From left: Lukas Enembe, governor of Papua, with Anas Urbaningrum, former chairman of the Demokrat party and Edhie Baskoro Yudhoyono, outgoing president SBY’s son.

Regardless of who wins Indonesia’s presidential election it won’t make a difference for Papuans, writes Bobby Anderson.

Select Indonesia watchers wonder how Papua’s indigenous population will cast its votes in the impending presidential election. A bigger question is: will a president Jokowi or a president Prabowo make a positive or negative difference in their lives? Many Papuans feel they already know the answer, and their rhetorical response is, “who cares?”

Papuans have a great affection for Jokowi. Even cynical local journalists I know speak positively of a possible future Jokowi presidency. But they don’t believe it will make any real difference is reversing the decades of neglect and policy failure that constitute contemporary Papua.

Jokowi’s initial attention to Papua paid great dividends – he launched his presidential campaign in Jayapura, explaining that Papua was important for the nation, and that if he was only in it for the votes, he’d have started his campaign in Java (a jibe at Prabowo on the stump in West Java that day). Press coverage of Jokowi’s blusukan in a local market with a visibly excited and visibly melanesian population served as a force multiplier to the numbers he addressed in Entrop that day: meanwhile Prabowo campaigned in West Java sub-districts that are populated in numbers close to Papua’s entire indigenous population.

But there’s a problem with the Jokowi ticket. Indigenous Papuans have as much loathing for PDI-P patron Megawati Sukarnoputri as they have warmth for ‘her’ candidate, and the reasons why are worth re-visiting.

The last great opportunity reconcile Papua’s place within a greater Indonesia occurred under President Abdurrahman Wahid, who initiated a period wistfully referred to as the Papuan Spring. Papua’s special autonomy law, created in consultation with Papuans, returned the majority of Papua’s extracted wealth to the area in order to improve health, education, and other services. A special Papuan body with broad powers, the Papuan People’s Council, was established. Special autonomy was imperfect; however, it was a start and the departure point was improving the lives of Papuan people

After Wahid’s impeachment, Megawati assumed the presidency. Indonesia’s insurgent peripheries remember her reign as a time of fear, oppression and occasional terror. In Papua she emasculated special autonomy and the People’s Council, outlawed independence symbols, broke the law to slice Papua into two provinces, and generally let the military do what it pleased. The nascent trust of the Wahid-era was destroyed – perhaps irrevocably so.

Under these conditions, it was inevitable that the special autonomy would collapse into slush fund, with much of the wealth absorbed by administrative costs or otherwise ‘lost’. Then-BIN head Hendropriyono was instrumental in the administrative division of Papua, and it was he who equipped current Papua Barat Governor Atururi with the ‘letter’ that authorised the creation of a new province (why the domestic intelligence agency assumed such authority has never been explained). Hendropriyono is currently involved in the Jokowi campaign.

Papuan concerns here tie into broader concerns about Megawati’s influence in a future Jokowi presidency. Will Jokowi speak with Megawati’s voice? Jokowo’s answer would be ‘no’, Mega’s, ‘of course’. The vice-presidential candidate served as a bellwether. Had Hendropriyono or Ryacudu been chosen, then Mega’s control would have been assured. The choice of Kalla leaves the question unanswered. Should Jokowi win, he’ll try to be his own man, but will struggle not least because Mega will credit his electoral success to herself.

Many observers of Papuan affairs think that a Prabowo presidency will inferentially be bad for indigenous Papuans. This is not necessarily true either. Firstly, Prabowo’s political vehicle, Gerindra, has support among indigenous Papuans. Ambitious Papuans ‘locked out’ of more established political parties have gravitated to Gerindra, although not with the frequency they did to NasDem. This has brought about some surprises like Noakh Nawipa, a human rights activist and theology lecturer from Benny Giay’s KINGMI church, who joined Gerindra. While Prabowo is remembered for excesses elsewhere, has no such reputation here and his history in East Timor does not apply.

Outside Papua, Prabowo is connected to the province by his involvement in the rescue of a group of Cambridge campers and a few environmental NGO researchers when they were kidnapped by Kelly Kwalik’s Organisasi Papua Merdeka faction in 1996. Famously, Prabowo had Red Cross emblems painted on the ABRI helicopters sent to rescue them. I have never heard this story mentioned inside Papua, and when I have asked Papuans about it, none of them cared either way.

