‘Gloves Off’ as Aceh Elections Loom: ICG

Aceh will hold its second post-conflict election in November and, according to the International Crisis Group, it will be bitterly contested by two former Free Aceh Movement (GAM) allies.

A press release from the International Crisis Group says the elections will pit incumbent Governor Irwandi Yusuf, a former GAM member, against the GAM political party candidate, Zaini Abdullah.

Yusuf won a landslide victory as an independent candidate over a GAM-backed candidate in Aceh’s first post-conflict election in 2006. His ties to GAM date back to 1990 and he eventually served as its propaganda chief before renouncing his association with the former separatist group in the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami.

The ICG reports that Zaini Abdullah was the former “foreign minister” of the GAM political party, Partai Aceh. He spent 25 years in exile in Sweden.

The report says the election could be decided before November.

At the heart of the debate is the eligibility of independent candidates. Yusuf, again running  independently, has a chance of being re-elected should independent candidates be allowed. Otherwise, Partai Aceh would likely have a clear path to the governor’s seat, the report stated.

The 2006 Helsinki peace agreement that granted Aceh regional autonomy also allowed independent candidates to run in elections “only until local parties could be established.” But the Indonesian Constitutional Court struck this down, ruling it was unconstitutional, according to ICG.

The report says Partai Aceh countered with its own rejection of the court’s ruling, saying the court overstepped its jurisdictional boundary.

Partai Aceh contended, “If the court can overturn this article, other articles could follow, and little by little, the gains achieved in Helsinki would be eroded.”

The ICG states this friction between the two parties is “ultimately good for democracy,” as long as it does not lead to violence.

“The gloves are off”, says Jim Della-Giacoma, Crisis Group’s Southeast Asia project director.

“The challenge for the GAM factions going forward will be to use competition to produce better policies and improve social services without losing sight of the hard-won political gains of the Helsinki process.” Stephen Schaber

Source : Jakarta Globe 15 Juni 2011