Academic journal article Hemispheres

The Consociational Addition to Indonesia's Centripetalism as a Tactic of the Central Authorities: The Case of Papua 1

Academic journal article Hemispheres

The Consociational Addition to Indonesia's Centripetalism as a Tactic of the Central Authorities: The Case of Papua 1

Article excerpt


In 1963 Indonesia incorporated the western portion of New Guinea (Papua).2 This territory had been colonized in the 19th century by the Dutch, who began in the 1950s to prepare it for independent statehood. The incorporation took place against the will of the Papuans,3 whose resistance to the Indonesians was put down bloodily by the Indonesian army on repeated occasions. The democratization process which began in Indonesia at the end of the 20th century4 led the Jakarta government to pursue a more civilized policy toward the Papuans. The main element of this policy has promised to introduce special autonomy in Papua to reinforce Papuan group rights in the spirit of consociationalism. Formally, therefore, the Indonesians agreed to the introduction in Papua of regional, consociational elements of a political system based on power-sharing, despite the fact that the dominant model of this system in Indonesia is centripetalism. Papua's special autonomy, adopted by law in 2001, notably grants the right for local (ethnic) parties and autonomous and traditional power institutions to function on its territory, as well as special economic rights for the population of this territory (especially in the form of the right to obtain extraordinary developmental funds and the right for Papua to retain a significant portion of the proceeds derived from the exploitation of its natural resources). This special autonomy has never been fully implemented, however, and those of its elements that have been introduced are more beneficial for people migrating from other parts of Indonesia than to the Papuans.

In order to explain this situation, it is necessary to examine the Indonesian central authorities' true intentions behind their decision to make a consociational addition to Indonesia's predominantly centripetal political system. The present article seeks to test the thesis that the central authorities' institution of consociational solutions for Papua in 2001, and their subsequent failure to fully implement those solutions, were in fact tactical moves serving to reduce the threat arising from growing pro-independence aspirations among the Papuans and, in consequence, to firmly attach Papuan territory to Indonesia.

This article is made up of four parts. For the sake of clarity, in the first of them, the author describes the specificity of segmental (ethnic and religious) divisions existing in Indonesia and characterizes the country's power-sharing political system, whose aim is to reduce conflicts in intersegmental relations. The article's second part discusses the course and legitimacy of the process leading to Papua's incorporation in Indonesia and the genesis of the formal institution of special autonomy for Papua. The third part is devoted to the analysis of the most important elements of this special autonomy, their significance, and the degree to which they have been implemented. In the fourth part, the author presents arguments speaking in favor of the article's thesis.


Indonesia is a large archipelago state lying in South-East Asia (the larger part of the Malayan archipelago) and in Melanesia (West New Guinea), with an area of nearly 2 million km2 stretched out latitudinally over 5,000 km. It is the world's fourth most populous state, with about 261 million inhabitants (in 2016),5 who live on over 6,000 islands out of a total of about 17,000 making up Indonesia's territory. Indonesian society is strongly divided ethnically and, to a lesser extent, religiously.

The largest of Indonesia's ethnic groups are the Javanese (over 40% of all inhabitants). Other numerically significant groups are the Sundanese (approx. 15.5%), the Malay (approx. 3.7%), the Batak (approx. 3.6%) and the Madurese (approx. 3%).6 The share of any of the several hundred other native ethnic groups in Indonesia's population is, in every case, under 3%.7 The vast majority of Indonesians, approx. 87%, are Muslim (overwhelmingly Sunni); the number of Christians (Protestants and Catholics) is just under 10%; and Hindus represent approx. …

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