Papuan Leaders Tell Supporters to Abstain from Vote

Papuan Leaders Tell Supporters to Abstain from Vote

The Jakarta Globe
Putri Prameshwari & Christian Motte

Prominent Papuan independence leader Benny Wenda has called on all "citizens of West Papua" to boycott the upcoming legislative and presidential elections because they are not Indonesians.

"As citizens of West Papua of the Melanesian race, we refuse to participate in the April 9 elections, which are Indonesia's celebration of democracy," Wenda said in a statement released to the Jakarta Globe.

"We demand our right to choose our own fate, guaranteed by international law. We have never been able to use that right since the New York Agreement was signed on August 15, 1962. To avoid more violence by the military against the Melanesian race in West Papua, we demand a referendum based on international law, where people of the Melanesian race in West Papua can use our rights to choose our international status."

The calls to boycott the elections are likely to garner support among Papuan youth organizations, but it remains to be seen how much broader a reaction the calls will receive.

Victor Yeimo of the West Papuan National People's Committee said that his organization would be ready to boycott the elections if necessary.

Hofni Simbiak, a member of the Papua People's Assembly, or MRP, said his group was concerned about a recommendation from the General Elections Commission, or KPU, that the 11 regional House seats guaranteed to native Papuans under the Special Autonomy Law should be thrown open to all party candidates regardless of province of origin.

The MRP, Simbiak said, would boycott the election if the government decided to go along with the KPU's suggestion.

"Currently, the MRP is formulating a response to both the General Elections Commission and the House of Representatives in Jakarta," Simbiak said.

Police in Papua Province are on the highest possible alert level in preparation for possible disruptions to the upcoming election from rebel groups, Papua Police Chief Bagus Eko Danto said on Wednesday.

Bagus was responding to reports that local residents in Papua's Supiori district had said that members of the pro-independence Free Papua Movement, or OPM, had forced them to join training on how to create chaos during the elections.

"[Increasing the threat level] anticipates any potential problems prior to and on the election day," Bagus said.

Paskalis Kosay, vice chairman of the Papua Legislative Council, or DPRD, said the threats were merely part of the political dynamics of the province.

"Demand for a referendum is normal," he said. "It's the people's reaction to the ineffectiveness of the Special Autonomy Law."

In a 2001 law, the government granted special autonomy status to Papua, making the resource-rich province more independent. The province's increased power and revenue, however, have not translated into improvements in the living conditions of the majority of the local population, particularly ethnic Papuans.