Spikes of Violence: Protest in West Papua

SEPTEMBER 12, 2019, Source: https://www.counterpunch.org/

by BINOY KAMPMARK

Like Timor-Leste, West Papua, commonly subsuming both Papua and West Papua, remains a separate ethnic entity, acknowledged as such by previous colonial powers. Its Dutch colonial masters, in preparing to leave the region in the 1950s, left the ground fertile for a declaration of independence in 1961. Such a move did not sit well with the Indonesian desire to claim control over all Dutch Asia Pacific colonies on departure. There were resources to be had, economic gains to be made. The military duly moved in.

The New York Agreement between Indonesia and the Netherlands, brokered in 1962 with the assistance of the United States, saw West Papua fall under United Nations control for the duration of one year. Once passing into Indonesian control, Jakarta would govern the territory “consistent with the rights and freedoms guaranteed to the inhabitants under the terms of the present agreement.” Education would be a priority; illiteracy would be targeted, and efforts made “to accelerate participation of the people in local government through periodic elections.”

One article stood out: “Indonesia will make arrangements, with the assistance and participation of the United Nation Representative and his staff, to give the people of the territory the opportunity to exercise freedom of choice.” In 1969, a ballot was conducted in line with the provision, though hardly in any true, representative sense. In the rich traditions of doctored representation and selective enfranchisement, 1,026 individuals were selected by Indonesian authorities to participate. Indonesia’s military kept an intimidating watch: the vote could not be left to chance. The result for Indonesian control was unanimous; the UN signed off.

Unlike Timor-Leste, the historically Melanesian territories of Papua and West Papua remains under thumb and screw, an entity that continues to exist under periodic acts of violence and habitual repression from the Indonesian central authorities. A policy of transmigration has been practiced, a point argued by scholars to be tantamount to genocide. This has entailed moving residents from Java and Sulawesi to West Papua, assisted by Jakarta’s hearty sponsorship.

The Indonesian argument here has been ethnic and political: to confect a national identity through assimilation. Under President Joko Widodo (“Jokowi”)), one keen to push the idea of “Indonesia Maju” (“Advanced Indonesia”), renewed stress is being placed on infrastructure investment, economic growth and natural resources, of which Papua features heavily.

The indigenous populace has had to, in turn, surrender land to those transmigrants and appropriating authorities. “The rights of traditional law communities,” notes Clause 17 of Indonesia’s Basic Forestry Act of 1967, “may not be allowed to stand in the way of transmigration sites.”

Appropriations of land, the relocation of residents, and the odd massacre by Indonesian security forces, tend to fly low on the international radar of human rights abuses. West Papua lacks the cinematic appeal or political heft that would encourage around the clock coverage from media networks. Bureaucratic plodders in the various foreign ministries of the world prefer to render such matters benign and of little interest. Geopolitics and natural resources tend to do most of the talking.

In late 2015, for instance, Scott Busby, US deputy assistant secretary of the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, and James Carouso, acting deputy assistant secretary for Maritime and Mainland Southeast Asian affairs, ducked and evaded anything too compromising in their testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on East Asia, the Pacific, and International Cybersecurity Policy. The consequences of demographic policies directed by Jakarta were assiduously ignored. Massacres and institutional accountability in the territory were bypassed, as were Indonesian efforts to prevent scrutiny on the part of human rights monitors, the UN Special rapporteur and journalists.

This year, more instances of violence have managed to leach out and gurgle in media circles. It took a few ugly incidents in the Javanese city of Surabaya to engender a new wave of protests which have had a rattling effect on the security forces. Last month, pro-Indonesian nationalist groups, with reported encouragement from security forces, taunted Papuan students with an array of crude insults in East Java. (“Dogs”, “monkeys” and “pigs” were part of the bitter mix.) The fuse was lit, notably as arrests were made of the Papuans themselves. “Papuans are not monkeys”, proclaimed banners being held at a rally in Central Jakarta on August 22.

Government buildings have been torched in Jayapura. Additional forces have been deployed, and internet access cut. There are claims that white phosphorous has been used on civilians; prisons are being filled. There have even been protests in Indonesia’s capital, with the banned Morning Star flag being flown defiantly in front of the state palace. (Doing so is no mild matter: activist Filep Karma spent over a decade of his life in prison for doing so.)

