The debate over the proposed Tapanuli province is heating up again, with some declaring the area in North Sumatra should become a separate province based on the government’s commitment to decentralization and others, particularly Muslim residents of South Tapanuli district, rejecting the idea.
“The proposal [for Tapanuli to become a province] is on the agenda of the North Sumatra Legislative Council,” said Indra Sakti Harahap, chairman of the National Resilience Institute, a Jakarta-based think tank on national defense issues. “There is no reason to abrogate the proposal, which has followed all procedures and met all the requirements set out in the Otda [regional autonomy regulations].”
The proposal was derailed early in February after a mob of Tapanuli supporters attacked a government building in Medan.
Abdul Aziz Angkat, the speaker of the North Sumatra provincial legislature, died of a heart attack during the chaos.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono called for a moratorium on the creation of new provinces following the death of Aziz.
However, Harahap said the proposal should be separated from Aziz’s death and judged on its merits . “The incident was caused by certain people who were unable to exercise self-restraint,” he said. “The formation of Tapanuli province is mandated by our Constitution and regulations, so how could anyone be against it?”
Last year, Yudhoyono instructed Home Minister Mardiyanto and Justice and Human Rights Minister Andi Matalatta to conduct a study on the proposal’s feasibility. The committee that undertook the study maintained a low profile following the tragic incident and in the run-up to the legislative elections, but it may soon become active again.
However, the Indonesian Association of Batak Muslims, or JMBI, is against the creation of a new province, saying it could result in sectarian conflict.
“JMBI will be in the forefront in opposing any effort to approve the proposal to create Tapanuli province,” said Aidan Nazwir Panggabean, the group’s secretary general.
Ritha Dalimunthe, a lecturer at North Sumatra University and an expert on the issue, said the proposal actually served a practical necessity for both the government and the people.
“North Sumatra Province is too big,” she said. “With new districts coming into being now, administration of the area has become ineffective due to the long distances involved. A district head in Tapanuli has to travel 14 hours just to meet the governor in Medan.”
The problem of distance is even more apparent for people in remote villages needing government services in civil affairs like birth certificates, marriage certificates or medical assistance, Rita said.
The proposed province covers some 12,000 square kilometers in the southern part of North Sumatra and has a population of 12 million people.