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People in war-weary Aceh province vote in first-ever local elections

People in war-weary Aceh province vote in first-ever local elections

Voters in Aceh province crowded into polling stations Monday to take part in elections aimed at cementing a peace deal that ended 29 years of war in the region worst hit by the 2004 tsunami.
Former separatist rebels and an ex-army general are among those vying for the top jobs of governor and deputy governor _ something unimaginable before the earthquake-spawned waves crashed into Aceh, killing an estimated 167,000 people and helping usher in a new era of peace.
"We have proved our commitment with lives, blood and tears," said Irwandi Yusuf, a former rebel political officer now considered one of the favorites for governor. "These elections are important for all off Aceh, for all (former) fighters and for the future."
Turnout was expected to be high among Aceh's 2.6 million eligible voters. After a slow start, people soon started pouring into voting booths, some set up next to temporary barracks where tens of thousands made homeless by the tsunami still live.
A "quick count" of votes from selected polling stations should allow accurate results to be known by later Monday. Official results will not be declared until Jan. 2. Most analysts expected none of the eight candidates for governor to win an outright majority, meaning the top two will face a run-off vote early next year.
"I'm excited to take part in the election because I am able to vote for a better leader to make Aceh more prosperous," said Yakinah, a 40-year-old housewife who goes by a single name.
"I want a good and clean leader who not only thinks of himself," she said after joining dozens of other voters at polling station in the provincial capital, Banda Aceh.
The oil-and-gas rich province on Sumatra island's northern tip has known almost nothing but war for 130 years, with its residents fighting would-be Dutch colonists, the Japanese and finally Indonesia's central government.
The war between Jakarta and the rebels killed some 15,000 people and was marked by human rights abuses on both sides. Many of the victims were killed execution style, and poorly trained troops were frequently accused of torture.
Several previous peace pacts aimed ending the rebellion had collapsed amid bitterness and distrust. But when insurgents returned to the negotiating table after the tsunami and signed an agreement with the government on Aug. 15, 2005, the desire to end the war appeared genuine.
Both sides made major concessions, with the rebels giving up their long-held demand for independence and quickly handing over their weapons, and the military pulling half of its 50,000-strong garrison from Aceh and promising the region control over 70 percent of its mineral wealth.
It also gave the former rebels, known locally as GAM, the right to take part in politics.
They will be among those running for governor, district chiefs and mayors on Monday.
"They traded in bullets for ballots," said Azwar Abubakar, the incumbent governor said Sunday. "And if GAM wins, well good for them. That's democracy. Everyone's ready to accept that."
But divisions between GAM's political "old guard," who spent much of the civil war in exile in Sweden, and younger combatants who stayed home and fought, are expected to severely reduce their chances, said Sidney Jones of the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think tank.
If they cannot find a way to mend their differences soon, it also could effect their ability to transform into a viable political movement ahead of national elections in 2009 when provincial parliamentary seats will be at stake, she said.
Hamdani, another voter Monday, said that education was the most important issue.
"Children were sometimes afraid to go to school, as were teachers, during the war," he said, holding up a finger blackened with ink, a common practice in Indonesia to prevent multiple voting. "Sometimes the schools were burned down."


Updated : 2021-10-22 03:20 GMT+08:00