Papuans protest over draconian bid by Jakarta to replace Governor Enembe

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Papuan protesters at Papua govt office
Papuan protesters blockading the Papuan provincial government office in a demonstration against an undemocratic appointment as Acting Governor. Image: APR screenshot from FB video

SPECIAL REPORT: By Yamin Kogoya

Indonesia’s most troubled province of Papua is become embroiled in another mass demonstration with protesters barricading provincial government buildings and offices over a draconian and undemocratic appointment.

The latest unrest is in response to last week’s controversial appointment of Papua’s Provincial Government Secretary, Dance Yulian Flassy, as Acting Governor of Papuan province by Indonesia’s Home Affairs Minister Tito Karnavian.

It has been alleged that Flassy sent a letter to the Ministry of Home Affairs requesting to be appointed as Acting Governor of Papua.

The letter no T.121.91/4124/OTDA dated June 24, 2021, was signed by the Ministry of Home Affairs General Director of Regional Autonomy, Akmal Malik.

This sudden appointment shocked Governor Lukas Enembe, who has been in Singapore receiving medical treatment since May. The governor said that he had not been informed nor made aware of the appointment.

He said that this was “maladministration” and an attempt to cause more trouble in Papua.

Four points
Governor Enembe wrote a letter to President Jokowi, which outlined four points:

  1. Governor Enembe will return to Papua to perform his duty as governor as soon as he is fully recovered;
  2. As an active governor, Governor Enembe has not been consulted, informed about, or agreed to Flassy’s appointment as Acting Governor;
  3. Governor Enembe was elected by his people in accordance with Indonesia’s constitution to administer the province and lead his people. He stated that when he took office, he took an oath to protect the unitary state of Indonesia. He is disappointed by this kind of unlawful and unconstitutional behaviour coming from the high office; and
  4. Governor Enembe requested President Jokowi to dismiss Flassy from office as he had misused his public portfolio in trying to take office without consulting Governor Enembe.

“In addition to these [points], Mr Flassy has already done many things that contradict my policies as Governor,” said Governor Enembe (Fajar Papua.com, June 25).

Governor Lukas Enembe
Governor Lukas Enembe … receiving medical treatment in Singapore. Image: West Papua Today

The Governor said he was surprised by the fact that Home Affairs Minister Tito Karnavian was the one who granted permission for him to go to Singapore for medical treatment in April. Governor Enembe asked: “Why, then, is Mr. Tinto trying to replace me, knowing that I am still alive and recovering?”

Muhammad Rifai Darus, Governor Enembe’s spokesperson, said Enembe was still active as the head of Papua’s regional, provincial government and criticised the appointment in its breach of proper procedure and mechanism (as reported by Papua Today online news, June 25).

Discriminatory move
Ricky Ham Pagawak, the vice-chairman of the Democrat party in Papua, said that this appointment was discriminatory and a civil coup d’état against Governor Lukas’ office (Papua Post, June 26).

Dance Yulian Flassy name board
Papuan provincial office name board for the official named to “replace” Governor Enembe as “Acting Governor”. Image: APR

Pagawak continues to criticise the appointment by saying the letter was issued in the morning and in the afternoon on the same day Flassy was appointed.

“Is this fair?” he asked.

In response, Papuans have already blocked several government buildings, including the office of the Democrat Party.

“If there is no withdrawal of this appointment from the central government, Papuan people will continue to galvanize mass rallies and occupy provincial office until the matter is fully resolved,” said Pagawak (Suara Papua, June 26).

Papuan provincial office barrier
A barrier erected by protesters on the Papuan provincial office. Image: APR

A member of the Papuan Provincial Parliament, Nason Utty, also expressed his disappointment at Flassy’s move, sending a letter to the Ministry of Home Affairs, requesting to be appointed as Acting Governor of Papua.

“It is inappropriate for the provincial secretary to do this. Mr. Enembe remains the legitimate Governor of the Papuan Province, so this is an important decision that should be consulted first with him,” said Nason Utty (SindoNews.com, June 26).

Severe criticism
Despite the severe criticism by Governor Enembe and Papuans, Luqman Hakim, Vice-Chairman of Commission II of the House of Representatives in Jakarta, said that this appointment was appropriate and proper procedures and mechanisms had been followed.

“The decision of the Minister of Home Affairs to appoint Papua Provincial Secretary, Dance Yulian Flassy, as acting Governor was needed and legitimate. In the principles of constitutional law, it is not permissible for a government to have a power vacuum,” Hakim told DetikNews reporters (June 26).

There is an element of common sense in Hakim’s statement – such high office should not be left as a power vacuum infinitely. Especially in Papua, one of the most conflict-ravaged regions of Indonesia and the world.

But even simple rules that govern such as common sense differ significantly between Jakarta and Papua.

