Again this year, the indecisive policies of Jakarta were met with disillusionment in Papua, albeit amid hopes of change after President Megawati Sukarnoputri was ousted in the national parliamentary elections. Before a devastating tsunami hit coastal stretches of Asia and Southeast Asia including the province of Aceh and west-coastal stretches of North Sumatra on 26 December 2004, the year in Indonesia looked likely to be remembered as one in which a major step was made toward the consolidation of democracy. Elections held in April, July, and September resulted in a new parliament and new regional legislators. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (popularly know as SBY ), a former army general, defeated Sukarnoputri on charisma, apurported no-nonsense approach tostagnating reform and growing corruption, and the promise to peacefully resolve the tensions in Papua and Aceh.
Fear that concessions to Papua would encourage separatists remained widespread among officials in the central government. On 5 January, the Indonesian Army chief of staff, General Ryamizard Ryacudu, reminded the nation that it might lose Papua and Aceh because of threats from "modern warfare." He suggested that rampant human rights allegations made by foreign parties against the military were part of a conspiracy to separate the provinces. Ryacudu claimed that the conspirators had enlisted several nongovernmental organizations to meet their goals, not least the United Nations.
Out of fear that Papua might become a second East Timor, the majority of Indonesian policymakers continued to respond ambiguously to demands for justice and equal sharing from Papua. Support continued for weakening institutions that could foster Papuan nationalism, and new ill-prepared provincial and district governments were allowed to assume responsibility over large amounts of funds and to face the huge challenges associated with bringing services and enhanced economic and educational opportunities to the people. While most Papuan leaders demanded recognition of the myriad problems faced by the people, certain parties inJakarta as well as elements of the Papuan elite continued to support the establishment of the province of West Irian Jaya. In an atmosphere of confusion and distrust of the central government, the people of Papua embraced the possibility of casting votes for political change.
The first polling took place on 5 April and led to the election of members for a 550-seat parliament, the council of regional representatives, provincial legislatures, and regent/ municipal legislatures. Overall, the election reflected clear nationwide aspirations for a democratic solution to feelings of marginalization and grievance over the poor delivery of [End Page 448] services. Unlike during the national election in June 1999, no boycotts, no demonstrations, and no major frauds occurred. Violent conflict in areas of Papua renowned for ethnic discord, such as Mimika, Wamena, and Sorong, did not eventuate. Well before the election, the Provincial Elections Commission in Jayapura became worried about shortage of funds to finance the complicated logistics. In early March, the governor of Papua indicated that of twenty regencies in the province (excluding West Irian Jaya), nine had not yet received any materials for the legislative elections. The General Elections Committee in Jakarta responded that they had asked the National Military Forces ( TNI ) to help distribute the materials in the case of an emergency.However, a few days after the elections, the highlands district of Pegunungan Bintang and the subdistrict of Okaba (Merauke) reported that they had yet to hold polls due to the late arrival of election materials from the General Elections Committee.
During the months preceding theApril polls, tensions developed between the provincial administration and the elections committee. The friction had to do with the lingering controversy over the division of the province. Papuan bureaucrats accused the committee of being contaminated by government interests, as the new province was not mentioned in the Election Law while West Irian Jaya's acting governor, Abraham Atururi, had required all legislative candidates to accept the new province's existence. In mid-January, Bambang Widjoyanto, the head of the Papua Special Autonomy Defence Team that filed a law suit against the division of the province, stated that Law No. 45/1999 for that division was orchestrated by the Sukarnoputri-led Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle ( PDI-P ) to weaken the dominant Golkar Party in the...