Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Indonesia: Averting Election Violence in Aceh


Jakarta/Brussels, 29 February 2012: Election monitors should begin deployment to Aceh long before the 9 April election to deter intimidation.

Indonesia: Averting Election Violence in Aceh, the latest International Crisis Group briefing, says the potential for isolated acts of violence between now and voting day is high and may be higher after the results are announced if it is a close election.

“Whether violence materialises will depend on several factors, including the speed with which local election monitors can take up position in some of the most contested districts, like Bireuen and Aceh Timur”, says Sidney Jones, Crisis Group Senior Adviser. “It is also important that the police move quickly to pursue those responsible for a series of killings in December and January so that rumours of political motivation can either be laid to rest or conclusively proven”.

The briefing examines the political and legal manoeuvres used by Partai Aceh, the political party created by the leadership of the Free Aceh Movement (Gerakan Aceh Merdeka, GAM), the former rebel group, to delay the elections so that its main rival for the governorship, the incumbent Irwandi Yusuf, also a GAM member, could be forced from office after the expiration of his five-year term on 8 February 2012. If the election were to take place after that date, the government would have to appoint a caretaker, and Irwandi would be denied the opportunity to use the perks of office to campaign. The elections were originally scheduled for October 2011, but they were delayed first to 14 November, then to 24 December, then to 16 February and finally to 9 April.

When it seemed as though the postponement until 16 February would be the last, a series of killings targeting Javanese workers took place, beginning in early December. Most of these crimes remain unsolved, but they seemed to some to be aimed at showing that security conditions were such as to prevent the elections from going forward. There may be no connection, but once officials in Jakarta agreed to push for a further delay, the murders stopped, although other forms of violence continued. The briefing looks at these attacks and notes that the burden is now on the police to pursue investigations vigorously so that the perpetrators can be identified and punished.

The election could be close. Partai Aceh has the advantage of a strong political machine but has fielded a weak candidate for governor in Zaini Abdullah, GAM’s former “foreign minister”. Former Governor Irwandi, now replaced by a caretaker, is personally popular, especially because of a universal health insurance program he championed and commands the loyalty of many former guerrilla commanders, but he is standing as an independent and lacks any party organisational structure. Partai Aceh has shown a willingness to use fear tactics in a way that could persuade some voters that it is dangerous not to choose it.

“Getting election monitors to Aceh quickly should be seen as an investment in peace”, says Jim Della-Giacoma, Crisis Group’s South East Asia Project Director. “This election is critical to Aceh’s future”.

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