JP Special Reports: Politics Lead Former GAM Guerrillas to Part Ways
Feb 28, 2012 08:13 PST
also: Friends No More in Election; The Showdown
The Jakarta Post
Tuesday, February 28, 2012
Politics Lead Former GAM Guerrillas to Part Ways
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.
Marching band: Supporters of Aceh Party (a political manifestation of
the former Free Aceh Movement combatants or known also as GAM) march
through a highway in Lhokseumawe, Aceh, on Jan. 19. In the
gubernatorial election slated for April 9, former GAM members have
split into two camps. AntaraMarching band: Supporters of Aceh Party (a
political manifestation of the former Free Aceh Movement combatants or
known also as GAM) march through a highway in Lhokseumawe, Aceh, on
Jan. 19. In the gubernatorial election slated for April 9, former GAM
members have split into two camps. AntaraBanda 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
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
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
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
Members of the separatist movement were given full rights as
Indonesian citizens to vote and to run for office after GAM disbanded
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
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
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
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.
The Jakarta Post
Tuesday, February 28, 2012
Friends No More in Election
Nani Afrida, The Jakarta Post
Political competition typically turn friends into rivals; an example
evident to many Acehnese in the changing relationship between former
governor Irwandi Yusuf and the former commander of the freedom
fighters, Muzakir Manaf.
They are competing closely in the election scheduled for April 9, with
Muzakir as the running mate of Zaini Abdullah.
Known to many as close friends in the past, “now they like to mock
each other every time they please”, a source said, requesting
anonymity, as he was close to the rival candidates.
Muzakir once said the “veterinarian” Irwandi should step out of the
race. The former GAM executive studied veterinary medicine at Oregon
State University, US.
Irwandi said in response that Muzakir must be joking, saying that
Muzakir was his “biggest fan”. He added that Muzakir asked Irwandi to
join the election if the Aceh Party refused to nominate him.
In a local newspaper, Muzakir had claimed that he had asked Irwandi
not to nominate himself as the governor.
Irwandi and Muzakir had known each other since the armed conflict in
Aceh in 2000. Their friendship became stronger after Indonesia and GAM
signed the MoU for peace in Helsinki in 2005. Irwandi stayed at
Muzakir’s home in Banda Aceh after returning from Finland.
“I used to seek food at Mualim’s house when I was hungry,” Irwandi
recalled. Mualim is a nickname for Muzakir, meaning “the chief”.
Irwandi always told reporters: “Mualim is my best friend.”
The two were often seen sitting together on many occasions in Aceh,
with photographs of them whispering to each other.
“It is sad that a lovely friendship like Irwandi and Mualim’s has
ended due to political interest,” said the source, also a former GAM
The first test of the relationship came in 2006 during Aceh’s first
election after the war.
GAM executives such as Malik Mahmud and Zaini Abdullah nominated Hasbi
Abdullah and Humam Hamid as candidates for the Aceh governor and
deputy governor. Hasbi, a popular leader, became spokesman for the
local legislative council.
On the contrary, some GAM members from the grassroots nominated
Irwandi and Muhammad Nazar as governor and deputy governor. The pair
won the election with over 60 percent of the vote.
Muzakir, the former GAM commander, had to take painful decisions on
which side to support.
“Muzakir should obey GAM leaders like Zaini and Malik. But he was also
a close friend of Irwandi and other GAM members who fought together in
the conflict. He was under serious pressure,” the above source said.
Irwandi said Muzakir finally gave his support to him a day before voting
Five years after the first election, the friendship is under serious
threat again, as Muzakir has been appointed a candidate for vice
governor with Zaini Abdullah.
Some in Aceh believe that Muzakir is now angry with Irwandi because
the former governor did not obey the GAM leader’s instruction not to
run for governor.
Irwandi’s nomination is expected to split potential voters for the
“They wanted me to drop my plan to be a candidate, but the
Constitutional Court decided to allow independent candidates [for the
gubernatorial election in Aceh], and I will join the race,” Irwandi
Irwandi said his best friend was trapped as a candidate to raise more
votes for Zaini Abdullah.
“Mualim is famous and GAM members respect him. Mualim has much
potential to be a vote gatherer. Zaini stayed too long in Sweden and
is less famous,” he said.
There was no confirmation from Muzakir on Irwandi’s statement.
