Wednesday, June 15, 2011


Jakarta/Brussels, 15 June 2011: Five years after the first post-conflict elections in Aceh brought former guerrillas of the Free Aceh Movement (Gerakan Aceh Merdeka, GAM) to power, local elections scheduled for November 2011 are turning into a bitter intra-GAM battle.

Indonesia: GAM vs GAM in the Aceh elections, the latest briefing from the International Crisis Group, looks at how the upcoming elections are deepening an old rivalry between Governor Irwandi Yusuf, who seeks to run for a second term as an independent candidate, and Partai Aceh, the GAM political party, led by its ex-“prime minister” Malik Mahmud. The Partai Aceh ticket consists of gubernatorial candidate Zaini Abdullah, former GAM “foreign minister” who for 25 years lived in exile in Sweden, and his running mate, former guerrilla commander Muzakkir Manaf.

“Competition within GAM is ultimately good for democracy in Aceh, especially as Partai Aceh has shown distinctly authoritarian tendencies”, says Sidney Jones, Crisis Group Senior Adviser. “The trick will be to keep the friction peaceful”.
The battle thus far has focused on whether independent candidates – that is, those not aligned with a local or national political party – should be allowed to compete.

If they are, Governor Irwandi has a reasonable chance of winning. If they are not, Partai Aceh’s formidable political machine will have no serious challenger.

An article of the 2006 law enshrining the Helsinki peace agreement that ended 30 years of conflict in Aceh allowed independent candidates only until local parties could be established. In December 2010, however, Indonesia’s Constitutional Court ruled this article unconstitutional, paving the way for independents to run in 2011.

Partai Aceh rejects the court decision, saying it is unwarranted interference in Aceh’s authority under the 2006 law to manage its own affairs. If the court can overturn this article, it says, other articles could follow, and little by little, the gains achieved in Helsinki would be eroded.

Partai Aceh has also delayed enacting an election regulation that would allow poll preparations to begin, in what seems to be another effort, almost certainly futile, to obstruct Irwandi’s candidacy. If it is not issued, the election will take place anyway under the regulation used for the 2006 elections. Critical to the outcome will be the loyalty of former GAM commanders, now grouped in an organisation called the Aceh Transition Committee (Komite Peralihan Aceh, KPA). Many field commanders are loyal to Irwandi and have received substantial benefits during his tenure in office, but others say if the GAM leadership orders them to vote for Zaini Abdullah, they have no choice but to do so. Those who openly support Irwandi have been summarily sacked.

The intra-GAM tensions have produced a few sporadic incidents of violence and more is likely, but not on a scale to cause serious concern. “The gloves are off”, says Jim Della-Giacoma, Crisis Group’s South East Asia Project Director. “The challenge for the GAM factions going forward will be to use competition to produce better policies and improve social services without losing sight of the hard-won political gains of the Helsinki process”.

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