More interestingly, and more indicative of Prabowo’s possible stance on Papua is a rumored split in Kopassus on how to approach the OPM insurgency while he was head. Prabowo was apparently of the opinion that the insurgency and the people were divisible from one another. Compare this to Aceh or Timor, where ABRI operations refused to distinguish between the people and the insurgency. Prabowo reportedly argued that the indigenous population could be easily co-opted to serve the state. This co-optation is essentially what Wahid’s special autonomy became under Megawati anyway.

The recent decision by Partai Demokrat to throw its weight behind Prabowo has particular resonance in Papua, where Governor and provincial PD head Lukas Enembe once upon a time promised SBY that he would deliver the ‘Papua vote’ to the 2014 PD candidate. That promise, given PD’s lack of a candidate and its rapid-onset extinction, is moot, and Enembe wouldn’t be beholden to deliver the Papua vote to a non-PD candidate regardless. Enembe himself won’t support who he wants to win; he’ll support who he thinks will win, in order to continue his pursuit of an agenda built on the additional revenue he needs from Jakarta through ‘OTSUS plus’ legislation.

Enembe doesn’t necessarily need to deliver the Papua vote to the candidate he backs – Papua’s population, and especially its indigenous population, are too small to factor into long-term nationwide electoral strategies- but it would help. The weapons Enembe might have at his disposal to deliver such votes are inflated voter rolls in the highlands, especially in new pemekaran districts, and the anticipated support of the churches that backed his gubernatorial candidacy in 2013.

The GIDI church is the largest church in the highlands, and they delivered the existing highland vote to him, even serving to discipline recalcitrant bupatis such as Yahukimo’s Ones Pahobol when they sought to back others.

But this support, in a presidential election, has less meaning than legislative or provincial elections.

The obstacle to an all out PD-Gerindra win is GIDI’s new leader, Dorman, who is more concerned with developing the church as an advocate for and defender of the indigenous highland population, than ordinary political machinations. Dorman’s background is in service: he helped to create Kalvari, the most effective private TB treatment center in the highlands, and he is also connected with YASUMAT, the GIDI church foundation that is one of the only providers of health and education services to indigenous Papuans in GIDI church areas. We can expect better things from him. Taking a political stance will be his first challenge as leader.

Just as important is the question whether Papua will vote?

The state has no relevance in most Papuan lives. In the hinterlands where much of the indigenous population lives, it is distinguished by shuttered schools and empty clinics. Its most visible presence is usually in the form of security actors. And the majority of Papuans support independence because they’ve barely experienced a functioning state.

The Golput vote may also index popular support to the Komite Nasional Papua Barat or West Papua National Committee, the newest and arguably most popular independence group: it organized its first protests in 2009. The group’s uncompromising stance has much appeal among young Papuans who are frustrated by other independence leaders, disgusted by their own co-opted elites, and hateful of a national government that provides them nothing. KNPB has called for an election boycott.

However, even if the majority of indigenous Papuans chose not to vote, we might not know about it, because uncast votes have value to those that are willing to pay for them. Most of the last quick counts I can recall, especially the 2014 legislative elections, demonstrate high levels of Golput and low turnouts, which in the end become low levels of Golput and high turnouts. In Aceh, PNA’s quick count performance may have gotten them 8 seats, whilst in Papua, Golkar and NasDem both led PD in the quick count. These leads all disappeared after.

In Indonesia, the testimonies I hear from dissidents within district and provincial electoral machines lead me to believe that the golput phenomenon has become a cruel trick in itself: those who ideologically choose to not vote end up casting votes for the groups most willing to pay for them, though they probably sleep soundly- the sleep of a na├пve and subconsciously co-opted ‘opposition’ acting in service to the parties they feign to loathe.

Despite PDI-P, the Papuans I know will vote for Jokowi, even though they have little expectation of change. If Papuans vote Jokowi and Prabowo wins, that doesn’t even matter, because Papuan participation is significant in itself, and their vote serves as a mandate for change to whoever wins. That change is needed.

Papua hosts the last active insurgency in Indonesia; it is a wound that has yet to heal, and it attracts attention far beyond the size of its indigenous population.

Bobby Anderson works on development issues in Eastern Indonesia, and works and travels frequently in Papua and Papua Barat. This and other writings can be found at http://independent.academia.edu/BobbyAnderson