Many GAM members believe the rift between these leaders is
“temporary”, as a GAM member from East Aceh said.
Irwandi seems to think so, too.
“I know what Mualim is thinking right now. He is in a difficult
position. He is my friend and will always be my friend,” he said,
The Jakarta Post
Tuesday, February 28, 2012
Nani Afrida, The Jakarta Post
Two candidates — Zaini Abdullah and incumbent Governor Irwandi Yusuf —
are dominating a field of seven campaigns running in the province’s
gubernatorial election on Apr. 7.
Zaini Abdullah is a co-founder and former foreign minister of the Free
Aceh Movement (GAM), while Muzakir Manaf was a GAM guerrilla
commander. Zaini, whose younger brother Hasbi Abdullah is speaker of
the Aceh Legislative Council, spent a third of his life supporting
GAM, including a lengthy exile in Sweden with GAM chief patron Hasan
Supporters: Some of Jakarta’s power elite, including Regional
Representatives Council (DPD) Farhan Hamid deputy speaker, and senior
offi cials from the Home Ministry, the National Mandate Party (PAN),
the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) and foreign
Strengths: The Aceh Party, the political arm of GAM’s former members,
has 23 branches in Aceh and boasts 60 seats on the Aceh Legislative
Council. It is most dominant in Eastern Aceh, home to 60 percent of
the province’s population. Muzakir is expected to garner votes from
former combatants currently backing Irwandi. Former Iskandar Muda
Military Command chief Maj. Gen. Sunarko is a member of Zaini’s
Weakness: The party is unpopular in western Aceh areas such as
Singkil, Bener Meriah, Subulussalam, and Central Aceh, which together
account for 40 percent of Aceh’s population. The Aceh Party and
former GAM members have been accused of extorting villagers and
dominating development projects in the province. Insuffi cient
Strategy: The Aceh Party may nominate another independent candidate in
western Aceh to divide support for Irwandi. The party has launched a
PR campaign to improve its image as a down-to-earth and populist
movement and to counter its current reputation as an exclusive club
for former GAM combatants. The couple has prepared 1 million
so-called success teams for the election.
Interview with Zaini Abdullah
What are your disagreements with Irwandi?
During our field visits, we’ve always been welcomed warmly by the
people. What they say to us is that the changes in Aceh nowadays are
leading to injustice and dishonest behavior from the current leaders,
who are denying their given responsibility. We also witnessed people
who were very disappointed when the Aceh Party refused to register
their candidates. They encouraged us to run. We’re reluctant to fight
in the election because we see that Irwandi’s position is strong and
that he has abundant financial resources to serve his interests. We
decided to undertake the necessary legal process to join the election,
and we succeeded in delaying the election until Irwandi’s term as
The end of Irwandi’s term gives us some advantage, as he can no longer
use the people’s money to serve his personal purposes. We’re not
requesting that the central government back us. What we demand is for
the government to clarify the legal process.
The Home Ministry understands well that the election process may lead
to conflict. The Office of the Coordinating Political, Legal and
Security Affairs Minister also understands the situation, despite
receiving most of its information from its Aceh desk, whose officials
have close links to Irwandi. We also see that the Aceh Independent
Election Commission [KIP] is being forced by certain parties to comply
with their interests. I believe there’s a political conspiracy to
destroy the Aceh Party after we won the previous election. They know
the party is the home of most former GAM members.
What will you do if you lose?
Winning and losing are determined solely by Allah and the people of
Aceh. We’re ready to lose. Despite my age, I’m still fighting to
fulfill the responsibilities that were bestowed upon me as the
guardian of the Acehnese state. But if I fail to get elected, then
this is no longer our responsibility.
Is GAM really divided?
That’s not true. If there are former GAM members supporting Irwandi,
they will be few. Their interest is just in the money offered by
Irwandi. When we summoned members of the Aceh Party and the Aceh
Transitional Committee, representatives from all 23 regencies and
municipalities were present. So I believe [former GAM members] share
the same spirit and support the gubernatorial candidates of the Aceh
Party. When we registered for the election, our supporters accompanied
us from kilometers away to the election commission office — and they
were not paid, as we don’t have any money for them. It was a sincere
Has Irwandi betrayed GAM?