The struggle for independence, at least in the international eye, has been left to such figures as Benny Wenda, who lobbies governments and groups to back the “Free Papua” campaign. He is particularly keen to take the matter of the Free Choice vote of 1969, that nasty instrument that formalised Indonesian control, to the United Nations General Assembly. Last month, he had to settle for taking the matter to the Pacific Islands Forum as a representative of Vanuatu’s delegation. In January, he gifted the UN Human Rights Chief Michelle Bachelet a petition with 1.8 million signatures seeking a new referendum for the territory.

The response from an Indonesian government spokesman was emphatic, curt, and conventional. “Developments in Papua and West Papua province are purely Indonesia’s internal affairs. No other country, organisation or individual has the right to interfere in them. We firmly oppose the intervention of Indonesia’s internal affairs in whatever form.”

The hope for Jokowi and the Indonesian authorities will be simple: ride out the storm, conduct a low-level suppression of protests, and place any talks of secession on the backburner. In this, they can count on regional, if hypocritical support. In the words of a spokesman for the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, “Australia recognises Indonesia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty over the Papua provinces. Our position is clearly defined by the Lombok Treaty between Indonesia and Australia.”Join the debate on FacebookMore articles by:BINOY KAMPMARK

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email:bkampmark@gmail.com

West Papuan leader taken into custody in dramatic arrest

Activists say Buchtar Tabuni, seen as a mastermind of recent protests, was forcibly taken into custody by armed troops

A West Papuan independence group has accused the Indonesian police of “abducting” a leading West Papuan activist in a dramatic arrest on Monday.

The United Liberation Movement for West Papua, whose exiled leader is Benny Wenda, said in a statement that a joint strike force of Indonesian police and military surrounded the home of the high-profile activist Buchtar Tabuni early on Monday morning.

The group claims several shots were fired and four armed troops surrounded Tabuni before he was taken into custody, with no prior notice or summons.

A national police spokesperson, Dedi Prasetyo, confirmed Tabuni’s arrest for suspected treason, telling the Guardian the Papuan regional police had handled the arrest in the context of “ensuring security and order in Jayapura and Papua in general”.

Tabuni, who is a key member of the West Papuan leadership along with Wenda, is seen as a mastermind of protests that have spread across West Papua and other provinces in recent weeks.

The exiled leader Benny Wenda told the Guardian the deteriorating situation in West Papua required United Nations intervention.

“Indonesia is sending 6,000 troops on military exercises to West Papua. There is no war going on, this is peaceful demonstrators against a huge military. My people are in danger. We need to act now before it is too late.”

In a show of force, and perhaps an indication of a willingness to escalate military action if protests continue, the Indonesian military conducted exercises at Sentani and Wamena airfields in Papua. Footage from Jayapura showed dozens of paratroopers parachuting from the back of an airforce plane, part of a Quick Reaction Strike Force exercise.

Indonesia’s defence force chief, Marshal Hadi Tjahjanto, said the exercises were held annually at different locations across Indonesia, and this year was organised for Papua. “The jump drills ran smoothly and safely,” he said.

Indonesia’s ministry of public works and public housing has dedicated IDR100bn (US$7m) for rebuilding state offices destroyed by protesters during protests in Jayapura in Papua on 29 August.

Source: https://www.theguardian.com/

Tonga’s Prime Minister Akilisi Pohiva dies aged 78

Pacific Beat By Pacific affairs reporter Liam Fox and Michael Walsh

Tonga’s Prime Minister Akilisi Pohiva has died at the age of 78.

Key points:

  • Mr Pohiva had been suffering from pneumonia and liver problems
  • He spent years campaigning against royal involvement in the country’s politics
  • In 2014 he became the first commoner to be elected Prime Minister

Mr Pohiva was medically evacuated from the capital, Nuku’alofa, yesterday afternoon to a hospital in Auckland, New Zealand.

He died at 10:00am (Tongan time) at the Auckland City Hospital, an adviser to the Prime Minister said in a statement.

Mr Pohiva had been suffering from pneumonia for two weeks and had received treatment for liver problems earlier this year, a statement from Tonga’s Government said.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison tweeted he was saddened to hear of Mr Pohiva’s passing, who he described as a “passionate advocate for his people”.

Also writing on Twitter, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said Mr Pohiva was “a respected leader in the Pacific, and a good friend to Australia”.

Mr Pohiva had served as Tonga’s Prime Minister since 2014, and was Tonga’s longest serving member of Parliament, coming into office in 1987.

He spent years campaigning against royal involvement in the island kingdom’s politics, and in 2014 became the first commoner to be elected Prime Minister by Tonga’s Parliament.

