ST: Former Rebel Leader Wins Aceh Governor Polls
Apr 10, 2012 03:33 PDT
The Straits Times (Singapore)
Tuesday, April 10, 2012
Former Rebel Leader Wins Aceh Governor Polls
Aceh will get a new governor after former rebel leader Zaini Abdullah,
71, garnered 56 per cent of the votes yesterday, sweeping aside the
51-year-old incumbent Irwandi Yusuf, who got 29 per cent, according to
Dr Zaini, a medical doctor, fled Indonesia's westernmost province in
1981, slipped into Singapore aboard a fishing vessel and left on a Red
Cross passport, spending the next two decades in exile in Sweden,
where he became foreign minister of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM).
He returned to Aceh after a 2005 peace deal, forged in the wake of the
2004 tsunami that killed 130,000 Acehnese, ended a 30-year separatist
His victory on the ticket of Partai Aceh (PA), which holds the most
seats in the provincial assembly and brings together many former GAM
combatants, is expected to improve stability in Aceh, where many
former guerillas are disgruntled with the outgoing administration.
Irwandi, who ran as an independent, has been blamed for not having
done enough for them.
"We hope to ensure that peace in Aceh is sustainable and will bring
honesty and sincerity to government, which has been lacking," Dr Zaini
told The Straits Times in an interview last Friday.
Outlining his key plans, he said they include raising agricultural
productivity and making use of the province's natural resources to
improve the lot of its farmers and fishermen. Dr Zaini will be
assisted by his running mate, former rebel commander Muzakir Manaf,
49, who has been PA chairman since 2007.
Aceh is the only province in Indonesia which applies a limited version
of strict Islamic law, but the issue barely surfaced during the
campaign, with observers saying that the economy and stability were of
far greater concern to residents.
International Crisis Group senior adviser Sidney Jones, who is in
Banda Aceh, told The Straits Times that it remains to be seen whether
the victory will see the successful transformation of a guerilla group
into a responsible political leadership, or a return to the feudal
authoritarian practices that GAM leaders were known for in the past.
"Are we going to see attention to social services and a focus on
education, health care and infrastructure, or a sense of entitlement
that it's now their turn to the spoils?" she said. "The burden is on
PA to show that they can govern responsibly."
Still, Syiah Kuala University academic Saifuddin Bantasyam is
confident that just as GAM and the Indonesian government managed to
reach a peace deal despite what seemed like insurmountable obstacles,
any acrimony that surfaced during the previous administration and over
the poll period can be resolved amicably.
The victory comes amid sporadic reports of voter intimidation in rural
Irwandi told reporters after casting his vote that he would accept the
result of a free and fair election, but that there had been reports of
his supporters being harassed by PA men.
But ordinary Acehnese voters living close to the capital said they
felt free to support who they wished.
"There is no intimidation in this area now," pushcart hawker Tengku
Muhammad Nur, 27, told The Straits Times at a village in Seulimoe, a
"But since the conflict ended, growth has not been just or equal," he added.
Car workshop owner Idrus, 31, from Lampisang, hopes the new governor
can bring economic growth to the province so that fewer young Acehnese
will feel compelled to seek opportunities elsewhere in the country, as
he had to.
Dr Zaini told the media last night he was grateful to the people of
Aceh 'for showing once again that Partai Aceh has a place in their
hearts. And everyone who contested in this election is a winner'.
There were three other candidates in the five-way race, which saw a
voter turnout of about 75 per cent. All three had less than 10 per
cent of the total votes cast. Voters across Aceh also elected four
mayors and 13 regents.
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