Friday, August 22, 2014

Is this low-profile Aceh activist a new role model for speaking out against corruption?

I know I was going to start telling you today about my investigations into a few projects that were funded with post-tsunami reconstruction money (aka your tax dollars) and my subsequent visit with Bill Clinton’s representative for the Clinton Global Initiative . . . but before the bloom is off the rose I wanted to share a bit of information about a man I had never heard of before, but who I am very happy to know represents a small watchdog group that speaks out against corruption and cronyism in Aceh . . . and I hope he continues, and is an example and role model for others.  

A little background:

 As you know, the current governor of Aceh is Zaini Abdullah, and Vice-Governor is Muzakir Manaf.  Both are members of Partai Aceh (the Aceh Party).  You will also remember that the former Governor (Irwandi) was also a member of PA until he split with them ideologically and formed the Partai Nasional Aceh (PNA).  All these guys were GAM members; Manaf was a GAM commander and is also responsible for PA’s later affiliation with the Gerindra party—ring a bell?  Fat man, nice horse, bad human rights record?

During the presidential campaign, two PA members--Zakaria Saman, GAM’s former Defense Minister and now a member of PA’s tuha peut (governing board), and Governor Abdullah, another tuha peut member, announced their support for Jokowi/Kalla, citing Kalla (bien sur) as a reason behind their endorsement, though they stressed that they spoke as individuals and not representatives of their party.

Both acknowledged Manaf’s right to support Prabowo, but, as they had done, as an individual and not as a member of PA.  This is why in the days that followed you might have read in the papers a lot of headlines reading “PA Splits Apart in the Presidential Election.”

Then in June, out of nowhere it seemed, came a band of five merry provocateurs called the Barisan Pendukung Partai Aceh (BPPA), The Aceh Party Supporters Front.

They held a press conference at the well-known Banda Aceh café, where their leader, a man named Azmi (center in photo), demanded Manaf’s abdication as the Chair of PA if he could not account for the following actions:
·       maneuvering PA into a voting bloc with Gerindra and endorsing Prabowo
·       receiving a “gift” of 50 billion rupiah from Gerindra for arranging a coalition; and
·       removal of other PA leaders for criticizing Manaf’s decisions.


Azmi had been a shadowy figure in the ever-dwindling vocal minority of political critics in Aceh, and when news of this move hit the students and the human rights watchdogs, they took to their smartphones with a vengeance, speculating about this bold but heretofore unknown personality.  As one blogger noted, the Aceh e-verse “crackled with activity and solidarity.”
“One colleague asked with excitement, ‘Is this our Azmi?’ and that naturally led me to ask, ‘Who is this Azmi’ Each of us contributed our admiring descriptions of this puzzling alien figure.
‘He lives in Jakarta. He left Aceh since his life was threatened during the conflict.
‘Azmi is Gayo [from the Aceh highlands].
‘Azmi is a man who punched former [Aceh] Governor Ibrahim Hasan in the face!
‘He is a large guy, wears a beard.
‘Azmi keeps a collection of peranakan Chinese antiques. His residence in Jakarta is like a private museum.
‘He was a referendum supporter like us, though he always operated behind the scenes of a movement, coordinating support in Jakarta.
‘Azmi owns a used bookstore in Jakarta.
‘Azmi keeps quiet; but he usually shows up at critical moments and then he lets loose.’”

Following the press conference, Manaf carpet-bombed local media with indignant outbursts claiming that BPPA did not exist, he’d never heard of Azmi, and he would pursue civil charges against him. “Even as Azmi’s accusations gained traction, Aceh’s press busied themselves with a resounding refutations from Manaf rather than a concrete exploration into Azmi’s critique.”

Azmi, as usual, kept quiet.  With good reason: dissent doesn’t go over so well in Aceh.  Which makes me wonder, again, how effective Jokowi will be in bringing some type of order to this province . . . .if he even wants to.

Blogger Taufik Al-Mubarak also has some interesting information on Azmi, revealing that he had been a student activist in Aceh, had supplied arms to GA during the conflict, and had been noticed by Partai Aceh (and Manaf) for his dedication to the cause of independence.

As the Globe Reporter notes, “For the slightest moment in a news cycle, Azmi’s vital involvement stripped bare an unholy alliance. As news of his strident critique tore through Aceh’s social media, we saw one supporter after another perk up and say, “ya, bagus dong!” [yes, good work!] as if it was about time someone challenged and dismantled PA’s false and hypocritical structure.”

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