Local media are reporting Tonga’s Parliament will be deferred indefinitely

Mr Pohiva last month attended the Pacific Islands Forum in Tuvalu, where he was reportedly moved to tears by a presentation from climate change activists.

Fiji’s Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama said the “raw emotion” Mr Pohiva expressed during the summit was inspiring.

A complicated legacy

 Print  Email  Facebook  Twitter  More Tonga's Prime Minister Akilisi Pohiva dies aged 78 Pacific Beat By Pacific affairs reporter Liam Fox and Michael Walsh Updated about 3 hours ago  Akilisi Pohiva and Scott Morrison PHOTO: Mr Pohiva attended the recent Pacific Islands Forum in Tuvalu last month. (AAP: Mick Tsikas) RELATED STORY: Australia shuts down climate deal after discussions reduce Tongan PM to tearsRELATED STORY: 'Exceedingly grateful': Tonga's sudden change of heart on Chinese loans Tonga's Prime Minister Akilisi Pohiva has died at the age of 78.  Key points: Mr Pohiva had been suffering from pneumonia and liver problems He spent years campaigning against royal involvement in the country's politics In 2014 he became the first commoner to be elected Prime Minister Mr Pohiva was medically evacuated from the capital, Nuku'alofa, yesterday afternoon to a hospital in Auckland, New Zealand.  He died at 10:00am (Tongan time) at the Auckland City Hospital, an adviser to the Prime Minister said in a statement.  Mr Pohiva had been suffering from pneumonia for two weeks and had received treatment for liver problems earlier this year, a statement from Tonga's Government said.  Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison tweeted he was saddened to hear of Mr Pohiva's passing, who he described as a "passionate advocate for his people".   Scott Morrison ✔ @ScottMorrisonMP Terribly saddened to hear of the passing of Tongan Prime Minister, the Hon. ‘Akilisi Pohiva. He was a passionate advocate for his people, for his beloved Tonga & our Pacific family. Jenny & I send our condolences to his family, as well as the Government and the people of Tonga.  178 12:17 PM - Sep 12, 2019 Twitter Ads info and privacy 98 people are talking about this Also writing on Twitter, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said Mr Pohiva was "a respected leader in the Pacific, and a good friend to Australia".  Mr Pohiva had served as Tonga's Prime Minister since 2014, and was Tonga's longest serving member of Parliament, coming into office in 1987.  He spent years campaigning against royal involvement in the island kingdom's politics, and in 2014 became the first commoner to be elected Prime Minister by Tonga's Parliament.  Local media are reporting Tonga's Parliament will be deferred indefinitely.  A group men wearing green shirts speak at the front of a building. PHOTO: Mr Pohiva, pictured with Australia's Minister for the Pacific Alex Hawke and Fiji's leader Frank Bainimarama, attended last month's Pacific Islands Forum. (ABC News: Melissa Clarke)
Print Email Facebook Twitter More Tonga’s Prime Minister Akilisi Pohiva dies aged 78 Pacific Beat By Pacific affairs reporter Liam Fox and Michael Walsh Updated about 3 hours ago Akilisi Pohiva and Scott Morrison PHOTO: Mr Pohiva attended the recent Pacific Islands Forum in Tuvalu last month. (AAP: Mick Tsikas) RELATED STORY: Australia shuts down climate deal after discussions reduce Tongan PM to tearsRELATED STORY: ‘Exceedingly grateful’: Tonga’s sudden change of heart on Chinese loans Tonga’s Prime Minister Akilisi Pohiva has died at the age of 78. Key points: Mr Pohiva had been suffering from pneumonia and liver problems He spent years campaigning against royal involvement in the country’s politics In 2014 he became the first commoner to be elected Prime Minister Mr Pohiva was medically evacuated from the capital, Nuku’alofa, yesterday afternoon to a hospital in Auckland, New Zealand. He died at 10:00am (Tongan time) at the Auckland City Hospital, an adviser to the Prime Minister said in a statement. Mr Pohiva had been suffering from pneumonia for two weeks and had received treatment for liver problems earlier this year, a statement from Tonga’s Government said. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison tweeted he was saddened to hear of Mr Pohiva’s passing, who he described as a “passionate advocate for his people”. Scott Morrison ✔ @ScottMorrisonMP Terribly saddened to hear of the passing of Tongan Prime Minister, the Hon. ‘Akilisi Pohiva. He was a passionate advocate for his people, for his beloved Tonga & our Pacific family. Jenny & I send our condolences to his family, as well as the Government and the people of Tonga. 178 12:17 PM – Sep 12, 2019 Twitter Ads info and privacy 98 people are talking about this Also writing on Twitter, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said Mr Pohiva was “a respected leader in the Pacific, and a good friend to Australia”. Mr Pohiva had served as Tonga’s Prime Minister since 2014, and was Tonga’s longest serving member of Parliament, coming into office in 1987. He spent years campaigning against royal involvement in the island kingdom’s politics, and in 2014 became the first commoner to be elected Prime Minister by Tonga’s Parliament. Local media are reporting Tonga’s Parliament will be deferred indefinitely. A group men wearing green shirts speak at the front of a building. PHOTO: Mr Pohiva, pictured with Australia’s Minister for the Pacific Alex Hawke and Fiji’s leader Frank Bainimarama, attended last month’s Pacific Islands Forum. (ABC News: Melissa Clarke)

