Indonesian parliament passes law for the formation of three new provinces in West Papua

On 30 June 2022, the Indonesian parliament passed a controversial law for the formation of three new provinces Papua Tengah, Papua Pegunungan, and Papua Selatan. The lawmakers agreed to the legislation regardless of ongoing protests against the Government’s plan to establish three new provinces in West Papua (see photo, source: independent HRDs). While Jakarta claims the formation of new provinces serves the purpose of pushing development and increasing prosperity in the neglected provinces of Papua and Papua Barat, Papuan civil society groups, academics and intellectuals remain concerned about the government’s plan. They represent the view that the formation of new provinces will inevitably lead to a growing security force presence, more human rights violations and accelerated exploitation of natural resources. Indigenous Papuans are likely to become more marginalized as a result of the expected developments. Various stakeholders in and outside of Papua reacted to the adoption of the new law.

The National Police spokesperson, Ahmad Ramadhan, announced on the same day that the Papuan Police will establish new regional police headquarters in the new provinces. Two days before the law was passed, the Indonesian police chief gave the order to put 1,300 members of the Police Mobile Brigade (Brimob) special unit on alarm because the police feared protests and civil unrest in West Papua. About 300 additional Brimob officers were transferred to the highland town of Wamena, where large-scale protests had repeatedly taken place throughout the past months. As of now the situation in both provinces remained calm.

The United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) declared through its West Papuan Council chairman, Mr Buchtar Tabuni, that the organisation has already elected a temporary government in West Papua and is planning to establish its own new provinces in the West Papuan territory. These provinces should be equivalent to the seven customary areas across West Papua.

Prof Dr Cahyo Pamungkas, a researcher at the National Research and Innovation Agency (BRIN) suspects that Jakarta forced the administrative partitions in order to weaken the consolidation of the West Papuan independence movement. He emphasized that the forced partition is polarizing the civil society in West Papua and widening the gap of distrust between indigenous Papuans and the central Government. These tensions are predicted to rise in the conflict-affected area in the coming weeks now that the law has been passed.

The Papuan Peoples’ Assembly (MRP) sharply criticised the adoption of the law. Previously, the central government revised 20 articles in the pre-existing special autonomy law single-handedly in July 2021. The revised Article 76 (2) of the new Special Autonomy Law now provides the legal foundation for the administrative partition without seeking the agreement of the provincial parliaments and the MRPs. Jakarta had unilaterally forced the amendment of the special autonomy law without meaningful consultation with the Papuan people.

The special autonomy funding was prolonged and the budget increased without evaluating twenty years of special autonomy implementation, criticised the MRP chairman, Timoteus Murib. The MRP has challenged the legality of Jakarta’s unilateral amendments to the special autonomy law in June 2021. The Constitutional Court is currently examining the case.     

It is planned that the new provinces will be established within the next two years. The deputy minister for internal affairs, Mr John Wempi Wetipo, declared that the new governors will be elected in 2024. Other government representatives estimated that the governors for the three new provinces will be elected until February 2023.

NoProvinceRegenciesProvincial capital
1Papua TengahNabire, Puncak Jaya, Paniai, Mimika, Puncak, Dogiyai, Intan Jaya, DeiyaiNabire
2Papua SelatanMerauke, Kabupaten Boven Digoel, Mappi, AsmatMerauke
3Papua PegununganJayawijaya, Pegunungan Bintang, Yahukimo, Tolikara, Mamberamo Tengah, Yalimo, Lanny Jaya, NdugaWamena
Table with new provinces, their regencies and new provincial capitals