is optimistic over the possibility for change for the people of West Papua.

“I have seen what he has done before. He has done similar things (bringing in self-determination) on a smaller scale before, and I hope he can do it in West Papua as well,” he says.

But while intentions may be good, Sony Ambudi is worried about the new president’s entourage of advisers.

“Looking at the people surrounding him I am very worried because I think these people are killers. He had 35 generals in his campaign team and five of them have been responsible for human rights abuses, including the murder of activists and West Papuan people,” he says.

But while intentions may be good, Sony Ambudi is worried about the new president’s entourage of advisers.

NZ-based campaigner Sony Ambudi … worried about the new president’s entourage of advisers. Image: Del Abcede/PMC

And he is not alone with the worries about the military in Indonesia. Catherine Delahunty, Green list MP, is not optimistic about Jokowi’s chances of changing the policy towards West Papua.

“I wouldn’t get romantic about that,” she says. “He himself is a more progressive character, but the military still controls West Papua.

“Any sign of progressive thinking in Indonesia is a good thing but I am not convinced that a new dawn is about to rise.”

Populist approach
Jokowi became mayor of his hometown Solo in 2005 and governor of Jakarta in 2012 after his populist approach and willingness to stand up to powerful regional officials won national attention according to international news agencies.

But when Jokowi’s president candidacy was announced, rumours started spreading that if he were elected, he would only be a “puppet-President” controlled by ex-President Megawati Sukarnoputri.

On the campaign trail, Prabowo repeatedly warned against electing a “puppet” president, suggesting Jokowi is little more than a president-for-hire who would be tightly on the leash of his chief political backers and the police.

So far Jokowi has refused to comment on the speculation.

New Zealand journalist Paul Bensemann has been in West Papua working undercover, and he has seen the Indonesian military in action. He agrees that there are huge obstacles for the new president to overcome, if he is to be successful in implementing reforms in Indonesia.

“I think there is a degree of irrelevance about who the president is,” he says.

“From what I can gather, the police and the military have got a huge amount of power, unlike countries like New Zealand. The military and the police have a degree of control over the government.”

Domestic issues
It is expected that Jokowi will prioritise domestic issues in the first part of  his term in office, such as:

• revitalising Indonesia’s stalling economy,
• lifting millions out of poverty,
• improving education and health, and
• implementing ambitious public transport infrastructure programs as he promised during the election campaign.

“With humility, we ask the people to go back to a united Indonesia,” Jokowi said on the night he was elected.

So West Papua will not currently be getting self-determination, according to Ross B. Taylor, who is president and founder of the Indonesia Institute Incorporated, Western Australia.

“I don’t feel there will be any change to policy on West Papua. Jokowi will be far more diplomatic and consultative, but generally Indonesia is very sensitive about having yet another “break away” province on their hands,” he says.

“What Indonesia really worries about is to ensure this sprawling country doesn’t end up fracturing into independent parts as more and more provinces seek to go it alone.

“One Indonesia is the core theme,” he says.

Victor Mambor acknowledges the obstacles facing the new Indonesian leader, but he is adamant a solution exists.

“It is about perspective,” he says. “In Indonesia the military system doesn’t see the West Papuans as equals to themselves; they are different.

“So there needs to be a new perspective – and I hope Jokowi is the man to bring it.”

Lasse Underbjerg is an Inclusive Journalism Initiative (IJI) programme student journalist from Denmark on exchange at AUT University and on the Asia-Pacific Journalism course.