Once described as the Nelson Mandela of the Pacific, Mr Pohiva was jailed in 1996 for contempt of Parliament, and charged with sedition in the wake of the pro-democracy riots that left the capital Nuku’alofa badly damaged in 2006.

Tongan publisher Kalafi Moala knew Mr Pohiva since the 1980s when he spearheaded the pro-democracy movement in the Kingdom, and worked as his media adviser when he became Prime Minister.

“He played a key role in the political development of our nation,” Mr Moala told the ABC’s Pacific Beat program.

“He pioneered the questioning of those in authority … he raised questions that no-one had ever raised before.”

Mr Moala said Mr Pohiva was the best opposition leader the country had seen, but he was less effective as Prime Minister.

Akilisi Pohiva stands a lectern making an address at the United Nations.

PHOTO: Mr Pohiva’s leadership saw conflicts between his Government and the monarchy. (Reuters: Eduardo Munoz)

“He promised that there was going to be reform, he promised to be able to fight corruption, he promised that there would be good governance, that there would be transparency, the maintenance of a free press in Tonga,” he said.

“The complaint in Tonga is that very few, if any, of the promises he made came into being.”

Clashes with the monarchy

Tonga’s Parliament and Cabinet was once stacked with appointees of the King, a situation that persisted until constitutional reforms in 2010.

“Pohiva was really one of the leaders of the movement to give greater say to the public, and to the parliamentary and democratic process,” Jonathan Pryke, the director of the Lowy Institute’s Pacific Islands Program, told the ABC.

“It is a sad day for Tonga, and he was a real pillar and stalwart of the long-fought democratic movement in Tonga.”

After becoming Prime Minister in 2014, Mr Pohiva continued to have conflicts with the monarchy and noble lords who still make up a minority in the country’s 25-member Parliament.

King Tupou VI dissolved the Parliament in 2017, one year ahead of schedule, amid efforts from Mr Pohiva to further limit the power of the King and his advisers in the Privy Council.

Mr Pohiva’s party went on to win the subsequent elections, and he retained his position as Prime Minister.

Before becoming a member of parliament, Mr Pohiva taught history and sociology at the Tongan campus of the University of South Pacific

Links

The Indonesian territory has struggled for independence for more than 50 years.

By Bilveer Singh

Papua has been in constant turmoil for more than 50 years, especially following the territory’s incorporation into Indonesia in 1969. This include incidences of violence where either Papuans, or Indonesian military and civilian personnel, have been killed. For instance, in December 2018, Papuan fighters killed 19 Indonesian construction workers in Nduga, in Papua province. In January 2019, one Indonesian soldier was killed in Nduga and two months later, in March, three more were killed.

August 2019 was particularly violent in Papua. On August 12, a police officer was shot dead. On August 16, a soldier died following an ambush by Papuan fighters. From August 19, right to the end of the month, Papua was embroiled in massive demonstrations in the key cities of Jayapura, Manokwari, Sorong, Fak-Fak as well as in Jakarta, allegedly triggered by Indonesians insulting Papuan students studying in Surabaya and Malang, cities in east Java. Many government buildings were burned in West Papua, including the local parliament in Manokwari, capital city of West Papua. The government sent in additional troops and police personnel and internet services were cut to prevent rumors from inflaming the volatile situation. Jakarta blamed the United Liberation Movement for West Papua and its leader, Benny Wenda, for being behind the demonstrations and violence. In Papua, seven people were killed, including a soldier.

Indonesian Papua

The largely Melanesian Christian population of Indonesian Papua, formerly known as West New Guinea and Irian Jaya, reside in two territories: Papua and West Papua. Indonesia became the successor-state of the territory following the American-brokered 1962 New York Agreement and was made the transitional authority in May 1963. Since then, and particularly following its legal control of Papua — secured in the much-contested, very limited referendum of 1969 called the “Act of Free Choice” — the territory has continuously faced a low-level insurgency.

