CANBERRA - Indonesia's most troubled province, Papua, is on the brink of more mass demonstrations and provincial government buildings and offices are being barricaded.
This is in response to the likelihood of civil strife following the controversial appointment of Papua’s provincial government secretary, Dance Yulian Flassy, as acting governor.
This occurred last Thursday after Indonesia's home affairs minister Tito Karnavian received a letter from Flassy asking to be appointed to the post.
The sudden appointment shocked democratically elected governor Lukas Enembe, who has been in Singapore receiving medical treatment.
Enembe said he was not consulted or informed of the appointment, calling it "maladministration" and an attempt to cause more trouble in Papua.
Enembe has written to Indonesian president Jokowi saying will return to Papua to perform his duty as governor as soon as he is fully recovered and reminding the president that he was elected by the people to administer the province in accordance with Indonesia's constitution.
He stated he is disappointed by this unlawful and unconstitutional behaviour and asked Jokowi to dismiss Flassy from office as he had misused his public portfolio in trying to take office without consulting governor Enembe.
“In addition, Mr Flassy has already done many things that contradict my policies as governor,” he wrote.
Governor Enembe expressed surprise as home affairs minister Karnavian had granted him permission to go to Singapore for medical treatment in April.
“Why, then, is Mr. Tinto trying to replace me, knowing that I am still alive and recovering?” he asked.
Muhammad Rifai Darus, Enembe's spokesperson, stated the governor is still active as head of Papua's provincial government and criticised Flassy’s appointment as a breach of proper procedure.
Ricky Ham Pagawak, vice chairman of the Democrat Party in Papua, said the appointment was discriminatory and a civil coup d’état against Governor Enembe.
Aggrieved Papuans have already blocked several government buildings, including the office of the Democrat Party.
“If there is no withdrawal of this appointment from the central government, Papuan people will continue to galvanise mass rallies and occupy provincial office until the matter is fully resolved,” Pagawak said.
A member of the Papuan provincial parliament, Nason Utty, expressed disappointment at Flassy’s move.
"It is inappropriate for the provincial secretary to do this,” Utty said. “Mr. Enembe remains the legitimate governor of the Papuan Province, so this is an important decision that should be consulted first with him.”
Despite the heavy criticism, Luqman Hakim, vice chairman of Commission II of the House of Representatives in Jakarta, said the appointment was appropriate and proper procedures were followed.
“The decision … was needed and legitimate,” Hakim said. “In the principles of constitutional law, it is not permissible for a government to have a power vacuum."
My view is that there was an element of common sense in Hakim's statement, as such high office should not be left vacant indefinitely, especially in Papua is one of the most conflict-ravaged regions of Indonesia and the world.
But even simple rules governing common sense differ significantly between Jakarta and Papua.
In Papua, strong local leadership is needed to respond to never ending crises. And Jakarta is known for introducing harmful policies that oppose the wishes of the Papuan people and aggravate conflict.
Exacerbating this situation further was the recent controversial labelling of Papuans who oppose Jakarta as ‘terrorists’.
This followed the killing of senior Indonesian intelligence officer General I Gusti Putu Danny Karya Nugraha, which sparked outrage among Papuans and Indonesians alike.
Papuan civil society groups and churches strongly reject the ‘terrorist’ label and have asked Jakarta to revoke the decision.
They fear the label will give a green light for security forces to shoot any Papuan regarded as a member of the West Papua National Liberation Army.
Local media, Suara Papua (Papua Voice), has recorded shocking footage of the current devastating humanitarian crisis in Papua's highlands as security forces continue to terrorise people in their pursuit of PNLA elements.
Jakarta's unsympathetic approach in not respecting Papuan’s customary practice of 40 days of national mourning for the 21 May death of vice-governor Klemen Tinal has further inflamed Papua's already deep wounds.
Now, Jakarta’s discourtesy of not asking the governor about the appointment as acting governor of another Indigenous Papuan is seen as exacerbating conflict with Indigenous people.
Jakarta also did not ask the governors of Papua and West Papua provinces about the impact that the recent ‘terrorist’ label might have on the psychology of the Papuan people.
It seems that Indonesia, a country that prides itself as the world's fourth-largest democracy with an ambition to play a role in global affairs, struggles to decide what it stands for – democracy and freedom or something else.
This indecision was demonstrated further when Indonesia decided to join 14 other countries - including North Korea, Cuba, Venezuela, Russia and China - in rejecting a resolution on the prevention of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity in the UN assembly in May.
Such ambivalence is seen in almost every policy Jakarta has introduced for Papua. The ruling elite in Jakarta has made statements approving the removal of all Indigenous Papuans from their ancestral homeland.
And while president Jokowi says he wants a ‘welfare approach’ to Papua, he also gives orders for troops to hunt down people he terms ‘terrorists’.
Flassy’s appointment is yet another case of Jakarta's tragic mishandling of West Papua.
Meaningful and permanent peace cannot be installed in Papua if Jakarta continues to give effect to contradictory policies.
Both Enembe and Flassy are Papuans and should be united in resolving the many challenges their people face, not fighting over the top job.
But unfortunately the Jakarta elite continueto introduce policies that encourage Papuans to be at odds with one another; a new articulation of the colonial strategy of ‘divide and conquer’.
Over 500 years European colonisation, Papuans learned how this strategy was used to devastate Indigenous populations.
In a recent announcement from Singapore, Governor Lukas Enembe urged people in Papua remain calm and united to protect Papua and not be easily provoked.
He said if people want to express their frustration over the appointment of Flassy, they should do so peacefully without causing harm.
Muhammad Rifai Darus, Enembe's spokesperson, said when the governor returns he will deal with Jakarta and appoint a vice-governor in accordance with proper procedures and mechanisms.
In the meantime, he asked the Papuan people not to provide opportunities for their enemies to use this moment to create more conflict and devastation.