Noken Voting System, a Unique Shape of Democracy in West Papua

After the New York agreement taking place in the UN headquarter in the United States in 1962 reached out the settlement, Indonesia had a right to temporarily pull strings over the western side of New Guinea Island. Yet, the whole ascendancy couldn’t be performed until the Papuan population participated in the act of free choice better known as PEPERA (Penentuan Pendapat Rakyat) in 1969. The inhabitants were encouraged to do their right of self-determination to ensure whether the people opted for staying with Indonesia or leaving the country’s sovereignty.

According to a report, there were only 1,025 people who cast a ballot from the total population of 800,000. It’s no wonder; the protest of the global independence community was nothing yet inevitable. Some even overreacted and claimed that the exercise of the act of free choice ruined the democratic values, as well as breaking the guide line postulated in the New York agreement. The worse case was poll execution deserved to be called “the act of no choice”. Quite the reverse, the small number of voters was due to the fact that West Papua applied the local wisdom – a noken system.

What is a Noken System?

Instead of electing a leader directly and confidentially, a noken system is an extraordinary electoral method in which any single body has no access in choosing. The election is only performed by certain people, tribal chiefs for instance. The word of noken basically refers to a traditional woven bag commonly used by the locals to do varied activities from loading animals to carrying babies. Interestingly, the object has been listed in the UNESCO as one of the intangible cultural heritage. Why the election system is called so as the voters will put their ballot paper inside the pocket.

The noken system boasts two types – the big man pattern and consensus pattern. When it comes to deciding the personal preference in the election, the big man pattern requires a community chief or a traditional leader trusted by the local society. This kind of election system is often applied in a remote village in West Papua.  And the villagers do not need to take the vote. Meanwhile, the consensus pattern allows the voters to create a consensus so that a group comprised of dozens of people can easily be formed. After the cluster deliberately chooses the meritorious candidate, the resulting ballot is placed inside the sacred noken.

Does the Noken System Literally Bring out Dilemma in the Modern Time?

Since the first election in 1971, the system of Noken has been a potent tool in performing the life of democracy. Under the control of the regime of new order era, this kind of unusual voting method has aroused a shocking array of pros and cons. Any those of you supporting the idea of noken system must give the go-ahead that it represents the uniqueness of democratic life in West Papua. Despite being performed by a traditional leader, the basic principle of this always remains unambiguous. On the edge of your seat, a noken system brings out trouble beyond anybody’s expectation.

Some obviously opposing the concept of the Papuan local wisdom would express their despondency. It is not apposite to be applied as the tendency of taking the people’s freedom of expression away sounds getting bigger. And the same is true with the unfinished regional matter – simply have a look at the validity debate during the local election taking place in 2009. Although the Supreme Court never takes that as serious consideration, as well as questioning it, still, the practice of a noken system is prone to shiftiness and trick. The cheating case occurred in the president election 2014 by the irresponsible individuals is something cannot be forgiven.

How the Noken System is Actually Executed

Once either the national or regional election is held, the voters obtained an invitation letter for coming in a voting spot loaded with a couple of empty noken bags. The amount of the traditional pocket actually depends on the total candidates. After all, voters are present on the election site, the voting committee makes announcement addressed to those planning to determine their choice. Then, they line up creating a row at the noken. Instead of poking a ballot paper and inserting it in a box, the related committee will directly account the total votes based on the number of people standing at the object. Additionally, the electors in some areas replace the voting box while casting a vote. It might sound weird, but that’s the reality.

Apart from the series of issues related to the application of noken system from breaking the democratic values to opening the cheating opportunity, the Papuan local wisdom also brings a dazzling set of positive sides. It could be the shape of people’s loyalty toward their traditional chief or respected leader.