Recent months see the run-up to the elections in Aceh and the intensifying developments on nuclear energy in Indonesia.
The December 11 polls opened in Aceh province for local elections to elect a pair of governor/deputy governor and 19 pairs of regents/deputy mayors and mayors/deputy mayors. Paving the way for peace after decades of civil war, the historic event has garnered both domestic and international attention. During the last day of campaigning, thousands of people flocked to final election rallies that featured former separatist rebels of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) following a Finnish-brokered peace deal on 15 August 2005.
About 2.6 million Acehnese are eligible to vote and a poll conducted last month revealed that 93 per cent believed the announced result would accurately reflect their views. However, regardless of the poll results, the Acehnese will be technically left on their own in maintaining peace after the international Aceh Monitoring Mission’s (AMM) mandate ends on December 15.
The polls also marked the first time where candidates without links to national parties have been allowed to stand for elections – a move representing greater autonomy granted by the central government in return for the GAM’s retracting of a call for independence. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said “we want this election to really proceed well because a peaceful settlement of the Aceh problem, an Aceh which God willing would build (its future) well and within the large family of Indonesia, has been our choice”.
More than 10,000 police have been deployed to secure 8,625 polling stations across the province. International monitors from the European Union (numbering around 80), the Asian Network for Free Elections, the United States, Malaysia and several other countries were spread out across the 21 regencies of Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam to observe the elections. The Chairman of European Union monitoring team, Glyn Ford, said that the regional elections in Aceh province had taken place smoothly and on schedule.
Nevertheless, the local authorities reported two separate incidents, where a man was arrested for threatening to detonate a grenade if his candidate did not win, and an improvised bomb exploded in a northern village before the polls opened, albeit without any casualties or damage. North Aceh Police chief Sr. Comr. Mulyatno said that the police found two bombs, but another did not explode. "I think the explosion is to disrupt the elections, but the people were not affected by any kind of intimidation," he said.
The main contenders in the election race fall roughly into two divisions of ‘young turks’ versus the ‘old guards’, even as GAM has adopted a position of neutrality to avoid splitting the movement. The former consists of Irwandi Yusuf, a former GAM spokesman, and his running mate, Muhammad Nazar, a pro-democracy and rights activist who headed an organisation which called for a referendum on Aceh's future. The latter group consists of Ahmad Humam Hamid and Hasbi Abdullah who are backed by GAM leaders formerly exiled in Sweden.
Poll workers conducted an unofficial quick count – with the support of the United Nations Development Programme – at Singapore time, based on a sample of voting stations. The result revealed Irwandi Yusuf and Muhammad Nazar as the unofficial winners, but according to LSI (Indonesia Survey Institute) researcher Denny Januar Ali, the outcome was surprising as previous research had indicated they would only have strong support in former rebel strongholds, whereas now they had won in almost every district of Aceh.
The situation remains worrisome at present especially in the light of reports that supporters of the unofficial winners have been involved in violence against supporters of other candidates, especially Ahmad Humam Hamid and Hasbi Abdullah.
The truth, however, is that regardless of who the final winners are in the elections, work on reconstruction and reconciliation must be pursued relentlessly – effectively, efficiently and without bias – if peace is to be sustained. Development issues will take centrestage, not only in Aceh, but also the whole of Indonesia as it considers its energy future.
Of late, Indonesia has embarked on regional and international diplomacy to secure its energy future. Both Russia and Australia have promised to aid Indonesia’s nuclear energy programme, and most recently, presidents of Indonesia and South Korea signed a bilateral agreement to consider jointly building nuclear power plants and exchanging fissile material and technology, although details were kept under wraps.
According to Research and Technology Minister Kusmayanto Kadiman, Indonesia’s first nuclear power plant will be located on the Muria peninsula in Central Java. Construction of the plant should be completed by 2010 and it should begin operations in 2016, Kadiman said.
Despite protests from environmentalists that Muria peninsula is an earthquake-prone area, Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) endorsed Indonesia’s plans. “We are currently supporting Indonesia's preparation for its planned nuclear power plant construction,” he said, “At the IAEA, we stand ready to assist you in finding the solutions that are best suited to your needs and priorities”. He added that “huge progress in safety had also been made during the past 20 years…in regions like Japan, extensive work has be done on safety analysis…This analysis could be used when drawing up the precise plans of the Muria reactor”.
Jakarta and Seoul sign N-power deal (AP/The Straits Times, 8 December 2006)Crowds flock to final rallies of Aceh campaign (Channel News Asia, 8 December 2006)
World at crossroads over nuclear threats, energy: ElBaradei (AFP/The Straits Times, 9 December 2006)Indonesia to build nuclear plant by 2010 (AFP/The Straits Times, 9 December 2006)El-Baradei welcomes RI plan to go nuclear (The Jakarta Post, 9 December 2006)Malaysian team also to monitor Aceh elections (Antara,9 December 2006)
Polls open in Indonesia's Aceh province (AFP/The Straits Times, 11 December 2006)
Aceh votes in polls marking end to violence (Channel News Asia, 11 December 2006)
Ex-rebel wins Aceh election: unofficial quick result (AFP/The Straits Times, 11 December 2006)
Aceh elections take place smoothly, says EU monitoring chief (The Straits Times, 11 December 2006)
Bomb explodes in North Aceh; explosion does not affect elections (The Jakarta Post, 11 December 2006)
Acehnese vote for peace (The Jakarta Post, 11 December 2006)
Rapid count to reveal poll results by SMS (The Straits Times, 11 December 2006)