Changing Ethnic Composition and Potential Violent Conflict in Riau Archipelago, Indonesia: An Early Warning Signal
Abstract

Compared to locals, migrants are more likely to be risk takers and have a stronger "fighting" spirit. Therefore, migrants tend to win in the competition with the local people. If the migrants win and they come from different ethnic and religious backgrounds, social jealousy may arise and conflicts can be easily provoked by outsiders. Indeed, many conflicts in Indonesia have been provoked by outsiders, utilising the relatively "balanced" ethnic and religious composition as well as socio-economic disparity among them.

Riau Archipelago is one of the richest provinces in Indonesia. It has become a magnet for people within Indonesia. Because of its history, the Malay often claim to be the putra daerah (the son of the land, the "owner" or "stakeholder" of the land) of the province of Riau Archipelago. However, the rising flow of migration to the province has changed the ethnic and religious composition of the province. With only 37.44% of the total population, the Malay no longer constitute the dominant ethnic group.

This paper analyses socio-economic strata of the population by ethnic and religious groups and finds out that difference by ethnicity seems to be stronger than that by religion. Furthermore, the situation of changing ethnic composition is similar to the changing ethnic and religious composition of the population in Maluku in Eastern Indonesia. Maluku used to have an equal number of Christians and Muslims, but the large flow of Muslim migrants has changed the ratio between the numbers of Muslims and Christians. Being provoked by outsiders, Maluku had suffered a prolonged "religious" conflict since 1999. This paper serves as an early warning signal to policymakers in the Riau Archipelago and cautions that the changing ethnic composition in the region may become a fertile ground for violent conflicts.


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