On August 17, 1945, Soekarno officially proclaimed Indonesia’s independence and declared its freedom from the exploitative colonizers that had occupied the archipelago for more than 4 centuries. The struggle to establish a sovereign country and abolish colonialism from Indonesia has been a long and arduous journey since 1509, from the time when the Portuguese colonized Maluku, followed by France, Britain, the Netherlands, and Japan, who alternately controlled various regions of the archipelago.
Struggle for Sovereignty
The independence proclamation during the final years of Japanese colonization did not run without hurdles. The Dutch attempted to reoccupy Indonesia several times through military aggressions. The Dutch, who wanted to defeat the Japanese army, eventually rearmed their soldiers who were previously Japanese prisoners. At the time, for security reasons, President Soekarno and Vice President Hatta moved to Yogyakarta and moved the capital city to Yogyakarta starting from 4 January 1946 until the end of 1949.
In order to handily regain control of Indonesia, the Dutch government launched a dīvide et imperā political strategy and divided Indonesia into several puppet states. Among them were (1) the State of East Indonesia (NIT), formed based on the Denpasar Conference which took place on December 18-24, 1946, with Tjokorda Gde Raka Sukawati as the president of NIT; (2) the State of East Sumatra, formed on March 24, 1948, with Dr. Tengku Mansyur as the president; (3) the State of Madura, formed on February 20, 1948, with R. A. A. Tjakraningrat as the president; (4) the State of Pasundan, formed on February 16, 1948, with R. A. Wiranatakusumah as the president; (5) the State of South Sumatra, formed on August 30, 1948, with Abdul Malik as the president; (6) the State of East Java, formed on November 26, 1948, with R. T. P. Achmad Kusumonegara as the president; and (7) autonomous regions consisting of West Kalimantan, Dayak Besar, Banjar, Southeast Borneo, Central Java, Bangka, Belitung, and Riau, with Sultan Hamid Algadrie II as the president.
Democracy in the Beginning of Independence
After the second military aggression, the transfer of sovereignty from the Netherlands to Indonesia was officially signed on December 27, 1949. Indonesia then began to improve itself and establish a sovereign government. According to the 4th principle of Pancasila, democracy guided by the inner wisdom in the unanimity arising out of deliberations amongst representatives, Indonesia held its first election in 1955 in which Indonesia chose the people’s representatives and constituents tasked with drafting a new constitution in lieu of the Provisional Constitution of 1950 (UUDS 1950). Members of the assembly began to confer on November 10, 1956, but had not succeeded in formulating the new constitution until 1958. For this reason, added with pressure from the people, President Soekarno issued the 1950 decree to revert the 1950 Constitution to the 1945 Constitution.
The second election was held in 1971 to elect members of the House of Representatives (DPR) and Regional House of Representatives (DPRD), while the Indonesian president was elected by the People’s Consultative Assembly (MPR). The history of democratic practices in Indonesia has since been the same. The president was elected by the MPR on the elections of 1977, 1982, 1987, 1992, 1997, and 1999. Since 2004, Indonesia began to elect their president directly through the one man one vote mechanism.
PEPERA, Sovereignty, and Democracy
When the Dutch recognized Indonesia’s independence on December 27, 1949, Papua had yet to be reintegrated with Indonesia, as the Round Table Conference (KMB) conducted in Den Hague on August 23, 1949, agreed that all territories of Dutch colonies were to be part of the Republic of Indonesia, except for West Papua that would be returned to Indonesian jurisdiction 2 years later. In reality, the Dutch later violated the agreement, as they still occupied Papua in 1961. They even planned measures to separate Papua from the Republic of Indonesia. The Papuan National Council (DNP, or Dewan Nasional Papua), the forerunner of the Free Papua Movement (OPM, or Organisasi Papua Merdeka), was hastily formed by the Dutch, followed by the declaration of a puppet state on December 1, 1961.
The cunning Dutch formed a puppet state in Papua, similar to what they had done in other regions of Indonesia, certainly causing an outrage among the Indonesian people. Hence, on December 19, 1961, at the North Town Square of Yogyakarta, Indonesian President Soekarno announced the People’s Triple Command (Operation Trikora) as an attempt to reunite West Irian with the Republic of Indonesia.
