IPAC publishes new report - Numbers matter, The 2020 census and conflict in Papua

The Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC) has published a new report discussing conflict-related issues and challenges in West Papua for the implementation of the upcoming census  in 2020. Increasing polarization of West Papua's civil society have resulted in high potential for horizontal conflicts. As tensions keep growing in the provinces of Papua and Papua Barat, provincial and local government institutions have failed to produce valid demographic data on West Papua's population.

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Inflated population statistics in Papua are a source of corruption, conflict and power struggles, but unlike many of Papua’s troubles, this one has a possible fix: a major effort by the Jokowi government to ensure that the 2020 census produces an accurate head count. There is no indication, however, that the president or his advisers have given any thought to the problem.

No one knows how many people live in Papua province. Statistics on population, weak to begin with because of the difficulties of reaching remote areas and poor record-keeping, have grown steadily worse in the last two decades as local Papuan elites have deliberately inflated numbers as a way to gain money and power. More people on paper can mean bigger budgetary allocations; more seats in local legislatures; and a stronger political base. The actual population  of the Papuan central highlands may be less than half of what 2019 voter rolls suggest, but no one is checking.

The inflation of population statistics does not just fuel corruption, but it also has security implications. The problem is most acute in the central highlands where the pro-independence movement is strongest. Politicians from the central highlands have used the inflated numbers, combined with a supposedly “traditional” system of proxy voting in elections, to wrest power from traditional coastal elites. Highlanders, led by Gov. Lukas Enembe, now control all key provincial institutions, including the governorship, the provincial parliament, and the Papuan People’s Council (Majelis Rakyat Papua, MRP). Many are sympathetic to the aspirations of activists in the West Papua National Committee (Komite Nasional Papua Barat, KNPB), the largest non-armed pro-independence organization in Papua, which was founded and continues to be dominated by highlanders.

Papuan elites manipulate the data, but Jakarta has allowed the manipulation to happen by turning a blind eye to – and sometimes benefiting from – the mismanagement of huge amounts of money. Legislators have not bothered to check whether the creation of new villages, sub-districts and kabupaten (the sub-provincial division often translated “regency”) meet legal requirements, and various agencies with programs in Papua have not made available the personnel, equipment or transport to get staff to remote areas in a way that could curb dubious practices or provide much-needed education and training to local officials. Indonesian politicians and judges on the country’s highest court have endorsed a variety of fraudulent methods of proxy voting in the name of respecting traditional practices. While perhaps done with good intentions, the result has been to deny many Papuans the basic civil right to participate in elections. The failure to respect the principle of one person-one vote means that there is no check on the inflated voter rolls that highlander politicians have used to gain power. It also reflects a more widespread attitude among Indonesian officials that Papuans, because of their culture and low levels of skills and education, cannot be trusted with the same civil liberties that other Indonesians enjoy.

The Jokowi government has an opportunity to make a serious effort to get a clearer picture of the true population by allocating additional resources to the agencies responsible for conducting for the 2020 census: the Central Bureau of Statistics (Badan Pusat Statistik, BPS) and the Department of Population and Civil Registration under the Ministry for Home Affairs (Direktorat-Jenderal Kependudukan dan Pencatatan Sipil, known by the acronym Dukcapil). Real data could help expose corruption and improve governance. It could help tailor programs to needs and curtail electoral fraud. It could provide a better understanding of the ratio of indigenous Papuans to non-Papuan migrants. Focusing on the 2020 census is the kind of technical intervention that President Jokowi likes, but time is running out if anything is to be done.

This report is based on fieldwork in Jayapura and Jayawijaya in July 2019 and extensive examination of Papuan statistics from the national, provincial and kabupaten offices of BPS and Dukcapil as well as interviews with their staff. It is the tenth in an IPAC series analysing political developments in Papua.

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