Jakarta graciously accepts Aceh’s choice

Updated On: Dec 15, 2006

On Tuesday when the former rebel leader Irwandi Yusuf appeared lead the electoral race, Indonesia VP Jusuf Kalla announced, “The government will respect the outcome regardless of who wins... We must congratulate whoever wins the elections.”

The Jakarta Post also quoted Military Chief Gen. Djoko Suyanto as saying that whatever the outcome, it would not be “a victory for the former rebels, (but) a victory for the Acehnese people” and that the military would work to uphold peace.

Now that Irwandi has won overwhelmingly with about “40% of the vote in a field of eight”, Jakarta has to keep to its word despite the snub. The Jakarta Post commented that “the vote was also a slap in the face for Indonesia's leading Islamic party, the PKS, whose candidate received only 10%.” So far The Australian has noted Indonesian Presidential spokesman Andi Mallerangeng as saying that “Jakarta welcomed the election result but stressed that any new Acehnese leadership must work ‘within the framework of the unitary Republic of Indonesia’”.

Sidney Jones, South-East Asian director of the International Crisis Group, was reported by the Sydney Morning Herald as saying, “This is confrontational; we are going to have to see how Jakarta responds. The vote proved the people of Aceh wanted to be ruled by the Free Aceh Movement (GAM). It's an extraordinary result. It is certainly a huge vote for change… Will Jakarta say, 'Fine, welcome. Let's see how you govern', which is what I hope they will say, or will they throw up their hands in horror and say, 'Look at what we've done, and we'd better not do this anywhere else in the country, especially Papua.”

On the issue of governance, however, Irwandi Yusuf remains rightly cautious. He said his first priority would be to tackle the endemic poverty of Aceh, especially after the tsunami, as “the people expect [him] to refurbish and renew the conditions they have been in for so long”, and that imposition of sharia law would be put on hold for the time being.

Reuters reported a GAM sympathiser as saying, “We support his (Yusuf's) rise, but he also must provide us with houses and jobs.” As Sidney Jones observed to Reuters, “It's going to be a test to see whether GAM leaders can deliver more benefits and better benefits than previous officials. I think the expectations are just enormous.”

Be that as it may, the agency responsible for implementing Sharia law in Aceh has already published an advertisement in Aceh's Serambi newspaper to test public opinion regarding a proposed law to punish thieves with hand amputation. The Jakarta Post reported that as of last year, “special Islamic courts began enforcing some of the laws, which include punishing gamblers with caning, forcing women to cover their heads in public and banning the consumption of alcohol”. Whilst “polls show those regulations are popular with the province’s 4.2 million people, though it remains to be seen whether moves to broaden the law to include punishment for thieves would be supported”.

One thing is sure, though, draconian Sharia punishments will be heavily castigated by “Western governments and rights activists keen to see Indonesia remain a beacon of moderation in the Islamic world”.


Aceh rebel's big election win a snub to Jakarta (Sydney Morning Herald, 13 December 2006)

We must congratulate whoever wins Aceh elections: Kalla (Jakarta Post, 13 December 2006)

I need time: Aceh leader (The Australian, 13 December 2006)

Draft law calls for amputation of thieves' hands Aceh (Jakarta Post, 13 December 2006)

Aceh's new leaders urged to deliver jobs, housing (Reuters, 13 December 2006)

We must congratulate whoever wins Aceh elections: Kalla (Jakarta Post, 13 December 2006)