Noken System: The Papuan Local Wisdom for Election

The 2017 simultaneous Election (Pilkada) is already in front of us. The atmosphere of support for the candidates everywhere from Aceh to Papua is very thick. The Regional Election Committee (KPUD) in every region are still preparing various instruments to support this event.

Amidst the hustle and bustle of the 2017 general election, there is something that distinguishes Papua from other provinces. Since the New Order under the former president of Soeharto up to the Reformation era, the method is always direct election with the basic principles of Direct, Public, and Confidential (LUBER) and Honest and Fair (JURDIL). However, the method that applies in Papua is different from the other provinces, because they are using Noken System for various elections.

What is Noken System?

Noken, the word is so familiar with Papua because it is a world heritage from Papua. Noken has been used by the Papuans for generations and UNESCO has acknowledged it on its “List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding”. Noken is a woven bag that is used by the Papuan people for various activities, such as carrying items, animals (such as pigs) and even to carry baby.

Noken has been such a special part of the Papuan people that they make it as their election system. The Noken System is an agreement system by the Papuan people which is applied at the polling station (TPS). They vote using available election paper then put the paper inside the provided Noken.

Noken System
Noken System as Election System Papua via

Noken System it self has several types. First, Noken System with Big Man pattern, where the voting is given to or represented by the traditional leader or chief of the community. With this type, the people of the community will trust the traditional leader to elect the candidates. This symbolizes that the traditional leader is the big man who has a great influence to determine the elected candidates and party.

Secondly, Noken System with Consensus pattern where the people or voters make a consensus as a group to choose the elected candidate and then the result will be put inside the Noken.


The Dilemma of Noken System in Today’s World

Noken system is allegedly has already been used in the 1971 election. Hence, it was used for the first time in the New Order era. Since then, the this system has been applied side by side with the general election system. As a product of a culture that has long existed, this system has pros and cons.

For those who are pro Noken system, it is deemed as a symbol of the participation of the Papuan people in the democratic event. Although the vote should be discussed or represented by the traditional leaders, the Noken System has some of the recognized universal principles, which is Transparent.

However, for those who are cons, this Noken System is considered as taking away the voting freedom of the people. The validity of Noken System was then debated during the Regional Election in 2009 that ended with a disputed voice count when Noken System was applied.  Although in the end, the Supreme Court didn’t abolish the vote resulted from Noken System, it was still clouding the democratic celebration in Indonesia. Furthermore, in the Presidential Election on 2014, one of the candidate pair sued the voting results that was obtained in Papua using Noken System.

Noken System
General Election in Papua via


In last March, the Vice Chairman of Commissions II, Ahmad Riza Patria has agreed to eliminate the Noken System. He also supports the idea of having a committee that is specialized in the Election to eliminate the Noken System in Papua. The reason is that the Noken System is considered to hold back the freedom of the Papuan people to vote.

According to him, as cited from, if Noken System continues it will be hard to educate the Papuan people.  Since the voting is still entrusted to the traditional leader or chief.

“If we let Noken System exists in Papua, we will not be able to educate the people of Papua. We would just legitimize the fact that the Papuan people are not intelligent, since the voting system is still handed over to the traditional leader or traditional chief” he said.

On the other hand, KPU as the institution that has a full policy of general election has considered not to eliminate the Noken System due to the consideration of local wisdom in Indonesia. Thus, his department is very careful when changing the system in to a one man one vote one count system, because it is related to the existing agreement in Papuan tradition and the right of the people who live there.

“Accordingly, concerning the Noken System, we are very careful when we talk about the issues of human rights being violated in this system.  We are focusing on the accountability of the administration right now,” said (RIP)Husni Kamil Manik, March 2016, cited from

Various problems that have occurred when Noken system was implemented have made many areas in Papua and West Papua provinces to leave this system and change it into the one man one vote one count system. Even so, there are still six remaining districts in Papua that are still using noken system to vote in the upcoming Regional Election of 2017, namely Puncak Jaya, Intan Jaya, Tolikara, Lanny Jaya, Nduga and Dogiay district.

Certainly, this should be given special attention to avoid commotion over voting rights between areas that are still using noken system and those that has moved past it. In search of the ideal electoral system in Papua, the General Election Committee still administers the voting results over the six districts and those who are not using the noken system anymore are prohibited to use it again.

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