Key Papuan Grievances

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The Papuans have consistently listed a litany of grievances against Indonesia and which, to a large extent, remain unaddressed. The first pertains to history. Papuans have claimed that they were never consulted when the 1962 New York Agreement was signed providing for the Dutch’s exit from the territory. Papuans have also dismissed the 1969 referendum, which endorsed the territory’s integration into Indonesia, as a sham. Just over 1,000 tribal leaders were picked by the Indonesian military to represent the vote — the region’s population was an estimated 800,000 — and they voted unanimously in favor of Indonesia with a show of hands.

Indonesia has also been accused of gross human rights violations since 1963. This has included the mass death of villagers that were accused of supporting the separatists as well as the killing of key Papuan leaders such as Ferry Awom, Arnold Ap and Theys Eluay, just to name a few.

Economic injustice also looms large. Papua, as one of the most resource-rich areas in the world, is also home to the Papuans, one of the the poorest groups in Indonesia. Papua’s resources are plundered by foreign companies such as PT Freeport Mc-Moran, which owns the world’s largest gold mine in the territory. Massive environmental degradation is also a sore point among the Papuans, who view their forests as sacred communal lands.

Papuans have also opposed Indonesia’s policy of transmigration under which Papuans are becoming an effective minority in their own land. Non-Papuans, mainly Javanese who tend to also be non-Christians, are flooding the territory and controlling the key administrative and political offices. Papuans view Indonesia’s policy as little more than colonization in which the natives are subjected to racial and religious discrimination, marginalization and subjugation.

Papuans’ Response

Among the first major response on the part of the Papuans was to undertake armed struggle against what was perceived as an Indonesian military occupation. This was in part due to President Sukarno’s policy of threatening to invade the then Dutch-occupied territory through the Suharto-led Mandala Command. In 1962, Suharto had been promoted to lead the command, a joint army-navy-air force specifically aimed at carrying out incursions into Dutch-occupied territory as it edged toward possible independence. Following the New York Agreement, the Papuans continued to argue that Indonesia had militarily colonized the territory. The Papuans, in the hope of achieving independence, established a military force that has, at best, been a nuisance to the superior Indonesian military in Papua. While there are many motley, largely tribal-based military units, the most important is the Organisasi Papua Merdeka (OPM) or Papua Independence Organisation that has continuously launched a low-level military campaign against Indonesia. The OPM is deeply divided, under-armed and without international support, making it largely ineffective. Another military outfit, the Tentera Pembebasan Nasional Papua Barat (TPNPB) (National Liberation Army of West Papua) also operates in parts of Papua.

The second strand of response has been political and diplomatic. Papuan leaders have tried to mobilize the local population to oppose Indonesia through demonstrations and strikes, often bringing major cities such as Jayapura, Manokwari, Fak-Fak and Sorong to a standstill, as happened in August 2019. Papuan leaders have also tried to negotiate with Indonesia leaders. Especially in the post-Suharto era, they have gained some concessions from Jakarta. Added to this, the Papuan diaspora is very active in a number of Western countries and in the South Pacific. They have also succeeded in gaining some support internationally from human rights organizations and some governments which have attempted to pressure Indonesia.

Indonesia’s Response

Indonesia, while maintaining tight political, economic and military rule of the territory, has loosened up some controls in response to rising demands for independence from the territory, especially since the late 1990s. In addition to providing greater economic assistance to the province, Indonesia also provided for a special kind of autonomy for the territory, called Otonomi Khusus (otsus) where locals were partially permitted to organize themselves and express their demands. Despite initial optimism, this experiment has largely failed to assuage the Papuans and the problems have continued.

For most Papuans, the lack of trust and faith in Jakarta was evident from the manner in which Papua was split into three provinces in 2003 without much consultation with the local population. Eventually, only two provinces were established, Papua and West Papua, due to the public and court rejection of the third province, Central Irian Jaya.

