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Papuans will head to the polls in December 2020

Papuans will head to the polls in December 2020 and according to Indonesian news agency ANTARA, a total of 35 regent and deputy regent candidate pairs took part in the regional elections which will be held in 11 districts in Papua. The regional election comes as the Indonesian public is especially facing COVID-19 and its impact to economy, harbors fear of the disease and financial problem but still have strong belief in democracy. That said, overall sentiment about the regional elections have stayed positive.

Regional authorities in both the Papua and West Papua province will request all candidates to take COVID-19 test as preventive measures. In addition, health protocols will be implemented starting from registration period, campaign and the procedure when people going to polling stations to vote. Voters will be obliged to wear face masks to vote and remain 1.5 metres apart in polling stations, which were equipped with hand sanitizers. Such restrictions are justified in times of pandemic.

In contrast to some views about the situation in Papua and West Papua province, I personally think that the elections in the region reflect the seriousness of the implementation of democracy. Just like in pacific countries, democracy is becoming part of political system. Regarding regional elections in Papua, chairman of the Indonesian KPU, Arif Budiman, explained that the election process in Papua, since 2012, has continued to increase, as evidenced in the 2019 simultaneous elections, the participation rate in the legislative and Presidential election for Papua is above the national average of 95.03 percent. This indicates that the trend of democratic development in Papua is getting better.

This article is not enough to describe and present democracy in all fourteen independent and self-governing political entities: Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Fiji in Melanesia, Tonga, Samoa, Cook Islands, Tuvalu and Niue in Polynesia, and Marshall Islands, Palau, Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), Kiribati and Nauru in Micronesia. Each independent country and self-governing political entities have its own unique characters. Similarly, Papua and West Papua will also have its own characters of democracy. In 2020, at least five Pacific countries Tokelau (January 2020), Vanuatu (March 2020), Kiribati (April 2020), Niue (May 2020), Palau (November 2020) and the Autonomous Region of Bougainville in PNG (August – September 2020) are scheduled to hold elections.

According to the UN Declaration on Democracy [Declaration of the UN on Democracy, Adopted by Inter-Parliamentary Group Council, on its 161st session, (in Cairo, 16 September 1997) in DEMOCRACY: Its principles and achievement, Inter Parliamentary Union, Geneva: 1998], the fundamental function of a state is to guarantee the civil, cultural, economic, political, and social rights. Democracy goes hand in hand with an effective government, honest and transparent, freely chosen and responsible for public governance.

The first principle of democracy from UN Declaration mentioned: “Democracy is a universally recognised ideal as well as a goal, which is based on common values shared by peoples throughout the world community irrespective of cultural, political, social and economic differences. It is thus a basic right of citizenship to be exercised under conditions of freedom, equality, transparency and responsibility, with due respect for the plurality of views, and in the interest of the polity”.

Democracy is gradually become common values shared by any region in the world that practised democracy. In Papua and West Papua, democracy as a value is also flourish among the society, including peaceful protest against local and central government. The existence of a small group that advocates boycott against elections in the region will not be effective because democracy brings better governance, which at the end of the day will benefit Papuan people.

The election may also bring the already conflict-prone region to a difficult situation. For example, the pros and cons of groups supporting or boycotting elections may increase the risk of security. The good news is that administrative and logistic challenges is not as difficult as before due to more experience in holding the event from time to time.  Taken together, the prospects for a free, fair, and peaceful election seem extraordinarily bright.

As a Ni-Vanuatu, I don’t know in detail the existing problem in Papua and West Papua. However, from the perspective of democracy and development, it seems that Papua and West Papua are so successful in implementing democracy and improving Papuan living standard. Not to mention, the massive infrastructure development as instructed by Indonesian president, Jokowi.  I believe Papua and West Papua can be seen as a success story of democracy in the Oceania.