JAKARTA (The Jakarta Post/Asia News Network): The House of Representatives is pushing to quickly pass a set of bills that will create new provinces in Papua, despite criticism that the government has been neglecting indigenous people’s voices in the bill’s deliberation process.
In a plenary session last week, lawmakers unanimously endorsed three bills that will stipulate the establishment of the provinces of South Papua, Central Papua and Papua Central Highlands.
The lawmakers’ endorsement, which was made before the House entered recess, means that the three bills are listed as a House initiative and will be open to be deliberated with the government in the next sitting session.
If the bills are passed, they will redraw the administrative territory of the existing Papua and West Papua provinces. Rifqinizamy Karsayuda, a member of House Commission II overseeing home affairs, said the House would speed up the bills’ deliberation process so that voters could elect the new provinces’ regional leaders and legislative representatives in the 2024 general elections.
“We are trying to pass the bills into law before June,” Rifqinizamy, who is a member of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), said on Sunday (April 17), as quoted by antaranews.com.
He said that the creation of new provinces would entail an increase in electoral districts, as well as seats in the House, adding that the necessary adjustments should be made immediately so that the establishment of the new administrative regions would not disrupt preparations for the 2024 elections.
The push for the formation of new administrative regions in Papua has intensified after the House passed the second amendment of the Papuan Special Autonomy Law last year.
The amended law includes a provision that allows the House and the government to create new provinces, cities and regencies without the approval of the Papuan People’s Assembly (MRP) or the existing provincial level legislative councils (DPRP).
In the previous version of the law, the creation of new administrative areas could go ahead only after being approved by the MRP and DPRP.
Home Minister Tito Karnavian explained that the establishment of new administrative regions in Papua was aimed at accelerating development in Indonesia’s easternmost region, noting that cities in West Papua had flourished after the government formed the new province in 2004.
"Since West Papua was created, there has been an acceleration [in development],” Tito said last week as quoted by kompas.com.
“We want to [repeat] that model as we would like to speed up development in Papua.”
The move toward swift deliberation of the bills came despite a judicial review petition filed by MRP members with the Constitutional Court challenging several new provisions of the Special Autonomy Law, including the provision that allows the government and the House to bypass MRP and DPRP approval in forming any new administrative region.
MRP chief Timotius Murib said as quoted by kompas.com that the bills’ deliberation should be suspended until after the Constitutional Court justices hand down their ruling.
Gadjah Mada University political expert Arie Ruhyanto also voiced a similar view, saying that swift deliberation of the bills despite the the judicial review process, which was filed by the MRP – the representative institution of indigenous Papuans tasked with protecting Papuans’ cultural rights, would signal the government’s lack of consideration for the opinion of Papuans in the plan to establish the new provinces.
"We should respect the ongoing process, so the bills’ deliberation should follow the result of the judicial review," Arie told The Jakarta Post on Monday.
"When the formation of new areas is carried out at the central government’s initiative, it means that the representatives of the Papuan people are not involved."
Protests against the plan to form new provinces have occurred in various areas since March, including in Jayapura, Wamena, Paniai, Yahukimo and Nabire in Papua.
At least two people died in a clash between protesters and security forces during a protest in Yahukimo last month. Experts have said that the proposed formation of the new provinces could result in increased disparity, discrimination and further prolong the conflict in Papua.
National Research and Innovation Agency (BRIN) researcher Cahyo Pamungkas said the policy, if carried out, could lead to greater alienation of Papuans from the central government in Jakarta.
“The [proposed] policy to establish new provinces in Papua will further stoke Papuans’ distrust of the central government and will further complicate the effort to end conflict in Papua,” Cahyo said in a statement.
He said that previous attempts to break up the provincial administration in Papua, which resulted in the eventual establishment of West Papua, were met with strong opposition from Papuans, adding that the proposed policy had created a “counterproductive situation” amid the ongoing conflict in the region.