Friday, March 7, 2014

Aceh and the Legislative Elections

--> As I mentioned, the Indonesian Legislative elections are coming up on April 9th.
On the national level, citizens will be voting for representatives to the DPR (People’s Representative Council), which has 560 seats, and the Regional Representative Council, which has 132 seats.

At the provincial level, citizens vote for the Regional House of Representatives (Level I) and at the District or Regency level citizens vote for the Level II Regional House of representatives, of which there are 2,137 and a whopping 17,560 seats, respectively.

Aceh’s current governor Zaini is a member of Partai Aceh (PA), which is the “original” party to be formed from the Free Aceh Movement/GAM after the signing of the 2005 Helsinki Peace Accord.  In Aceh, this is the group that controlled the province immediately post-tsunami and received much of the reconstruction money.  I believe that currently the majority of District heads, called Bupati, are also from the PA party, as are Aceh’s current legislative representatives although the ideology of the party is vague and its tactics are disliked by ordinary citizens.   It’s felt that PA would still like to push for complete independence from Indonesia, and that this recent return to Sharia is a ploy to begin a conflict that will press the issue.  The splinter group, PNA, was headed by former Governor Irwandi who stressed cooperation with Jakarta and believed that provisional autonomy would result in a mutually beneficial relationship between the province and Jakarta.  He was known as a conservation-oriented moderate with a community-oriented agenda who worked with NGOs post-tsunami and garnered a lot of support until 2011-12 when he began to collude with foreign extraction interests and signed an illegal approval for the palm oil company PT Kallista Alam to convert Protected Peat Swamp Forest into Palm Oil Plantations.
Mr Irwandi has claimed that he went against his former pro-conservation stance to “show” the rest of the world what the results would be if Aceh’s forests were unprotected.   Hey, a poor excuse . . .

Many in Aceh feel that despite this bizarre anti-conservation turnaround, the PNA party’s methodical and gradual approach to strengthening Aceh was preferable to the all-or-nothing independence route that PA seems to be advocating.  For the average Acehnese citizen, conditions outside of Banda Aceh, while not fabulous, were on the whole better than under the current administration, according to our on the ground mini-poll.  Many members of PA, for example, did not even want the peace accord to be signed, despite the fact that the province was decimated by the tsunami in the west and made a wasteland from the conflict in the east.

Still, it’s my experience that voters in Aceh are in no position to weigh these academic matters.  Threats, bribes, coercion and violence are what drives an election in the province.  Word on the (badly washed-out) street is that PA party members are claiming that any member of the PNA party is a “traitor” to the cause. (43 bullets into one body seems like an excessive way to get that message across, but it was a pretty clear message.)

Which begs the question: just exactly what is the cause these days?
[see “money, control, and power,” above.]

The fear in Aceh is that if PA loses the election, a GAM-on GAM conflict will start, and no one wants that.

It’s interesting that back in Jakarta, the prospect of separatists killing each other (as opposed to having the government do it like before) might be just what the doctor ordered. It’s more than disheartening to see both of these groups acting just like the TNI to whom they were so bitterly opposed on behalf of their fellow citizens.

A colleague in Aceh wrote, “We don’t know if we citizens will be in danger, but I believe the police will not be able to arrest the people who [killed the PNA candidate] last night, it is really political.   However, people believe that ex-combatants (GAM) from both parties still have their guns at their homes and will shoot whoever and whenever they want. People here hate the ex-combatants very much, especially the current Aceh government, but they are more afraid that Aceh will start a new phase of the conflict.”

A good link for up to date election information is the IFES (International Foundation for Elections Systems) Indonesia Page

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