Papua murder sparks election tension

Papua murder sparks election tension

Brisbane Times
Tom allardin

The killing of an Indonesian soldier in Papua, allegedly by separatist guerillas, has highlighted the risks of violent outbreaks undermining the country's elections.

The campaign for the national parliament, as well as provincial and district legislatures, formally began yesterday with all 38 parties called on to sign a petition vowing to conduct a peaceful poll, during an elaborate ceremony in Jakarta.

Almost 12,000 candidates will contest the election and more than 170 million Indonesians will be eligible to vote on April 9.

But tensions in regions that have historically sought independence from Jakarta, and confusion about voting rules and procedures, have raised concerns about bloodshed.

Even before the official campaign kick-off, there has been much politicking and there are clear signs in West Papua that the long-running but sporadic independence movement is ratcheting up its activities at a time of greater media focus.

The murder at the weekend of an Indonesian soldier has been blamed on armed members of the Free Papua Movement (OPM). The death occurred after an ambush while an Indonesian military unit was on patrol, local police said.

It capped a steadily escalating rise in attacks by the OPM, including a raid on a police post and an alleged stabbing attack by the OPM in which two men died and another two were badly injured. There has also been an increase in separatist rallies in West Papua.

Indonesian police's feared mobile brigade - Brimob - has sent hundreds of extra officers to West Papua for the duration of the campaign.

Brimob units have also been sent to Maluku and Aceh, other Indonesian provinces with a history of separatist activity.

In recent months in Aceh, four cadres from Partai Aceh have been murdered. Partai Aceh is the political organisation that evolved from its independence movement after the 2005 peace deal that ended a bloody civil war.

Most analysts attribute the Aceh deaths to disputes over business and criminal activities, but acknowledge the risks of violence and disorder in the first national poll since the peace accord was signed in Aceh.

The large number of candidates and the complexity of voting procedures pose challenges for maintaining security during and after the campaign.

For example, a new rule means only candidates from parties that secure 2.5 per cent of the national vote will be eligible to take their place in the national legislature.

That means many winning candidates could find themselves stripped of their seats if they do not belong to one of the eight or so parties expected to achieve or better the 2.5 per cent threshold.