With Aceh Party Win, Chance for New Era

Banda Aceh. After its resounding victory in Aceh’s gubernatorial election, the real work is just beginning for the Aceh Party.

As Jakarta and the international community cautiously welcome the election of former Free Aceh Movement (GAM) rebels Zaini Abdullah and Muzakir Manaf as governor and deputy governor, Acehnese long for the stability and prosperity once promised by the secessionist group.

Observers say the former rebels have a make-or-break opportunity to cement their credibility as leaders. Unlike when the outgoing governor, Irwandi Yusuf, also a former GAM member, was elected in 2007, the Aceh Party now holds a sweeping majority in the executive and legislative bodies in cities and districts across the province.

Though he served as the form er GAM propaganda chief, Irwandi was not seen as a true representative of the former rebels because he was not endorsed by the Aceh Party’s old guard. He ran as an independent this year.

Zaini, the foreign and health minister for the Aceh government-in-exile in Sweden during the decades-long struggle with Jakarta, and Muzakir, a former GAM military commander, received the unanimous support of the party elites.

Zaini was the chief negotiator for GAM when it signed the 2005 Helsinki peace accord with Jakarta that ended three decades of bloody conflict.

“It’s about both the past and future,” rights activist Hendardi, chairman of the Setara Institute for Peace and Democracy, said in Jakarta on Thursday.

“They have struggled for years in the past to rule the province. And now that they have finally gotten it democratically, it’s a chance that they better use.”

Otherwise, he said, the former rebels will lose credibility — not only at the local level but also nationally and internationally.

“The yardstick will be their ability to reduce conflict, push economic development and tackle corruption,” he said.

While local experts are upbeat about the future of the Aceh Party’s rule, they have underlined the importance of prioritizing public welfare over initiatives like implementing a more stringent version of Shariah law — a central platform of the governor-elect’s campaign that Hendardi said was only lip service to attract voters.

“At the end of the day, people will judge [Zaini] by how much he raises the province’s living standards,” he said.

Nazamuddin Basyah Said, an economist at Syiah Kuala University in Banda Aceh, urged Zaini to put money into fixing Aceh’s irrigation system, highways and seaports.

“Please drop the rhetoric and start taking concrete action,” he said. “Building infrastructure can create jobs and reduce the province’s current 19 percent poverty rate.”

He predicted that with all the former rebels united in support of Zaini and Muzakir, Aceh would benefit from stability. “I believe that there will be a huge difference,” he said. “More investors will come to a secure Aceh.”

Shootings and firebombings took place intermittently across the province during Irwandi’s tenure, spiking during the run-up to the election, and reports of intimidation against voters dogged the polls.

Hendardi said Jakarta had no choice but to accept that former GAM members were now totally in charge in Aceh.

Others weren’t so quick to concede the point. Irwandi’s team announced it was filing a legal motion accusing the Aceh Party of intimidating voters, and asking that the election results be disallowed.

“We found criminal actions, intimidation and fraud during the election. We can’t accept the results,” Ligadinsyah, a member of Irwandi’s campaign team, said in Banda Aceh on Thursday.

Though he predicted the Constitutional Court would throw out the motion, an analyst at an Aceh-based think tank said reports of election-day intimidation and violence must be investigated.

“Zaini and Muzakir are the legitimate governor and deputy governor of Aceh,” said Teuku Ardiansyah, an analyst at the Katahati Institute. “However, we can’t allow a culture of violence to prevail and become the standard practice for winning elections.”

A spokesman for Irwandi said he would form a new party to monitor Zaini’s administration.

Ardiansyah, however, predicted that sooner or later Irwandi and his supporters would make peace with Zaini and the Aceh Party — who, after all, are his former comrades in arms.

“There will a reconciliation between them because they’ve been together in GAM,” he said. “That will take place this year.”

Zaini has indicated that he would be open to making amends with Irwandi.

“We realize that in building Aceh, we need all stakeholders to come aboard,” he said in Banda Aceh on Wednesday.

Source : thejakartaglobe.com