Indonesian Autonomies: Explaining Divergent Self-Government Outcomes in Aceh and Papua

Shane Barter, Associate Professor, Soka University of America; Hipolitus Wangge, Australian National University


Indonesia and Timor-Leste


Territorial autonomy is essential for overcoming separatism and protecting minorities. Indonesia provides two cases through which we can better understand what makes autonomy work. In Aceh, autonomy helped to overcome conflict and can be regarded as successful, while in Papua, autonomy has failed, evident in continued unrest. Within the same country, the same institutional response to separatism at the same time has generated varied outcomes. Why has autonomy succeeded in Aceh, but failed in Papua? Utilizing case and temporal comparisons, this paper suggests that the content of autonomy may be less important than the process through which it unfolds and whom it empowers. Early in Aceh and in Papua, autonomy was essentially imposed, empowering corrupt leaders and undermined by political interventions. Aceh’s ultimately successful autonomy did not differ significantly in content, but was negotiated and empowered former rebel groups. Papua’s failed autonomy centres on transfer payments, disbursements that fuel dependence.

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