Asia Sentinel: Timor Leste & Aceh: Indonesia's Step-children (Blog
by by Aboepr
May 09, 2012 10:02 PDT
May 9, 2012
Timor Leste & Aceh: Indonesia's Step-children
Change comes to both
by Aboeprijadi Santoso
Elections have brought hope and challenges in in equal measure in what
used to be Indonesia's two war-torn regions.
In Timor Leste, the Fretilin revolutionary movement and the country’s
first president Xanana Gusmăo – two symbols of the nation's great
sacrifice and struggle against occupation – remain important but no
longer serve as a single political asset.
In Aceh, too, where only six years ago Jakarta and rebels agreed to
end the three decades of conflict, references to sacrifice and
struggle provide legitimacy. But the 2005 Helsinki peace agreement,
regarded as a dignified stand reflecting keAcehan – “Acehness”--
values, has yet to be translated into policies of justice and
Change is likely in both areas as political elites are deeply divided,
with Timor Leste anxiously looking forward to 7 July parliamentary
elections and, in Aceh, the Aceh Party, the former rebels' political
party, already having prevailed in the local parliament and is now
ruling the province.
In Timor Leste, the division was profound as the country’s two biggest
parties competed fiercely for the presidency and Xanana Gusmao's
CNRT-supported candidate, Gen. Taur Matan Ruak, won over Fretilin's
Francisco 'Lu Olo' Guteres. In Aceh the split went even further as the
former rebel leaders of the 1970s Zaini-Muzakir faction won the chief
elections, but are challenged by a new party of the younger Irwandi
A few common issues have thus emerged. “Veteranship” ('what did you do
during the war?') has become a crucial asset for those who compete for
power. Hence, ideals are pragmatically adjusted and demands arise to
compensate for past suffering. In addition, the past guerrilla pattern
of rule and command intrudes into politics. Above all, greater welfare
('what have we achieved?') is now a hot issue.
New veteran elites, called the clandinista in Timor Leste and the
kombatan (combatant) commanders in Aceh, now dominate the political
theatre. Given the longtime resistance in Timor Leste, myriad of
groupings may justifiably also claim veteranship.
'Fretilin-the-moviemento' or popular movement, the standard bearer of
the nation's struggle for freedom, should have long ago become a
museum belonging to the nation rather fighting as a political party,
one observer said.
Comparatively, Acehnese are increasingly urging that the Wali
Nanggroe, the state guardian institution – a supreme position held by
now-deceased rebel leader Tgku. Hasan di Tiro - should be above
politics rather than used as an exclusive asset and legitimacy for the
ruling Aceh Party But the roots are in the 1970s. Fretilin, inspired
by Mozambique's Frelimo, was a revolutionary movement capable of
mobilizing masses to joint struggle, whereas Aceh's rebellion,
precisely because of the separatism and nationhood issues it raised,
tended to be selective in its recruitment.
Hence, unlike Aceh's kombatans, Timor Leste's clandinistas were a huge
and diffuse category numbering tens of thousands that included
1970s-Fretilin cadres, exiled leaders, Falintil guerrillas, hansip
(civilian defense infiltrated into the Indonesian army), Dili urban
resistance, members of the Java-Bali-based student organizations and
the estafeta's (info disbursers); there used to be also hundreds of
operational assistants, each attached to Indonesian officers while
simultaneously functioning as Falintil’s spies. Most of them have been
recruited by political parties, absorbed into the new bureaucracy or
By contrast, Aceh's rebellion might have been born out of rising
business aspirations oppressed by the Suharto regime. Here things seem
more clear-cut. The structure and loyalty of the former rebel army
remains largely intact, the number of commanders limited, each with
supporters at village level - albeit now disarmed, named KPA and put
under the Aceh Party leadership.
Whether this will help to ensure rule of law and stability, however,
is doubtful. As in Timor Leste, Aceh’s political parties need new
opening and should call for the society to re-unite. If democracy is
to mature, in both cases the big parties will have to strengthen
discipline and refrain from intimidation and violence.
Timor Leste, too, needs reconciliation. A poor country now enjoying an
economic boom, it's bound to develop new demands and infighting among
the clandinistas amid the urgent need for greater welfare, health,
education and electricity for poor villagers.
The oil bonanza has helped stability by creating jobs, but critics,
including President Jose Ramos-Horta, pointed out that Xanana Gusmao,
acting like a war commander, ineffectively managed the administration.
Too little has been spent to reduce pervasive poverty as corruption
has grown. Gen. Taur, a man with a strong will, won the presidency
largely thanks to Xanana's personal campaign. It's unclear how the
general will cooperate with his former superior or eventually with his
rival, Fretilin's Lu Olo. But the schism that separated Xanana from
Fretilin since the mid-1980s, helped Xanana's star to rise just as
Fretilin went seemingly stagnant.
Yet, as I travelled in the countryside, it's clear that both remain
popular icons. Fretilin is still in people's hearts. As a grassroots
movement, it bore people's pain and fought hard to earn fame and
subsequently was “spoiled by history,” as its founder the late
Francisco Xavier do Amaral once said. Now, ironically, Fretilin finds
itself in an awkward status quo as Xanana and CNRT maintain their
strength. Fretilin's pain means Xanana's gain.
None of them, however, is expected to achieve more than 45 percent in
July votes. Either Xanana's CNRT or Fretilin will have to work with
the third biggest political party, the Democratic Party, led by a
post-1970s, Indonesia-educated generation, which may hold the key to a
new era. Gen. Taur will have the difficult job to seek new balance.
The experienced outgoing president Ramos-Horta, now in rivalry with
Xanana, seems to offer help for Fretilin and the Democrats. Distancing
himself from party politics, he told me, he is willing to join a new
cabinet after July votes ''depending on who and what kind of
administration” in order to help advance the country.
Finally, war veterans may prevail, but not the hundreds of thousands
of war victims. Justice with prosecutorial authority has been jointly
buried by Indonesia and Timor Leste, leaving the United Nations out in
the cold and those guilty of crimes against humanity enjoying
impunity. It's left to the international community and the civil
societies to press for prosecution and support for compensation and
reparation for the victims.
In Aceh, similar issues remain unresolved as the Helsinki pact, which
indicates the need for a truth commission to deal with past
atrocities, has not been fully implemented.
Indonesia’s president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono will be a special guest
at the 10th anniversary of Timor Leste’s redeclaration of independence
on May 20. But in all likelihood it will be his rival former general
Prabowo Subianto, rather than Susilo’s party’s presidential candidate,
who could take fruitful advantage of new political realities in Timor
Leste and Aceh.
In a reconciliation gesture, Prabowo has recently met with his former
enemy, Gen. Lere Anan Timor, the new commander of Timor Leste military
and successor of now president-elect Gen. Taur. Prabowo has also met
with Muzakir Manaf, former rebel commander, now the new vice-governor
of Aceh. For an Indonesian general focusing on the 2014 presidential
elections, but tainted with an allegedly bad past human rights record,
those rapprochements are symbolically important.
[Note: Prabowo was the son-in-law of Spuharto.]
Prabowo’s approach to Timor Leste may be relevant for future
diplomacy, but more significant for domestic politics, it will be
Aceh’s votes for him in 2014 as the quid pro quo for his financial
support, reportedly about Rp25 trillion, for the recent election of
the new governor and vice-governor of Aceh.
In both Timor Leste and Aceh - basically because of Indonesia's legacy
- past pain has indeed delivered gains, but only for some.
(Aboeprijadi Santoso is a journalist residing in Amsterdam, presently
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