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Explaining the Continued Papuan Resistance and its Implications

Even though in post-Suharto Indonesia, Papuans have been given a greater sense of autonomy and the security apparatus has broadly been reigned in, instability and conflict have continued. While Papuan-based political and cultural structures have sprouted since the late 1990s — such as Dewan Presidium Papua (Papua Presidium Council), Dewan Adat Papua (Council of Customary Leaders), Majelis Rakyat Papua (Papuan People’s Council) and ELSHAM, (Institute for the Study and Advocacy of Human Rights) — these all failed to function as expected. This was due to internal divisions among the Papuans and the unwillingness of Jakarta to provide greater concessions that would enable these bodies to become champions of Papuan self-determination. The much-hyped otsus and the failure of various concessionary reforms, especially institutional ones, have been principally responsible for the rise of violent and non-violent resistance of Indonesian rule in Papua.

While there exists a relatively broad-based civilian movement, backed by a highly decentralized, somewhat disunited and poorly armed network of guerrilla groups organized under the network of OPM and TPNPB, the Papuans’ quest for independence has been the key point of conflict between the Papuans and the Indonesian authorities. The Papuan armed and civilian-based separatist groups have also pushed for external third parties to mediate the conflict, something which Indonesia has outrightly rejected.

For Indonesia, the 1969 Act of Free Choice was the final phase of decolonization. Papuans reject it and have demanded a new, more representative, referendum to be undertaken to ascertain the wishes of Papuans about their fate inside or outside Indonesia. However, after its experience in East Timor in 1999, in which the territory seceded, Indonesia has no stomach for such an exercise.

Even though Papuans have tried to signal a sense of rising unity, this has been more hopeful than real. In the past and present, a number of political coalitions have existed to champion Papua’s independence. This includes the West Papua National Coalition for Liberation, Papua Consensus, the West Papua National Authority, the West Papua National Committee, the Federal Republic of West Papua and the National Parliament of West Papua, to name a few. In December 2014, the Federal Republic of West Papua, the West Papua National Coalition for Liberation and the National Parliament of West Papua formed a coalition called the United Liberation Movement for West Papua. Three Papuan Congresses have also been held to unify various Papuan political groups and to plan for the territory’s future by Papuan leaders, often with the dismay of the Indonesian security apparatus. Despite the rhetoric of unity, these groups have been unable to cooperate due to differences based on personalities, tribe, and approaches to gain independence—hence, the failure to pressure Indonesia even to negotiate about independence, let alone achieve it.

The Papuans’ sense of dismay and the futility to date of seeking independence has been underscored by the failure of some international support to materialize into greater action. In September 2016, seven leaders of Pacific states championed Papua’s independence at the UN General Assembly, but nothing has actualized beyond rhetoric and platitudes. The issue of Papuan independence has also been regularly raised at the Pacific Island Forum (PIF) and the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) but to no avail.

Papuan Independence Remains a Pipe Dream

The only way forward for Indonesian Papua is through dialogue and the aim should be to expand as much local autonomy as possible. This is to serve the intrinsic interests of Papuans who are historically, ethnically, culturally and religiously different from the majority of Indonesia. The peace model should be Aceh, Mindanao, and Bougainville — not Timor-Leste.

The Papuans’ project of Merdeka or independence has failed due to the internal weaknesses of the movement. The Papuans’ quest for independence is doomed as they are in no position to pressure Indonesia and are unlikely to do so in the near future. The power asymmetry is simply too lop-sided in favor of Indonesia.

This has been exacerbated by the wide-spread corruption of Papuan leaders with most of the otsus funds squandered by local leaders. Papuans have also been deterred by past practices of repression and human rights violations, and a culture of impunity by the security forces. Indonesia has also been strategically adept in splitting Papua into two provinces, with additional splits likely, partly to foster divisions and competition among the Papuans.

Papuan independence also has little support, as the international community prefers to deal with Indonesia than an independent Papua. Jakarta has been adept in incentivizing international multinational corporations such as Freeport-McMoran and British Petroleum to exploit the resource-rich territory, and any loss of Indonesian authority over Papua would negatively affect the investments of these mega corporations from the West. In short, Papuan independence is largely a cry in the dark, all the more, following the UN’s recognition of the territory’s incorporation into Indonesia in 1969.

As long as the Papuans remains divided, with no clear leader or spokesperson, as existed in Aceh’s GAM and Timor-Leste’s FRETILIN, Indonesia will never concede an inch of the territory as it sees itself as the legitimate successor state of the Dutch East Indies. Unlike Timor-Leste, Papua also occupies a cornerstone in Indonesia’s imagination of its territorial integrity described as the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia, something held in sacred by the armed forces and the populace at large.

In view of these factors, the quest for independence will be highly futile. The best way forward would be a dialogue to achieve comprehensive autonomy. This would ensure that political, economic and social-cultural aspects in Papua can be managed by Papuans, for Papuans, including law and order, with the Indonesian military largely deployed for border security. This would be the best of all possible scenarios for the near-term for Indonesia’s Papua.

