Noken and Act of Free Choice
Since the beginning of the country, the Republic of Indonesia has been using democracy as its government system. The system involves the rule of majority where the people have the right to participate in political choices and civic laws.
Democracy is also known as one of the systems that protect the human rights. However, the rule of the majority should be facilitated by a parliament or a representative board to collect the majority voice and process it under the applied law.
Apparently, Indonesia adopted the democratic system because it is similar to Indonesia’s cultural tradition. Indonesia had known the concept of discussion, forum, and majority rules through what we call as “musyawarah” in many parts of Indonesia cultures.
The History of Noken System in West Papua
The traditional democracy is also known in West Papua as the noken system. In the system, the people gather to discuss the choices they have and which one is the best for them. This applies very strongly especially to election or voting for state officials, representatives, and president.
Historically, “noken” is a traditional bag made of plaited plants or roots. It is sometimes decorated with natural colorings to make it look more attractive and personalized. To Papuan people, noken is not just a bag, but also a personal identity in which the person who looks inside the bag would immediately recognize who’s the bag owner.
The term “noken system” as a voting system has been used since the occurrence of PEPERA in 1969. At the time, the act of free choice allowed the people of Papua, native and residents, to choose whether West Papua will unite with Indonesia or stand as a sovereign country. Since then, the noken system has been used in every election in West Papua. The following part is about noken and act of free choice.
The Act of Free Choice (PEPERA)
The act of free choice or PEPERA in West Papua was held for around six months. The aim of the PEPERA was to decide the unification of West Papua to Indonesia. According to the New York Agreement, an act of free choice should be held in West Papua to reveal the majority vote.
Though the PEPERA should be done through a conventional voting system, Papuan people decided to do the opinion poll through the noken system. Principally, it was done through three steps:
- The first step was held on 24 March 1969. A discussion was held on the Jayapura’s governing board to decide the system of PEPERA.
- In June 1969, the government chose the board of representative to facilitate the PEPERA.
- From June 1969 to 4th of August 1969, the PEPERA was held through the noken system from Merauke to Jayapura.
The process of the act of free choice was supervised by the United Nation, Australia, and Dutch representatives. Finished with the steps, the result of the PEPERA was taken to the United Nation’s court and was published on 19 November 1969. The result of the PEPERA was West Papua decided to unite with the Republic of Indonesia
The Differences between Noken System and Conventional Voting System
In the conventional voting system, participants are asked to come to a place where the voting will be held. The participants would then write or pin their choice on a piece of paper. The paper should be collected inside a box, and the participants should submit the paper by themselves – supervised by the committee.
At the end of the day when each of the participants has collected the voting paper, the box would be unlocked and counted. The most voted choice would be the voice of the majority and thus would be elected.
Meanwhile, the noken system takes a lot of communication between the participants. Days before the voting day, the people or the participants would gather and discuss the choices. They would discuss the positive and negative side of the choice and which one they should pick.
On the traditional noken system, the choice was made after the discussion reached an agreement. Thus, the majority voice is reached through the discussion. However, the noken system in West Papua was modified to give the government an easier way to validate the result.
On the voting day, several noken are hung on a wooden pole to represent each of the choices. The voting would not start until all of the participants come. When the participants have come to the voting center, they would be asked to stand in front of the chosen noken that represent their choices.
There would be a big possibility that the people have known the result of the noken system before the voting day come. It is because they have discussed their choice long before the government arranges the formal voting time and place.
Noken System in the Present Day
Some people have argued that the noken system is not as eligible as the conventional voting system under a democratic republic. However, the Indonesian government has agreed to the decision of the supreme court of Indonesia which was written in Keputusan MK Nomor: 47-48/PHPU.A-VI/2009. The decision states that the Indonesian government should respect the traditional and local wisdom and its rights as long as it does not oppose the existing law in Indonesia.
Thus, respecting the noken system means respecting the Indonesian government and its rule of the majority.
Noken and Act of Free Choice is genius combination of culture and politics in Papua and West Papua.