Indonesia: GAM vs GAM in the Aceh Elections

June 16, 2011, 8:17 p.m.

The provincial elections for governor in Aceh will take place on November 14, 2011.  The update briefing by the International Crisis Group, Indonesia: GAM vs GAM in the Aceh Elections, provides an overview of the current electoral makeup and challenges being faced.  The main candidates are: Irwandi Yusuf (current governor), Zaini Abdullah (main opposition candidate supported by Partai Aceh), Muhammad Nazar, Mawardy Nurdin, Darni Daud, and Tarmizi Karim.  The main tensions exist between Irawndi and Zaini.  Partai Aceh controls a majority in the provincial parliament and has attempted to pass legislation to eliminate independent candidates, which would eliminate Irwandi who is currently leading in the polls, but the Constitutional Court overturned the legislation as unconstitutional.  An alternative approach the Partai Aceh may attempt, is to use stalling tactics that would force the elections to take place after the current governor’s term expires, thereby reducing the amount of resources he has access to. 

The bigger problem for Aceh is how to curb the autocratic tendencies of Partai Aceh without undermining the political gains won in the 2005 Helsinki Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that brought an end to three decades of conflict.

The brief also discusses the upcoming local races (17 races) and the role the KPA plays in politics.  The KPA originated as a way to integrate the former combatants into society and to find them jobs.  However, over time they have become a very strong, dominant force often acting as a type of mafia with a strong influence on politics and business in Aceh.  It is difficult to win support and/or elections without KPA backing. 
The KPA may turn out to be the greatest scourge of postconflict Aceh. It was originally set up in December 2005 by GAM’s then highest decision-making body, the National Council (Majelis Nasional), as a way to help oversee the reintegration of former combatants and ease the transition from conflict to peace. As Muzakkir Manaf said when he dissolved the Aceh National Army, “the main goal of the KPA is to see that former fighters get jobs”. In the five years that have passed since its founding, senior KPA members have not just received jobs; they have become powerful political brokers and businessmen (no women in the top ranks), demanding and usually receiving a 10 per cent cut on major public projects. There is considerable overlap with Partai Aceh – Muzakkir Manaf, for example, is head of the KPA and secretary general of the party.

 The challenge for Aceh going forward will be to use competition to produce better policies and improved governance, including the eventual defanging of the KPA, without losing sight of the hard-won autonomy of the 2005 Helsinki MoU.


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