Universitas Indonesia Conferences, The 8th International Symposium of Journal Antropologi Indonesia

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Gig Politics in West Papua, Indonesia
Marlon Arthur Huwae, Jaap Timmer

Last modified: 2022-06-06


West Papua, Indonesia, has long been plagued by conflict about sovereignty since the act of free choice in 1969. The act of free choice is considered a shame, and the destiny of West Papua is sealed by 1059 representatives that chose to be integrated with Indonesia. Unfortunately, the quest for the sovereignty of West Papuans can not be completely wiped out by the strong military oppression under New Order (1969-1998) and even power-sharing (special autonomy) under reformation since 2001. The pilar of sovereignty conflict remains polarised into the idea of West Papua as the legitimate integral part of Indonesia and the idea of West Papua as a sovereign independent state. The West Papuans are fragmented into two groups. The first group pursued the idea of sovereignty through the idea of referendum and independence. In contrast, the second group preferred the Papuanisation of the power in the social-economic and political sphere from the district, regency and provincial levels. The interest of the groups is then manifested in coping strategy to secure group interest, seize power and benefits and subdue the rival group.

The research aims at investigating 1)how the West Papuans have historically coped with conflict and state policy since the early 1960s; 2) how special autonomy (2001 to present) has intensified fear, disrupted the lives of Papuans, and changed their coping strategies. The research is carried out in Manokwari, the capital city of Papua Barat Province, West Papua, Indonesia. The data are collected with interviews, diarists, and secondary resources from the government, non-government organisations, and local news. The interview is done with the key informant leaders in Manokwari. The diary entry is used to describe the phenomenon in the two selected villages in District Manokwari Timur and District Manokwari Selatan. The diarist is a West Papuan who lives in the local village and is trained to be a diarist. The diary entry is collected daily, weekly and monthly from January to December 2021. It is a source of meaningful information as travel is prohibited due to the surge of Covid 19 in Manokwari.

The research reveals that West Papuan experience a shrinking of sovereignty. They are marginalised due to the domination of migrants in the economy and political sphere as well as the bolstering of military power associated with the establishment of the new autonomous region in West Papua. The implementation of special autonomy for about 21 years is not able to transform the West Papuan into "the lord over their own land, people, and resource" (Tuan atas negeri sendiri). Accordingly, retaking back the control over the land, the resource, and power in a social, political, and economic sphere (Papuanisation) is considered sovereignty for West Papuans.

The research also reveals that the West Papuan coping strategy to sovereignty, conflict and state policy is evolving with a sense of flexibility and creativity. Historically, from the Dutch Decolonisation Period (1945-1962), UNTEA (United Nations Temporary Executive Administration) period (1962-1963), Indonesian administration (1963-1969), the act of free choice 1969,  to the New Order Period (1969-1998), the coping strategy of West Papuan is a cycle of to resisting, voicing, neglecting, exiting, submitting, pretending (chameleonism), and loyalty. The cycle is related to the creativity and flexibility of the West Papuan to switch between the Indonesian and Independent poles. It then evolved into an umbrella strategy that I called "gig politics". Gig politics is a contract based commitment to fulfilling short term tasks to secure interest, benefit and deflect the danger of shrinking sovereignty and annihilation. Even if the tasks require a long term commitment, it does not necessarily prevent the elites and the West Papuans from engaging publicly or secretly with the idea of Indonesia and independence. These kinds of dualism of becoming Indonesian and, at the same time, the Papuan with independence sentiment, which is less expressed during the New Order, are strongly present under Special Autonomy. In performing the gig politics, the West Papuan elites become time servers. They use information, power and mass support to be flexible and creative to move beyond the boundary of the Indonesia camp and pro-independence camp by capitalising on the idea of NKRI harga mati (The United Republic of Indonesia is immutable) and the idea of Papua Merdeka Harga mati (The independence of Papua is immutable).

In contrast, the community at the village level performs the gig politic by maintaining floating yet reactive neutrality. The community maintain floating neutrality to access the support and development package from the Indonesian government, even though there is still independence sentiment, but it is covert. While maintaining neutrality, the community is also reactive to elite manoeuvre and landscape change at local, national, and international levels to position themselves in a better position to deflect danger and access benefits offered by Indonesian and independent camps.

The research reveals the enabling condition that supports gig politics. First, the pilar of conflict exists in West Papua. The Indonesian and independence camps tried to control by convincing the West Papuans through 1)development programs, cooptation, and intelligence operation, 2)memory of suffering, oppression, deprivation, and the historical flaw of integration related to the 1969 act of free choice and the dream of independence. It caused West Papuans to continuously juggle the idea of NKRI harga mati (The United Republic of Indonesia is immutable) and the idea of Papua Merdeka harga mati (The independence of Papua is immutable). The special autonomy provides power-sharing yet creates extreme deprivation for West Papuans due to migrants' domination, poverty and intense military oppression. The condition caused West Papuans to secure safety and welfare by taking shelter under powerful elites, Indonesian affiliated groups, or even the independent affiliates. Third, the fear and desire felt by West Papuans are shaped by the past memories of suffering and present opportunity from formulating a coping strategy to secure interest in the present and the future. The fear and desire become the balance between engaging and benefiting from either Indonesia or the Independent camp. Finally, the interconnection and entanglement between the West Papuan under Indonesia and the Independent banner are strong, so disentanglement and transfer between banners are liquid and possible. West Papua as habitus is capitalised by both the Indonesian entrepreneur, independent entrepreneur and other profit-oriented entrepreneurs to secure interest in a better position.

It is proposed that a balanced push and pull-driven development be utilised to develop West Papua better.

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