Aceh Party’s victory offers hope, concern

Former separatist combatants have managed to transform the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) into a major local political force after last week's legislative elections.

Early official results of election vote counts show that the Aceh Party (PA), established by former rebels, secured a majority of votes in the country's westernmost province.

As of Friday afternoon, the vote tabulation center of Aceh’s Independent Election Commission (KIP) recorded that the party has secured 37.68 percent of votes for the party, enough to allow it to dominate the Aceh legislative council.

The PA's win in Aceh had been forecast much earlier.

During the campaign period, the party’s red flags and other symbols were highly visible across the province, even in remote villages. The party was the only contestant that staged campaign rallies in all of Aceh’s regencies.

Humam Hamid, a sociologist from the Syiah Kuala University in Banda Aceh, said the PA’s victory had nothing to do with primordialism. "Other local parties only secured a small amount of votes. They were even beaten by national parties like the Democratic Party and the Golkar Party.”

Aceh is the only province allowed under election law to have local parties contest for legislative seats in the province. There are five other local parties in Aceh aside from the PA — the People’s Aceh Party (PRA), the Acehnese People’s Independent Aspiration Party (SIRA), the United Aceh Party, the Aceh Sovereignty Party (PDA) and the Safe and Prosperous Aceh Party (PAAS).

Humam said that the PA's victory was the logical consequence of GAM’s three-decade fight against oppressions in Aceh, and added that it was backed by loyal and well-organized supporters.

”I simply followed the trend. In the past we had voted for national parties for years, but nothing changing here. This time I vote for the PA and I will see how they are going to manage our trust,” Mahdi, a resident of Seuneubok Punti village in East Aceh, told The Jakarta Post.

Another villager, who wished to remain anonymous, said he voted for the PA because he was afraid that peace would be ruined if the party lost the election. ”It’s like having a naughty son. I simply give him what he wants and expect that he will not be naughty anymore.”

Some Acehnese, especially those who were not affected by the brutal military operations, have expressed concerns that the PA's victory could allow it to use an "intimidation approach" to serve its political interests.

Party Spokesman Adnan Beuransyah rejected this concern. "Our internal evaluation found that former combatants can mingle very well with other community members,” he said. About 30 percent of the party’s legislative candidates are former combatants.

Humam said there should not be suspicion of the PA. "We should give them the opportunity to prove themselves to Acehnese people.”

Acehnese political observer Saifudin Bantasyam warned of high political tensions between the PA and the central government if the latter breaks its promise to implement all points in the Helsinki peace agreement, which gives full authority to the Aceh administration to manage its natural resources.

taken from: jakarta post.