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Aceh: The Road Ahead

Panjaj Kumar Jha was Associate Fellow at Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detail profile.
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  • May 29, 2006

    The Free Aceh Movement (Gerakan Aceh Merdeka, GAM) formally launched its political party on May 23, 2006 at Banda Aceh. It has also appointed two independent candidates for the gubernatorial elections in Aceh, the date for which is likely to be announced after the passage of the Aceh Governing Bill in the Indonesian parliament. The Indonesian government claims that the bill would be passed by the end of May or early June, which would decide the standing of the political party instituted by GAM. The Aceh governing bill was a part of the peace agreement signed between the Indonesian government and GAM in Helsinki in August 2005. The peace agreement envisaged that Aceh be given autonomy in the areas of public affairs, civil and judicial administration, while GAM would drop its demand for independence. The agreement stipulated that parliament must pass the governing law on Aceh to decide about the matters of governance and the division of revenues derived from Aceh's natural resources as well as about the form of the judicial system to be put in place. It also stated that GAM rebels should form a political party within eighteen months so as to be able to contest the legislative elections in 2009. The deadline for the passage of the bill was March 31 and the ensuing elections should have been held in April 2006. But since the Indonesian government has missed the deadlines, the Aceh Monitoring Mission instituted under the peace agreement (comprising of EU and ASEAN monitors) has to extend its stay till September15, 2006.

    The handover of arms by GAM rebels and the withdrawal of Indonesian troops from Aceh were concluded by December 2005, which indicates the commitment shown by the two sides for peace. Also, Jakarta facilitated the return of exiled GAM leaders to Aceh, which has contributed to the build up of trust. But the litmus test is the agreement on the extent of self-government and funding for reintegration and employment of former GAM fighters who have formed strongholds in different areas of Aceh. GAM has been insistent that independent candidates be considered eligible to contest in local elections, but the government draft presented in the Indonesian parliament omits any mention of this, implying that only candidates of political parties or coalitions as is the general rule in Indonesia would be allowed to contest. Wide ranging debate on the draft is still going on and the delay is seen as a necessary element to defuse nationalistic fears that the bill would be a precursor to the secession of Aceh from Indonesia. With the announcement about the formation of a political party, GAM has tried to exert pressure on the Indonesian parliament to make necessary amendments to the draft. In order to make its stand clearer, GAM has also decided that it would nominate its independent candidates in the upcoming regional elections and would not form a coalition with other parties. This announcement has put to rest all speculation that GAM might form an alliance with an existing national Muslim party to meet electoral requirements. The country's existing electoral laws require parties in Indonesia to have branches in more than half of Indonesia's 33 provinces to contest elections.

    On the other hand, parties like the Indonesia Democratic Party-Struggle (PDI-P) led by former president Megawati Sukarnoputri claim that the legislative process should not be rushed through because it could prove risky owing to Aceh's volatile history. The PDI-P has also been advocating the division of Aceh into three parts for better governance and protecting the interests of minorities, which has been contested by GAM. Along with the Golkar party (led by Jusuf Kalla, the Indonesian Vice president), the PDI-P is also against the retroactivity clause in the Aceh Governing bill, which stipulates that Indonesian military personnel could be tried in the human rights tribunal of Aceh for atrocities committed during the conflict years. They fear that this would lead to 'unfair trials' and lower the morale of the TNI. The Indonesian vice president, one of the architects of the Aceh peace agreement, is facing opposition from his own party on this issue. These are some of the bottlenecks in the Aceh peace process, which need to be removed through dialogue.

    Restraint is essential during the on-going transition phase in the Aceh peace process. Though both parties are bargaining tacitly to protect their respective interests, they are also displaying a willingness to arrive at a reasonable compromise on contentious issues. Hardliners in the Indonesian government are attempting to rake up nationalist sentiments, while some GAM leaders seem to hold illusory ideas about their role in the post-Tsunami reconstruction phase. Under the circumstances, the continued monitoring and mediation of the AMM is necessary to ensure Aceh's peaceful transition from a strife-torn region into a prosperous and partially autonomous province of Indonesia.