How Papua Voted

Papuan people have a unique way to do an election. Way back to a referendum held in 1969, which is called an Act of Free Choice or Determination of the People’s Opinion (Indonesian: Penentuan Pendapat Rakyat, PEPERA), the Papuan people determine their status whether to be an independent nation or join the Indonesian Republic through a system called noken. The Indonesia military selected 1,025 men and women as were asked to do the voting by raising hands or reading from the prepared scripts. Initially, the noken system is used during the election of the head of the village/region/governor, even the Presidential Election. A fair system as a result of collective and West Papua to do an election.

Noken is a traditional Papuan woven bag made from tree bark and used by Papuans who inhabit 16 districts in the mountainous area. Local people often use it to bring daily necessities such as vegetables, tubers and other merchandises to the market. Due to its uniqueness, UNESCO set noken as one of UNESCO cultural heritage.

Noken system is a mix of indigenous culture and local wisdom of mountainous Papuan people. The Constitutional Court or Mahkamah Konstitusi (MK) also recognize that and validate the result even though eventually, there were many lawsuits were filed to the Constitutional Court regarding the use of the system in the election in Papua and West Papua. However, the Constitutional Court Decree Number 47-48/PHPU.A-VI/2009 Article 18B paragraph (2) of the 1945 states that: “The State recognizes and respects the unity of indigenous peoples along with their traditional rights as long as they are alive and in accordance with the development of society and the principle of the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia, as governed by the law.”

In the noken system, the tribal chief becomes the representative of the agreement made by the villagers. In the general election, there are two systems that are used, namely hanging or noken system and big man system. A system where the tribal chief represents the voters’ voice is called the big man system, while in the noken system, a noken is used as a substitute for the ballot box.

As stated in the Technical Guidance (Juknis) KPU Papua No.1 year 2013, the noken which is used in the noken system is hung on wood. During the election through the noken system, the voters are able to see the ballots which have been mutually agreed upon by the members of the community. The noken system was used during the legislative election on 2014.

Technically, in the noken system, all voters who receive the voting cards should come to the voting place or Tempat Pemungutan Suara (TPS). An empty noken was prepared in front of the voting booth. The number of the hanged noken is adjusted depending on the number of candidates.

When all the voters are already present at the TPS, the Voting Implementation Group or Kelompok Pelaksana Pemungutan Suara (KPPS) will ask the voters to line in front of the number of the noken that represents their chosen candidate. KPPS count the number of the voters for each candidate’s which represents the number of votes the candidate earns. After all the voters have given all their vote, KPPS will then directly make an official report and a vote certification which are signed by the KPPS and the political parties representatives in each TPS.

Problems arise when the noken is used as a symbol in the election. Since the names of candidates, either for the head of the district, legislative members or president and vice president are announced, Papuan people in the mountainous villages begin to engage in discussions. The discussions were held in the traditional houses, religious courts, village hall, or even courtyards, and led by some religious leaders, youth leaders, teachers, or civil servants who are trusted by the local people.

In the discussion, they share information about the background and the achievement of each candidate, even discussing each candidates’ habits, hobbies, characteristics, their attitude toward others, and the universal values ​​they live and fight for. The villagers may also investigate the contribution of the candidates to the village if they happen to come from the same village.

By gaining as much information as possible, the villagers will get a picture which candidate that can be trusted. Each person who holds a right to vote will make a personal decision about the candidate to be chosen. Later on, each of them will tell others about their chosen candidate to test the eligibility of the candidates and get feedback.

The testing of the candidate’s eligibility through discussions takes place until all the voters in the village reach an agreement. The result of the agreement includes the name of the chosen candidate and how much votes can be allocated to him.

The election process in Papua may not meet the “confidential” rules according to election law. However, the key to democracy is the participation of all the people. Thus, in democratic elections, all citizens must participate actively to make decisions about the chosen candidate as represented in the noken system of Papuan people.