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GAM Risks Becoming What It Fought

BY AGUS WANDI
Banda Aceh, TAG – George Orwell’s classic novel “Animal Farm” is the definitive depiction of how any rebellion or social revolt risks not just failure but a reversal where one type of domination is merely exchanged for another. After the leaders of the animal rebellion take over, they impose a single commandment: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”
 It is not exactly the same, but recent developments in Acehnese politics are reminiscent of the animal farm. The Aceh Party, which was spawned by the separatist Free Aceh Movement (GAM), is heading in a worrying direction. Internal conflict among former combatants, as well as their desire to dominate the seats of power in the province, is driving Aceh into another phase of uncertainty. 
If the Aceh Party members continue to behave undemocratically, they will go down in history as nothing more than a ragtag bunch of ignoble former rebels who behaved eerily like their former “enemies.” 
GAM was an ethnic nationalist movement that mobilized resistance through nationalistic fervor. The roots of the movement were in past injustices, but the conflict later evolved into an antagonistic identity dispute between Aceh and Jakarta. 
Especially during the New Order, the conflict reached a level where the idea of an independent Aceh became entrenched as a result of endless oppression and unjust treatment. 
As a movement, GAM took advantage of this. It pledged a promised land where democracy would rule and injustice would be a thing of the past. All of Aceh was dragged by the rebels into this independence narrative and into the lengthy struggle. 
The rebels in Aceh laid down their arms with the Helsinki peace agreement in 2005. The agreement brought an end to 30 years of war and provided a significant opportunity for the local people to manage their own affairs and participate in a democratic process as Aceh became a special autonomous region. 
All the trouble in Aceh was supposed to end there. Today, the reality is that it continues, and it is stubborn. 
The seeds for the current tension were planted with the first gubernatorial election soon after the peace agreement. The leadership of the rebels in exile supported a candidate who was not supported by the majority of former combatants. Ignoring the opinions of the former field commanders, the exiled leaders went ahead with their candidate — who ended up losing by a landslide. 
The field commanders had used their networks of former combatants to provide strong backing for their candidate. Irwandi Yusuf was elected as the first governor of post-peace agreement Aceh, but his defiant victory upset the exiled leaders. 
These divided camps seemed to have reconciled in the legislative elections, when the exiled leadership and the field commanders agreed to jointly form a political party called Partai Aceh (Aceh Party) to stand a better chance of winning. The reconciliation bore fruit, with the Aceh Party winning the majority of the seats. 
Again, the field commanders and their networks provided the crucial machinery to ensure the victory. 
Winning a majority of the seats in the provincial legislature was supposed to put GAM in full control of the province and close the chapter on the rebellion, but it did not. Another problem was to about to surface. 
The Aceh Party, which was and is closely controlled by the exiled former leadership, had not forgotten the embarrassment of that first gubernatorial election and began working toward revenge. 
It started a low-level campaign against their unwanted elected governor, meaning that Aceh’s legislature, since the 2010 elections, has been a legislature that measures its success by how badly it can undermine Irwandi. Most of the policies introduced by the executive arm of the government are constantly being undermined by its legislative arm. 
This time, the exiled leaders are in full control of the field commanders and legislature members who, by now, mostly pledge loyalty to the Aceh Party. For many field commanders, the Aceh Party is their vehicle to control the province both politically and economically. To achieve that goal, many of them have decided to stick together. 
This is the struggle that we see playing out today in the run-up to the second gubernatorial election. The Aceh Party supports the former exiled leader Zaini Abdullah and former GAM commander Muzakir Manaf, and refuses to support Irwandi despite the governor’s popularity. 
To ensure the governor cannot even compete in the election they went so far as to propose a revision of the Election Law to bar independent candidates from running in elections. 
The dispute over independent candidates was politically motivated, intended to stop Irwandi and many other ex-rebels running in the election. Fortunately, it failed, though only after the Constitutional Court’s decision safeguarded the national law. Had it been successful, this attempt to block independent candidates would have been a reversal of democratic progress for the entire country. 
It is a nasty game in Aceh, where the players are willing to go so far as to undermine democratic progress and the peace process for their own purposes of retaliation, punishment and control — where all parties are equal, but some are more equal than others. (The article published on The Jakarta Globe)
Agus Wandi is a former  leading student activist in Aceh. He is also a former fellow of Harvard University’s Weatherhead Center for International Affairs.

GAM Risks Becoming What It Fought GAM Risks Becoming What It Fought Reviewed by Nurdin Hasan on February 26, 2012 Rating: 5

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