Tha Jakarta Post, Tue, January 29 2013,
Papua’s “mountain people” who reside in the alpine terrain of the isolated pegunungan tengah area, are the largest population group in country’s most backward province.
According to the Central Statistics Agency (BPS) census in 2010, 1.6 million of the province’s 2.8 million population live in the pegunungan tengah.
Despite being the majority, almost no one from the area has managed to climb the ladder of political success and lead the province, which has been plagued for decades by separatism and conflict.
Papuan leaders at the provincial and national level almost invariably come from the tribes who inhabit the coast.
But the province’s political pendulum is swinging.
Around 2.7 million eligible voters will cast the ballots today in a gubernatorial election that has been marred by extreme division between candidates from the interior and the coastal areas.
Six gubernatorial candidates are competing to rule Papua, where US-based miner Freeport McMoran operates the world’s largest integrated gold concession.
Seven gubernatorial and deputy gubernatorial candidates originate in the pegunungan tengah while only five are from the coast.
The strongest candidate, according to local figures, is former Puncak Jaya regent Lukas Enembe, a “mountain figure” supported by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s Democratic Party and the Islamic-based Prosperous Justice Party (PKS). In the 2009 election, Papua was a stronghold of the Democratic Party.
Puncak Jaya is part of the pegunungan tengah territory that includes regencies such as Jayawijaya, Lanny Jaya, Nduga, Tolikara, Membrano Tengah, Yahukimo and Pegunungan Bintang.
“What marks the election today is probably the spirit of having ‘mountain people’ rule the province for the first time,” said the head of Papua’s unity, politics and public security agency (Kesbang), M. Mansyur.
While Lukas is tipped to represent the “mountain people”, his stiffest opponent, Habel Melkias Suwae, former Jayapura regent, is likely to represent the coastline voters.
Habel is supported by the Golkar Party and the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P).
“There seems to be a balance between candidates from the mountain and the coastline. Voters tend to pick candidates based on territorial relations rather than on programs,” said Cendrawasih University political analyst Beatus Tembaib.
Beatus believes the election will go to a second round as it will be difficult for a candidate to secure more than 30 percent of the vote to win outright.
The division between groups of voters is becoming increasingly polarized. Cendrawasih military district chief Maj. Gen. Christian Zebua said on Monday that military and security personnel would remain on the alert for possible civil unrest resulting from the election.
Local elections in Papua have regularly been the scene of conflicts ignited by the losing candidates and disputes between local leaders regularly contribute to the slow pace of development.
The recent election-based conflict in Tolikara regency, for example, means the current regent is unable to endorse the annual budget as the mob torched the treasury office late last year, destroying all documents related to budgeting.
“I suspect the office was torched to eliminate evidence of corruption from the previous administration,” said Tolikara Regent Usman Wanimbo. “The arson attack has also delayed the budget because the records were all destroyed.”
Regular civil and separatist conflicts, coupled with intense corruption and extreme isolation from the outside world, have severely retarded development in Papua despite the province’s rich natural resources of gold, copper, coal and timber.
Previous Papua governor Barnabas Suebu, whose term expired last year, could not run for reelection due to lack of support from political parties. He has left behind a mounting problem that may not be easy for the next leader to solve.
Despite an annual budget of more than Rp 40 trillion (US$4.16 billion), the seventh-largest budget in the country, Papua’s development indicators remain at the bottom of the list.
According to the Supreme Audit Agency (BPK), corruption has severely aggravated Papua’s plight. Last year, the BPK found that around 22 percent of the Rp 19.12 trillion audited autonomy fund had been stolen. Since 2002, the central government has disbursed more than Rp 30 trillion of such funds in the hope of accelerating Papua development.
The latest Community Health Development Index names Papua and West Papua as the provinces with the worst performance of health-related indicators.
According to the annual report, released early last year by the Health Ministry, Papua faces serious public health problems, ranging from high levels of malnutrition, higher-than-average child and maternal mortality rates, low immunization rates, high levels of disease and poor access to clean water, sanitation and trained healthcare workers.
Papua was ranked the nation’s poorest province by the National Development Planning Agency (Bappenas), with 32 percent of its residents considered “poor”, far above the national poverty rate of 12.5 percent.
“Whoever leads Papua should not repeat the mistake made by the previous leaders who only thought of his personal gain and interests. I don’t see any candidates who have firm commitment to that yet, whether they are of mountain or coastal origin. That rests on the voters to decide their future, and I hope they don’t chose the wrong guy again,” said the secretary of the Papuan Traditional Council, Leo Imbiri.