Challenges of Handling Conflict During Elections

28 November 2023

Amid the frenzied wave of elections, where the public spotlight is on the political stage, behind the scenes, the problems of land conflicts and exploitation of natural resources continue to simmer in the background. In addition to the big question of the relevance of elections with so many problems and conflicts, the conveners of land and natural resource conflict management are faced with various challenges. 

The General Elections in Indonesia, post-Reformasi, have consistently inundated public spaces with an air of intense competition through a variety of approaches. This phenomenon encompasses presidential, regional heads, and legislative elections. Posters and billboards displaying the likenesses of the candidates are prominently displayed in various locations, accompanied by messages in the form of promises should they be elected. Additionally, the spirit of competition has now permeated into private spaces through the dissemination of various content on social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and various messaging applications. Beyond mere political promises, there have been instances of attempting to discredit the reputation of competing contestants. 

Normatively, elections should provide an opportunity to raise issues of land and natural resources, but in technical implementation, the process of handling cases could be delayed until after the elections. This is due to the complexities and challenges faced by conflict handling conveners, which must, among other things, maintain their ethics and the principles of neutrality and impartiality, and must seek to facilitate conducive dialogue among the conflicting parties.

One of the many challenges and complexities faced by conflict handling institutions is the government regulation that restricts assembly opportunities that are not election-related. Although this challenge can still be creatively responded to through caucus approaches to explore the aspirations and interests of the parties, as well as tiered negotiations, or even using online media, the spirit of the social process of a dialog to find a common solution will be diminished. This is one of the lessons learned from the experience during the two-year Covid-19 pandemic. Face-to-face or offline meetings remain an irreplaceable option. 

Furthermore, it should be noted that electoral processes have the potential to create divisions within  communities based on varying political ideologies. As a result, despite being tangential to the underlying matter at hand, such polarization could hinder the achievement of consensus when attempting to resolve conflicts related to land and natural resources. This is especially true in cases where members of opposing parties hold diverging political preferences, which could impede their willingness to engage in productive negotiations with one another. Moreover, the situation can be exacerbated if certain parties exploit the conflicts for their own political gain during election periods.

An issue of equal importance pertains to the uncertainties following an election. These uncertainties primarily revolve around the regulatory pathways and legitimacy of the parties’ peace agreement, as well as the likelihood of implementing the discussed and negotiated points of contention. Will the newly elected government maintain the policies of the previous government, or will they introduce new policies that have a direct or indirect impact on land and natural resource matters? Such a development may cause the conflicting parties to hesitate in finding a resolution to the underlying conflict.

Despite the potential for adaptive and creative responses by conflict resolution conveners, it can be argued that the election period is not conducive to organizing technical activities related to land and natural resource conflict resolution. In light of this, the conflict resolution conveners may negotiate with the involved parties to postpone these activities until after the elections, explaining the aforementioned challenges and complexities as justification.

Photo illustration by Weny Lisa.