In Papua, strong local leadership is needed to respond to never ending impending crises.

However, Jakarta is also notoriously known for introducing harmful policies, opposite to the wishes of Papuan people, which aggravate these conflicts and crises.

One such failed policy is the infamous Papuan Special Autonomy Law No. 21 of 2001, introduced 20 years ago to deflect the ever-growing demand for Papuan independence, following the fall of Suharto’s 32-year iron fist rule in 1998.

Autonomy law opposed
This law will expire in November 2021. Jakarta’s insistence to extend what Papuans regard as a “failed and dead special autonomy” policy have already been met with severe criticism and massive rejection by Papuan society.

Exacerbating these situations further, controversial labelling of any Papuans who opposed Jakarta as “terrorists” in recent months, following the killing of a senior Indonesian intelligence officer, General I Gusti Putu Danny Karya Nugraha, also sparked outrage among Papuans and Indonesians alike.

Papuan civil society groups and churches strongly rejected this “terrorist” label and asked Jakarta to revoke the decision. This harmful label will give the green light for security forces to shoot any Papuan regarded as a West Papua National Liberation Army member.

Local media Suara Papua (Papua Voice) has recorded rare shocking footage on the current devastating humanitarian crisis in Papua’s highlands, as security forces continue to terrorise the locals in their pursuit for Papua’s liberation army.

WATCH THE VIDEO ON FACEBOOK – Suara Papua

Jakarta’s unsympathetic approach in not respecting Papuan’s customary practice of 40 days of national mourning for the May 21 passing of their Vice-Governor, Klemen Tinal, rubs salt in Papua’s deep wounds.

These are among many of Jakarta’s top-down, draconian policies that fan the burning flames in the hearts of Papuans in this decade-old-conflict-stricken region of the world.

Because the central government doesn’t even have the courtesy of asking their own elected Governor about the appointment of another Indigenous Papuan as acting Governor, indicates that Jakarta is creating and nurturing conflicts among Papuan indigenous people.

Governors not consulted
Jakarta also did not ask the governors of both provinces (Papua and West Papua) about the impact that the recent “terrorist” labelling of Papuans might have on the psychology of the Papuan people.

It seems that Indonesia, a country that prides itself as the world’s fourth-largest democracy with an ambition to play a role in global affairs, struggles to decide what it stands for –- democracy and freedom? Or something else?

This indecisiveness was demonstrated further when Indonesia decided to join 14 other countries (including North Korea, Cuba, Venezuela, Russia and China) in rejecting a resolution on “The Responsibility to Protect” (R2P) and the prevention of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity during the vote in the UN Assembly in May this year.

This ambivalence reflects in almost every policy Jakarta has introduced for Papua. We have the ruling elites in Jakarta making statements of removing all Indigenous Papuans from their ancestral homeland.

On the other hand, President Jokowi wants to approach Papua through welfare.

Unfortunately, the same president that talks about welfare also gives orders to his troops for a manhunt looking for “terrorists” in West Papua.

The appointment of Flassy as Acting Governor without consulting Governor Lukas Enembe and Papuan people reflects Jakarta’s tragic mishandling of West Papua.

Practising what is preached
Jakarta should pick what principles and values it wants to live by and handle its affairs with Papuans accordingly.

Otherwise, any meaningful and permanent peace cannot be installed in the land of Papua if Jakarta continues to approach Papua with self-contradictory policies. It’s a case of practising what you preach.

Both Enembe and Flassy are Papuans and should be united in resolving the many challenges that their people face, not fighting over the top jobs. But unfortunately, elites in Jakarta continue to introduce policies that encourage Papuans to be at odds with one another for all sorts of things.

That is the true colour of the old colonial strategy of “divide and conquer” at work. We learned what happened over the past 500 years of European colonisation –- they used this strategy in decimate local indigenous populations.

Because of these unfortunate tragedies, Governor Lukas Enembe has stated that people in Papua remain calm and united to protect Papua and not be easily provoked by what is happening.

He has asked if Papuan people want to express their frustrations over the appointment of Dance Yulian Flassy, to do it peacefully without causing harm to all life in the land of Papua.

Muhammad Rifai Darus, Governor Enembe’s spokesperson, said Governor Enembe was alive and recovering.

When he comes home, he will deal with Jakarta and appoint his Vice-Governor in accordance with proper procedure and mechanism.

In the meantime, he asks the people in Papua to remain calm and not to provide any unnecessary opportunity for the enemy of Papua to use this moment to create more conflict and devastation.

  • Yamin Kogoya is a West Papuan academic who has a Master of Applied Anthropology and Participatory Development from the Australian National University who contributes to Asia Pacific Report. From the Lani tribe in the Papuan Highlands, he is currently living in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia.
  • Other Yamin Kogoya articles
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