Bilveer Singh is an Adjunct Senior Fellow at the Centre of Excellence for National Security (CENS) at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) and Associate Professor at the Department of Political Science, National University of Singapore.

Late Tongan PM ‘Akilisi Pohiva remembered as ‘beacon of democracy’

Akilisi Pohiva, a school teacher who evolved into the leading figure of Tonga’s democracy movement to eventually become prime minister, died today. He was 78.

His death was confirmed by the government this morning. Tonga’s parliament has been adjourned indefinitely, and Mr Pohiva’s deputy, Semisi Sika, is the acting prime minister.

Mr Pohiva, who became prime minister in 2014, was flown to an Auckland hospital with pneumonia on Wednesday, his condition steadily deteriorating. Mr Pohiva had been in poor health for the past few years, and he spent much of this year in Auckland being treated for liver complications.

A constant thorn in the side of the monarchy and nobility, Mr Pohiva was for decades the face and voice of Tonga’s pro-democracy movement, his lifelong battle seeing him fired from the public service, charged with sedition, and jailed at various points in his storied life.

But he maintained strong support among the people, who repeatedly voted him into the Tongan parliament after he was first elected in 1987, making him the longest-serving people’s representative.

In 1992, Mr Pohiva organised a democracy conference. Radio Tonga was banned from making any mention of the event, and speakers invited from overseas were turned away at the border, on government orders. Still, about 700 people attended.

“Those people at the top outcast me, they have been trying to isolate me from the rest of my colleagues and from the people, but they could not,” Mr Pohiva told RNZ at the time. “More and more senior people in the country have come to back up and to support the movement.”

“I’m very confident that change will happen.”

It did. Constitutional changes brought in after the 2006 riots in Nuku’alofa eventually cleared the path for Mr Pohiva to become prime minister in 2014, and he was re-elected in 2017 with an increased majority, despite King Tupou VI dissolving parliament and calling a snap election.

“He was a beacon of democracy in the Pacific,” said Malakai Koloamatangi, a Tongan political scientist at Massey University. “He was kind of a reference point for people who wanted more democracy.

“It’s a sad day,” he said.

Democracy Struggle

Samiuela ‘Akilisi Pohiva was born in Fakakai, on the island of Ha’apai, on 7 April 1941. He studied at the University of the South Pacific before beginning a career as a school teacher.

He returned to the USP, teaching history and sociology at the university’s campus on Tongtapu, and it was there that he first became involved in the pro-democracy movement.

Under Tonga’s 1875 constitution, it was the monarch who wielded most of the country’s power, along with a hereditary nobility representing the various village and island groups.

The Privy Council and most of the legislature were appointed by the King.

Then, Tonga’s parliament was split between the nobles and the people’s representatives. There were nine seats reserved for Tonga’s 33 nobles, and nine seats reserved for the people’s representatives, who were elected by about 90,000 people.

In the latter half of the 20th century, a democracy movement started simmering and grew to be increasingly outspoken, and at its forefront was ‘Akilisi Pohiva.

Then a civil servant, Mr Pohiva started contributing to the movement’s radio programme, Matalafo Laukai, and became the assistant editor of its monthly newsletter, Kele’a. As his criticism of the monarchy grew ever more trenchant, Mr Pohiva was fired from the civil service as punishment. He sued for unfair dismissal and won.

He then ran for parliament in 1987 as one of the people’s representatives. But even within the system, he continued to push for dramatic change, his political career marked by constant battles with the government, the nobles and the monarchy.

“The existing system is very much like a dictatorship type of system,” Mr Pohiva told RNZ at the time.

“People have no voice in the present government and we need more representatives of the people to participate in the running of the government.”

Mr Pohiva was often labelled a rebel, but to many Tongans, he was a hero.

Throughout the 1990s, he would spend much of his time in and out of the courts, charged with all manner of things from libel to sedition.

In 1996, he was imprisoned for contempt of parliament after he was found guilty of leaking information to a pro-democracy newspaper edited by Kalafi Moala, who was in jail with him.

“He was without question the best opposition leader Tonga ever had,” Mr Moala said.

He recalled that of the 26 days they spent behind bars, Mr Pohiva spent much of that in hospital suffering from complications with asthma. The trio were released after the Supreme Court ruled their imprisonment unlawful.

“He came into a period in Tongan politics in which changes needed to take place,” Mr Moala said. “He was the one that brought in questions, challenges, he was able to bring scrutiny to the governing powers of the day for over 30 years.”

