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Alumni News

News from and about MPI Alumni

Peacebuilding Work In The Time of Elections

Peacebuilding Work In The Time of Elections

Elections are one of the key elements of democracy. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights ensures the fundamental right of every citizen in democratic nations to take part in the government of his or her country through transparent and open elections.1 However, peacebuilders continue to face the challenge of ensuring and guarding the integrity of elections through people’s participation, especially in ethnically plural societies. In the Philippines, the International Observer Mission reported that the 2022 presidential elections “were marred by a higher level of failure of the electronic voting system than ever before, along with a higher level of blatant vote-buying, disturbing level of red-tagging and a number of incidents of deadly violence.”2 The rampant use of disinformation allegedly perpetuated by those with well-oiled political machinery continues to pose challenges in the age of new media and only exacerbates the pre-existing divisive political rhetoric and public mistrust in the system.

In this issue of our newsletter, five MPI alumni and one former training facilitator reflect on the lessons they have learned in observing and participating in elections in their respective countries and the role of peacebuilders in establishing and/or maintaining the peaceful conduct of this democratic process. Latifa Nawroozi shares the impact of the 2014 and 2019 elections in Afghanistan and how they contributed to the Taliban takeover. Ridwan al-Makassary writes about the crucial role of peacebuilders in ending election-related violence in Papua, Indonesia. Padmakumar MM reflects on the importance of critical thinking to curb disinformation especially during elections. Balázs Áron Kovács weighs in on how peacebuilders can balance their role as a bridge to the communities while being engaged in electoral politics. And Jose Caetano Guterres and Elsa “Uka” Pinto look back on the 20 years of Timor-Leste elections and the efforts of many peacebuilders to ensure free and fair elections in the country.

Maintaining Peace in Local Elections in the Highlands of Papua: Some Observations

Maintaining Peace in Local Elections in the Highlands of Papua: Some Observations

Papua, Indonesia, has been a politically turbulent region since 1969 due to Papuan nationalists continued fight for separation from the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia. There have been countless lives lost and property destroyed in the protracted conflict. In addition, there is a horizontal conflict between Papuans related to local elections for regional leadership, especially in the highlands of Papua, where a candidate’s defeat when not accepted by one party can result in deadly violence. For example, in 2017, violent conflict in Puncak Jaya and Intan Jaya during local elections resulted in 19 deaths, dozens of people injured and several state and private facilities heavily damaged. The violence linked to the elections led to further deadly violence, blamed on Papuan nationalist groups.

There are a number of factors relating to why Papuan local elections are marked by violence. I contend that one key factor is the unintended consequences of using the Noken system. Noken refers to a woven bag of bark fibers that has a central role in the lives of Papuans and is used in elections as ballot boxes. There are two ways the bag can be used in the Noken system. The first is the “big man” system (authoritative man), which leaves the choice entirely to the chief. The chief can vote to represent his members. The second approach, namely the "hanging Noken" system, is based on the results of mutual agreement between the community and the chief after a deliberation process (giving deep consideration to voting involving all parties before deciding). Votes can be given to one candidate only or divided among several candidates, if agreed beforehand. To date, according to the Supreme Court, the Noken system can operate in 13 regions in Papua. However, there is a view that the element of community deliberation in the Noken system has disappeared in reality. "The head of the local election commission in Yalimo kabupaten, for example, has contended that the Noken system should be rejected on the grounds that it violates the constitutional rights of citizens" (IPAC, 2018).

The Importance of Peacebuilding to Peaceful Elections in Timor-Leste

The Importance of Peacebuilding to Peaceful Elections in Timor-Leste

Photo: MPI alumna Leonesia Tecla da Silva (2nd from left) with Police Commander of Police Training Center, Superintendent Arquimino Ramos, President of APTA, and a representative from the NGO Belun at the roundtable discussion on August 18, 2021

This year, Timor-Leste celebrated the 20th year since its independence on May 20, 2002. Just two months before the anniversary of its independence, Timor-Leste held its fifth presidential election, with the first round on March 19 and the second round on April 19, 2022. It has been due to the efforts of many peacebuilders that Timor-Leste was able to hold peaceful elections and has grown to be a relatively safe and stable country. In this joint piece, two Timorese peacebuilders and MPI alumni, Jose Caetano Guterres and Elsa “Uka” Pinto share how Timor-Leste arrived at where it is today and the role of peacebuilders in fostering a just society and peaceful elections.

What are peacebuilders to do with elections?

What are peacebuilders to do with elections?

Touted as celebrations of democracy, or the way to resolve power struggles peacefully, elections are an important, yet treacherous arena for peacebuilders. Electoral politics provides an arena to advocate for peace, to highlight what binds a political community together. Yet, it also tests peacebuilders' skills to build bridges and to remain neutral, especially when some candidates promote unpeaceful policies.

What We Can and Ought to Do While Facing an Information Disorder

What We Can and Ought to Do While Facing an Information Disorder

For any nation to exercise a healthy democracy, access to relevant, authentic, and vital information is absolutely crucial. Think about ignorant citizens—not knowing who are contesting elections in their constituencies, or what their track records or election promises are—going to vote and decide the destiny of their nation; imagine a state in the garb of disseminating public information, running a well-oiled propaganda machine; reflect on the last set of hate-spewing viral social media posts, that, after whipping up a sensation and doing some irreparable damage to the peaceful co-existence of different communities, is later found by fact-checkers to have been a bundle of lies. Many of our polities exist in such an environment dominated by deception, “alternative facts,” and post-truth, questioning the endurance of democracy.  

While people, structures, and platforms that surreptitiously fudge public data, peddle half-truths, promote misleading content, and manipulate public perceptions are indeed a big problem, our inability as a socio-political collective to critically process and consume media content is a bigger challenge. While a few of us desperately search for information that is trustworthy and useful, apply critical filters, and resist the temptation to settle for an easy conclusion, most of the public is not aware that vast swathes of the information ecosystem are alarmingly polluted. So, the need for strategic media and information literacy is acute and urgent.