It’s more than a betrayal. We have been mistreated by Irwandi, who was
once one of our children. Irwandi has behaved like an ungrateful
child. We have taught him and promoted him to a good position. But his
performance has ruined everything that we’ve dreamed of. He never
tried to communicate with us in a good way, and also never showed up
when we summoned him for a discussion.
We never intended to have him here to honor us. What we expected was
for him to explain his difficulties, and ask how we could help in
resolve the problem. It is obvious in this struggle to see people who
are pragmatic and those who are idealistic. I believe that when
Irwandi is no longer governor, many former GAM members will return to
the Aceh Party, except for people like Nur Djuli and Sofyan Dawood.
Irwandi was Aceh’s first directly elected governor, serving from 2006
to 2011, while Muhyan previously led Aceh’s Public Works Agency.
Irwandi led GAM’s intelligent unit during the separatist movement and
represented GAM at the Helsinki peace talks.
Supporters: Some members of the political elite from the Offi ce of
Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister, the
Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), various NGOs and activists, the local
Rakyat Aceh Party (PRA) and several former prominent GAM leaders,
including former spokesperson Sofyan Dawood, former reintegration
agency chief Nur Djuli and Muharram, a former guerrilla commander in
Strengths: As the incumbent, Irwandi is popular for launching the Aceh
Health Guarantee (JKA) insurance scheme, giving local residents free
medical treatment. Irwandi’s partner, Muhyan Yunan, is expected to
garner votes from western Aceh. Muhyan’s intelligence and network may
give him an edge in the race. The campaign is adequately funded.
Irwandi has been praised for keeping Aceh peaceful and stable.
Weakness: Irwandi might be tarred by allegations of graft and
environmental destruction during his tenure as governor. Repeated
election delays may lead supporters to defect to the Aceh Party.
The campaign has little infl uence in eastern Aceh, particularly in
Pidie, Pidie Jaya and North Aceh.
Strategy: Irwandi has launched a PR campaign promoting his programs
and accomplishments as governor and has recruited many activists and
professionals for his campaign team.
Also touting his lack of connections to the Indonesian Military (TNI),
which has been accused of gross human rights violation in Aceh.
Interview with Irwandi Yusuf
What are your disagreements with Zaini?
I was puzzled after learning that the Aceh Party was not satisfied
with my administration. I’ve already implemented pro-people programs
such as health insurance, free education and scholarships and more.
I’ve tried to fulfill all of their requests. They seem to remain in
vengeance mode after their candidate’s defeat against me [in 2006].
I can be said to be abnormal because I no longer have any ‘pessimistic
nerve’. People always see me as overly optimistic. I’ve no special
strategy for facing the upcoming election. What’s important is that I
work sincerely. I’ve never instructed anybody to prevent A or B from
becoming a gubernatorial candidate, as everyone has the right to do.
What will you do if you lose?
I’m ready to lose, although they may try to cheat me. What’s important
is that there not be bloodshed. If there turns out to be casualties,
then I’m ready to fight for justice. I actually don’t want to run for
second term, but I’ve found no figure to lead Aceh. I want a qualified
Is GAM really divided?
Currently, there is a division among the former GAM members in the
upcoming election. I believe it will be temporary. People say that
this division has led to a horizontal conflict, but I say otherwise.
There are a few horizontal conflicts that are by nature short-lived.
The divisions have been going on since 2006 when I decided to run as
gubernatorial candidate against Hasbi Abdullah and Humam Hamid, who
were supported by former GAM members and elites.
Currently, of the 17 areas of GAM strongholds in Aceh, only three
areas — Pidie, Pase and Pidie Jaya — have joined the Aceh Party, while
the remaining 14 areas have decided to join my side.
What happened is that Aceh Party fi red the commanders of the 14 GAM
areas and installed new leaders with no roots, history and experience
as combatants during the confl ict.
What’s your response to those who say you have betrayed your fellow GAM
Who’s actually betraying the dreams and the aims of our struggle? I’ve
never told people to prevent anyone from running in local leader
races. If the Aceh Party is not satisfied with my work, they should
point it out why. What are my programs that they allege violate the
interests of the public?
They just cannot point to anything. My success seems to be their
problem. I feel threatened. I’ve received information from my
intelligence agents. But don’t ask me who’s threatening me.
People see me as a die hard. But there’s always a way to resolve a
problem without using violence. I’ve proven it. Since I have lead
Aceh, I have managed to ensure peace and stability.
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