After tough diplomatic efforts facilitated by the United Nations (UN), the Dutch finally succumbed and signed the New York Agreement (NYA) with Indonesia on August 15, 1962. Indonesia was represented by Soebandrio and the Dutch was represented by Jan Herman van Roijen and C. W. A. Schurmann. The content of the agreement was essentially a roadmap for the attempt to resolve the dispute over the Papua/West Irian region. Five days later on September 20, 1962, the exchange of the ratification instrument between Indonesia and the Dutch was carried out, but that did not make it automatically come into force, because the UN was involved. Therefore, the UN brought the agreement to the UN General Assembly (UNGA), and it was then accepted and ratified through the UNGA Resolution 1752 which came into force on September 21, 1962.
According to the NYA, the transfer of authority over West Papua from the Dutch to Indonesian government would be conducted indirectly. The Dutch would hand it over to the UN first, then the UN would hand it over to Indonesian government through a referendum known as PEPERA (Penentuan Pendapat Rakyat, or Determination of the People’s Opinion).
Ultimately, on October 1, 1962, the Deputy Governor General of the Netherlands H. Veldkamp surrendered his authority over West Papua to a UN agency specifically formed to deal with the Papuan dispute, named the United Nations Temporary Executive Authority (UNTEA).
UNTEA then prepared the referendum. On May 1, 1963, UNTEA finally handed over the governing of West Papua to Indonesia. Hollandia, which had been the center of power of the Dutch kingdom in Papua, was renamed to Kota Baru. The day is now commemorated as the Day of Return of Papua to the Republic of Indonesia. The history of Papua’s return to the Republic of Indonesia was also clarified by a historical witness, Herman Yoku, in recent years.
Lawsuits Against PEPERA Referendum
Three days later, precisely on May 4, 1963, Soekarno set foot on the land of Papua. In the presence of thousands of Papuans in Kota Baru, Soekarno delivered a passionate speech, “West Irian, since August 17, 1945, has been a territory of the Republic of Indonesia. People sometimes talked about bringing West Irian into the territory of Indonesia. That’s wrong! No! West Irian has always been a territory of the Republic of Indonesia…” (footage of Soekarno’s speech in Kota Baru, Jayapura, May 4, 1963). On September 5, 1963, West Papua was declared a “quarantined area”. Indonesian government disbanded the Papuan Council and prohibited the Papuan flag and national anthem created by the Dutch. This decision was opposed by the OPM.
The preparation for the referendum took seven years. Only in 1969, the referendum (PEPERA) was held, witnessed by two UN envoys. As a result, Papua finally returned to the Republic of Indonesia, becoming the 26th province of Indonesia under the name of Irian Jaya upon the wishes of the Papuan people. This decision, however, was again opposed by the OPM and several independent observers provoked by the Dutch.
To this day, OPM still has successors and propagates their version of history in order to bring about the ideals of a Free Papua. The assumption that the Dutch gave them independence has continued to be the foundation for this organization to act. In reality, the same promise of independence has also been offered to other Indonesian puppet states such as Yogyakarta, etc. The separatist group, backed by the Dutch since the founding, sued the PEPERA for not truly representing the voice of the Papuan people as it did not implement the one man one vote mechanism. However, we cannot deny that the practice of democratic representation has become a part of the democratic culture in Indonesia as well as Papua. In the democratic culture of the Papuan people themselves, there is a system known as Noken, within a community in the Central Mountains of Papua, in which the vote is represented by the tribal chief.
The PEPERA Deliberation Council (DPM, or Dewan Musyawarah PEPERA) of 1,026 members became representatives of the Papuan population, which at the time were 815,904 residents. The DPM members consisted of traditional element (tribal chiefs) as many as 400 people, 360 people from the regional elements, and 266 people from various interest groups. The result, as stated within the acclamation of DMP representatives, was to remain within the Republic of Indonesia. Resolution 1504, stating that Papua is a legitimate territory of the Republic of Indonesia, was approved by 80 UN member states with 20 abstinent states. There was no country that refused the integration of Papua into Indonesian territory. Therefore, Papua was de facto recognized and legitimate as a part of the territory of the Republic of Indonesia. Today, what is worth wondering is actually the legitimacy of the OPM—whether OPM is genuinely the voice of the Papuan people, or only the specific interest of the separatist group—as there is no reliable method that can really ensure whether what they are doing is truly on behalf of the Papuan people.