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Politics lead former GAM guerrillas to part ways

Jakarta Post - February 28, 2012

[Aceh's second direct gubernatorial election is scheduled for April 9, after five delays following unsolved deaths, violence and former governor Irwandi Yusuf's legal battle to run for governor again. This is the second of three reports by The Jakarta Post's Nani Afrida on the election and the Free Aceh Movement, which waged a decades-long violent separatist movement against the central government.]

Banda Aceh was covered in the red banners of the Aceh Party after thousands of residents flocked to the provincial capital's largest stadium for a rally earlier this month.

Party supporters came from every regency in Aceh traveling by truck, pickup, private car, motorcycle and even pedicab to back the bid of Zaini Abdullah and Muzakir Manaf to be Aceh's next governor and deputy governor.

Zaini and Muzakir have been touted as one of the strongest campaigns in the run up to election day. Zaini was a negotiator for the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) at the 2005 peace talks in Helsinki, Finland, while Muzakir was a GAM guerrilla commander.

The pair was nominated by the Aceh Party (Partai Aceh), which won over 40 percent of the seats on the Aceh Legislative Council in the province's first elections after the peace agreement.

Their rivals are the campaigns of Irwandi Yusuf and Muhyan Yunan, Teungku Ahmad Tajudin and Teuku Suriansyah, Darni M Daud and Ahmad Fauzi and Muhammad Nazar and Nova Iriansyah. Nazar served as deputy governor to Irwandi Yusuf, Aceh's first directly elected governor.

During the celebration at the Dimoertala Lampineung Stadium, Aceh Party supporters were heard yelling "God is Great!" and "Long live Aceh!" while raising GAM red flags.

"My brothers, there is no war anymore in Aceh!" Muzakir shouted to supporters. "What we should worry about in Aceh now is how to create peaceful conditions here and in Indonesia."

Clad in traditional yellow-and-black Acehnese clothing, Muzakir exuded confidence before the crowd. The former guerrilla leader's post-war experience in business has transformed the previously quiet man.

Meanwhile, the Aceh Party regards former governor Irwandi as an erstwhile ally after he refused to comply with the wishes of former GAM leaders who opposed his latest bid to lead the province as an independent candidate. Irwandi's support among the party's faithful has plummeted, for, among other things, a perceived failure to implement the mandates of the 2005 agreement.

Under the 2006 Aceh Governance Law, independent candidates were allowed to run only in the first election after the separatist movement ended.

Irwandi challenged the law, eventually triumphing after the Constitutional Court overturned the ban on independent candidates. His rivals remain dismayed by the court's decision.

"We want the election to proceed according to regulations so that it would be fair," Zaini told The Jakarta Post, denying rumors that the Aceh Party would boycott the election.

Separately, Irwandi told the Post that he and the Aceh Party have been competing since 2006, after he and Nazar won the gubernatorial election, defeating former GAM member candidates Hasbi Abdullah and Humam Hamid.

Members of the separatist movement were given full rights as Indonesian citizens to vote and to run for office after GAM disbanded following Helsinki.

Irwandi was supported by local former GAM members, while Hasbi was supported by GAM's elite in exile in Sweden, including Zaini Abdullah and Malik Mahmud. "I thought we had reconciled after I won the race. I don't know why they hate me so," Irwandi said.

Irwandi and Zaini both claim support from Jakarta; as in, for instance, the Constitutional Court's ruling favoring Irwandi.

Both campaigns also claim wide support from former GAM members throughout Aceh. Irwandi said that he was supported by 14 former GAM leaders who had been fired by the Aceh Party.

"They were fired because they supported me," Irwandi said, adding that he was counting on voter support in Great Aceh, East Aceh, Aceh Jaya and Western Aceh regencies.

Meanwhile, Zaini said that the Aceh Party's strong support of his bid was evident in the party's dominance in East Aceh, where 60 percent of Aceh's population of 4 million reside.

Zaini also claimed to have the support of the Acehnese people, national political parties and former militia members in Central Aceh, mostly comprising Javanese migrants and their descendants. "The Aceh Party is not only for former combatants, but for all Acehnese," Zaini said.

The dispute between Irwandi and the Aceh Party has raised security concerns. Irwandi's campaign has been the target of several violent attacks. On Feb. 6, for example, gunmen fired into the house of Irwandi campaign official Asnawi A Rahman in Peureulak, East Aceh. A further 15 people were injured or killed in 17 violent incidents in Aceh last year.

Irwandi and the Aceh Party claim that the violence was not connected to the election, despite a contrary assessment from Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Djoko Suyanto.

The police have intensified operations and raids to prevent the circulation and the use of firearms in the run up to election day. The Aceh Police have warned local residents to turn over all firearms to the police by Feb. 20 or face a maximum penalty of death or life imprisonment under the 1951 Emergency Law.

However, only 10 of an estimated 2,000 pistols and rifles remaining in private hands after the insurgency ended have been turned in, the police said. Local residents have been hesitant to give up their weapons, fearing that they might become the victims of intimidation campaigns, deliberate attacks or simply caught in the crossfire as election day approaches.

In the last election, local residents were only concerned about being caught between the Indonesian Military and the GAM. Today, some residents said they were more afraid of the two competing groups of former freedom fighters.

In response, the local election commission is reportedly planning to provide voting stations with taller boxes to collect ballots to prevent people from being seen as they vote.

The central government has also been keeping a close watch on Aceh's local elections and was backing the campaign of Muhammad Nazar, the former student activist and deputy governor, according to a campaign source who declined to be named. "Jakarta must be still traumatized by the GAM, so they prefer Nazar instead of Irwandi or Zaini," the source said.

The TNI also has an interest in the election. Maj. Gen. (ret.) Sunarko has been campaigning for the Aceh Party, while both Nazar and Irwandi reportedly have their own supporters from the ranks of active and retired TNI officers, although both campaigns have denied such support.

Meanwhile, average Acehnese in the street are hoping for speedy elections so that they can continue their lives in peace. "The delays, the violent incidents and the spread of rumors makes it hard for us to go about earning a living," a resident of Bireun said.

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