Alexa
  • Directory of Taiwan

People in war-weary Aceh province prepare for first-ever local elections

People in war-weary Aceh province prepare for first-ever local elections

War-weary Acehnese will flock to the polls Monday to choose leaders in their first direct local elections in history, helping cement a peace deal that has ended nearly three decades of fighting in the tsunami-ravaged province.
Former separatist rebels and an ex-army general are among those vying for the top jobs of governor and deputy governor.
"I'm excited to vote," said Rosmini, 27, knee deep in mud as she harvested rice from her flooded fields. "I don't care who wins as long as they make sure the peace holds."
For years she was afraid to go to her fluorescent green paddies in Keudebieng, a village flanked by jagged mountains that used to serve as a base for Free Aceh Movement rebels and was also patrolled by notoriously brutal soldiers.
An Aug. 15, 2005 peace agreement ended the 29-year war that claimed 15,000 lives, many of them civilians, and helped pave the way for Monday's elections for governor, mayors and other provincial posts.
Former members of the rebel Free Aceh Movement are among those running, but a rift between members of their political "old guard," who spent much of the civil war in exile in Sweden, and younger combatants who stayed home and fought, is expected to dent their chances.
The rift could also affect their ability to transform into a viable political movement ahead of national elections in 2009 _ when provincial parliamentary seats will be at stake, according to the Brussels-based International Crisis Group research institute.
An estimated 85 percent of Aceh's 2.6 million eligible voters are expected to turn out Monday and _ with few incidents reported in the run-up to the polls _ most people expect no or little violence.
"I don't even know who I'm voting for yet," said Abdullah Husin, a 45-year-old fisherman who was unaffected by the war but lost his wife and three children in the 2004 Asian tsunami that killed an estimated 167,000 people in hardest-hit Aceh but also helped speed an end to the war.
The rebels and the government said they did not want to add to people's suffering after the tsunami and made major concessions when they returned to the negotiating table, signing a peace deal eight months later.
The rebels gave up their long-held demand for independence and handed over all of their weapons, and the government pulled half of its 50,000 troops from Aceh and agreed to give the province, which is rich in oil-and-gas, control over 70 percent of the revenue from its mineral wealth.
Unlike other accords that have unraveled amid bitterness and distrust, this one has stuck.
"The most important thing is that the winner helps rebuild the economy," said Husin, watching as his friend put a coat of red paint on a wooden boat donated by a French aid group. "Our market was destroyed. People need homes. They can't afford health care, school. Where do I stop?"
Indonesia, a secular nation with more Muslims than any other country in the world, started making its transition to democracy following former dictator Suharto's ouster in 1998.
With eight pairs of candidates vying for the positions of Aceh governor and deputy, it appears likely no one will garner the 25 percent of the votes needed to win outright, which would mean a run-off vote in March.
Among those on the ticket for governor and deputy governor Monday will be former Free Aceh Movement members Irwandi Yusuf and Hasbi Abdullah, both running as independents, and Aceh's former military commander, Djali Yusuf, who is known for taking a hard line against the rebels from 2002-2003.
They and other candidates are pushing anti-graft platforms, free education and creation in jobs in one of the country's poorest provinces.
"Yes, I was in the military and helped lead the fight," said Djali Yusuf, who is considered a long shot at the polls. "But that was the past. Today we are all one and need to work together to lift the development of our people."