In 2005, the country was hit by major strikes and public protests which culminated in the riots that destroyed large parts of the capital, Nuku’alofa, in 2006.

In the wake of those riots, Mr Pohiva was again arrested and charged with sedition, the democracy movement accused by the government of fomenting the unrest.

“What happened … is the culmination of several social, economic, political and moral forces which is part of the human struggle for their fundamental rights and their fundamental freedoms,” Mr Pohiva told RNZ as he was awaiting his sedition trial.

“If we go deeper and analyse the causes of the riot we may come out with a different solution to the problem.”

“It would be better for the government to make peace with the people,” he said.

It was thought the democratic movement had been set back when the government invoked emergency powers following the riots, but in 2008, King Tupou V announced that elections would be held in 2010, preceded by constitutional reform.

For the first time, the majority of the legislature would be elected by the people, a move which was hailed as a massive victory for the democracy movement.

Dr Koloamatangi said throughout his career, Mr Pohiva became the most prosecuted person in the history of Tonga.

“One thing we cannot take away from Pohiva is the fact that I’ve never seen anyone persevere for that long for a single cause,” he said.

Mr Pohiva contested the 2010 elections under the banner of his new political party, the Democratic Party of the Friendly Islands, which he formed with members of the kingdom’s human rights and democracy movement.

A noble, Lord Tu’ivakano, was narrowly elected prime minister by a vote in parliament, but Mr Pohiva would accept a position in the cabinet, becoming health minister.

That only lasted a few months. He soon resigned in protest, becoming the de facto opposition leader.

Then, in the 2014 elections, Mr Pohiva finally became the first democratically-elected prime minister in the country’s second democratically-elected parliament.

However, his government became marred by controversy and complaints of ineffectiveness.

Among the problems faced included changes to the education system, a decision to develop a wetland on Tongatapu, and the dismissal of three cabinet ministers, including one who was convicted of bribery.

“He did not prove to be the prime minister that he had hoped to be,” Dr Koloamatangi said.

“He kept on being a political activist and a rebel even though he was prime minister. There was nothing tangible to fight against because he was the establishment. He was maybe fighting against himself.”

Part of those problems were attributed to challenges posed by Tonga’s nascent democracy, including the considerable power that was still wielded by the throne.

That power was wielded in September 2017 when the King made the sudden decision to dissolve parliament more than a year before an election was due.

The Speaker, Lord Tu’ivakano, had gone to the palace to vent his frustrations with Mr Pohiva, and asked for the dissolution.

But Mr Pohiva’s support remained strong. In the November 2017 elections, the prime minister was returned with an increased majority.

His final official trip abroad was to Tuvalu in August, for the Pacific Islands Forum leaders’ meeting.

The Tongan prime minister, 'Akilisi Pohiva, at the 2019 Pacific Islands Forum summit in Tuvalu.

‘Akilisi Pohiva, at the 2019 Pacific Islands Forum summit in Tuvalu. Photo: RNZ / Jamie Tahana

There, he was frail and barely able to walk. But he gave some of the most impassioned moments.

At the leaders’ meeting he broke down in tears speaking of inaction on climate change; at a meeting with civil society leaders, he railed against the region’s decades of inaction on West Papua.

But prophetically, he said it would probably be his last trip.

Tributes flow

Tonga was in mourning, and so was much of the Pacific, with tributes flowing from across the region.

New Zealand’s parliament moved a special motion, mourning the death of one of the region’s strongest leaders. The Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison, said he was terribly saddened. “He was a passionate advocate for his people, for his beloved Tonga and our Pacific family,” Mr Morrison said.

Fiji’s Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama said Mr Pohiva had inspired the world with his raw emotion, and Vanuatu’s Foreign Minister Ralph Regenvanu described him as a good friend and principled leader.

Details of a funeral are yet to be announced, and the Tongan government and royal family are yet to release an official statement.

Mr Pohiva is survived by his seven children. His wife, Neomai, died in December.

Additional reporting from Don Wiseman and Koro Vaka’uta

Fiji prime minister Frank Bainimarama (left) and Tonga prime minister Akilisi Pohiva both spoke on the issue of West Papua at the Pacific Islands Forum in Tuvalu. August 2019.

Fiji prime minister Frank Bainimarama (left) and Tonga prime minister Akilisi Pohiva both spoke on the issue of West Papua at the Pacific Islands Forum in Tuvalu. August 2019. Photo: Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat

Source: RNZ