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The Papua Election Is Finally Over

Incumbent Lukas Enembe will remain in power for another term.
July 10, 2018, 12:00pm

The race in Indonesia's most-remote province are finally complete after violence, mismanagement, and faulty voter rolls hampered election day polls late last month. The elections commission declared the winner in the Papua gubernatorial race Monday night, with incumbent Lukas Enembe riding 67.54 percent of the vote into another term in office. Lukas and his deputy Klemen Tinal ran on a joint ticket known as LUKMEN in Papua.

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"This is not a victory for LUKMAN, but a victory for the Papuan people," Klemen told reporters on Monday night, "because the Papuan people are the foundation of the economy in this land we love."

Lukas was widely seen as the candidate of indigenous Papuans as the first son of the highlands to rise this high in local polices. He's a figure who enjoyed widespread support among Papua's rural communities while his rivals John Wempi Wetipo and Habel Melkias Suwae, a pair known together as JOSHUA, were campaigning heavily for the urban vote.

While the highlands of Papua are still skew strongly in favor of indigenous Melanesian communities, the province's urban centers are heavily populated by transmigrants—most of them from the island of Java. VICE contributors on the ground in Papua reported back seeing campaign posters for JOSHUA written in Javanese, and the candidate pair were pushing heavily on coastal cities as a cleaner, more progress-minded choice that had their interests in mind.

Lukas has been in charge of the province since 2013. During his time in office, economic growth in Papua, Indonesia's poorest province, grew by more than 9 percent some years.

But the articles praising this turn of fortunes for Papua forget that the province is starting from a much lower place than the rest of the country. A staggering 28 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, compared to West Java, the country's most-populous province, where 8.7 percent live in poverty.

They also miss the fact that the region's economic growth don't favor everyone equally. Data is difficult to come by, partly because of the province's remoteness and partially because of the government's reluctance to allow free movement of reporters, but anecdotal evidence and surveys show that the economy unfairly favors transmigrants over indigenous Papuans.


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Much of the highlands lacks even the most-basic infrastructure, like passable roads. Our contributor often found the easiest way to get between two rural districts was to fly, although the central government has earmarked Rp 7.6 trillion ($529 million USD) for infrastructure development, including a cross-province highway and new electrical grid, so many this will change.

So while Papua has surely grown under the guidance of Lukas, and President Joko Widodo's administration, which made Papua one of his economic pillars, it still lags far behind the rest of the country.

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Then there's the issues dogging Lukas and his administration. Lukas was pulled into a massive corruption scandal centered on the theft of government money meant to provide scholarships to poor Papuan students. Lukas has adamantly denied any wrongdoing in the case, claiming that he is the victim of a plot meant to "criminalize," him. These claims, that Lukas was the victim of a character assassination plot, found a lot of support in Papua.

"[Lukas'] victory is a reflection of the fact that our society is still permissive [of graft] and that a corruption case that still hangs above the candidate doesn't seem to be an actual problem in the political sphere," said Siti Zuhro, a politics expert at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI).

It should be noted that his rival, Wempi Wetipo, oversaw a district that was plagued by corruption as well, despite receiving an anti-corruption award from the national anti-graft body, the KPK.

Then there's the elephant in the room—the abuses at the hands of security forces that routinely occur in Papua. Allegations of repeated human rights abuses pour out of Papua on a regular basis, with a recent report by Amnesty International Indonesia uncovering evidence of 69 extrajudicial killings occurring in the province between 2010 and 2018, much of them under Lukas' administration.

Much like Papua's poverty rates, these killings too unfairly target the indigenous population, and there's strong evidence that the violence would continue, regardless of who is elected governor.

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Lukas has also been criticized for his repeated flip-flops on the province's calls for a new vote on the right to self-determination—i.e. independence. Lukas has, in the past, jokingly said that the National Committee for West Papua (KNPB), a pro-independence group, has done more to teach Papuans about democracy than the hardline Islamic Defenders Front (FPI). But he also campaigned as a guardians of national unity in Papua.

Questions about Papua's existence as a part of Indonesia have been around since the province first won its freedom from Dutch rule. Half of the island exists as the independent nation of Papua New Guinea and the vote on whether or not Papua should be part of Indonesia was derided as a sham by observers when it occurred back in 1969. At that vote, Indonesian officials hand-picked 1,026 elders and asked them to raise their hands if they wanted to remain a part of Indonesia.

Since then, calls for independence remain a central part of the conversation amongst activist groups. And while groups like the National Committee for West Papua (KNPB) advocate non-violence and a right to conduct a new vote, armed groups like the Free Papua Movement (OPM) have waged a low-level insurgency against the state for decades.

The issue remains highly controversial in Indonesia. It's illegal to raise the independence "Morning Star," flag in Papua, and a recent planned screening of a well-known massacre in Papua resulted in a police raid of a Papuan student dormitory at a university in East Java last weekend.

With so much going on, and claims that the case against Lukas was untrue, he was seemingly able to maintain enough good will to ensure a second term.

"Why is the indication of a corruption case not a hindrance to Lukas?" asked Wasisto Raharjo Jati, a researcher from Gadjah Mada University. "People like to keep the status quo, so they need to have a high tolerance for corruption."

—Staff writer Adi Renaldi contributed to this report