Aceh Elects Ex-Rebel 'Foreign Minister' As Governor


Aceh gubernatorial candidate from Aceh Party gestures during interview in Banda Aceh, Tuesday,
April 17, 2012 - NURDIN HASAN PHOTO
Banda Aceh, TAG – Indonesia's only region where Islamic sharia laws apply elected another former rebel as governor on Tuesday, in Aceh's second election since a devastating tsunami in 2004 and the end of a 30-year guerillas war.

The powerful Aceh Party's Zaini Abdullah - the former "foreign minister" of the defunct rebel Free Aceh Movement (GAM)  in exile - beat four other candidates in a landslide victory in the largely autonomous province.

"The candidate pair Zaini Abdullah and Muzakir Manaf... will serve as governor and vice governor for the period 2012 to 2017," Aceh electoral commission head Abdul Salam Poroh announced.

Zaini won with more than 1.3 million votes, more than 55 percent, while his main rival, incumbent and independent candidate Irwandi Yusuf, came second with around 30 percent.

Zaini is credited as a key negotiator in a 2005 agreement with the central government that granted special autonomy to Aceh, which sits on the northern tip of Sumatra island.

The agreement, in which the rebels agreed to lay down arms, put an end to 30 years of bloody unrest, in which more than 25,000 people died, mostly civilians.

The vote on April 9 came after months of political manovering by Zaini and his party, which tried to see independents like Irwandi disqualified from running.

Irwandi's campaign team accused the Aceh Party of intimidating voters to back Zaini by using threats of violence and kidnappings, allegations the party denies.

Around 200 Aceh Party supporters at provincial parliament house cheered upon hearing the announcement, yelling "Allahu Akbar" ("God is greatest") and "Long live Zaini Abdullah".

Aceh gubernatorial candidate from Aceh Party poses after an interview in Banda Aceh, Tuesday, April 2012 - NURDIN HASAN PHOTO
Zaini, 72, won on a platform of strengthening Aceh's special autonomy status, which allows the partial practice of sharia laws - an anomaly in the world's most populous Muslim nation where the majority practice a moderate form of Islam.

He also promised to improve the economy, primarily through exploiting Aceh's natural reserves.

Zaini quickly rose to the top ranks of the rebel group while working as a doctor when GAM was formed in 1976.

The central government eventually named him a wanted man and he fled to the jungle, moving to Sweden in 1981, where he lived in exile for 24 years.

The Aceh Party's campaign manager Kamaruddin Abu Bakar hailed the victory as a "win for the Acehnese people".

"We hope to build a better Aceh, to improve the welfare of the people and boost the economy, education, health and infrastructure," he said.

"We're also going to undertake reforms for corruption-free governance."

Zaini's win boosts the Aceh Party's power, which already dominates parliament.

Sporadic politically-motivated violence continues in the restive province, with more than a dozen fatal shootings in the six months ahead of the election.

The Helsinki Memorandum of Understanding between Jakarta and the rebels was also made in the spirit of rebuilding Aceh after a devastating tsunami in 2004 destroyed towns and killed 170,000 in Indonesia, the vast majority in Aceh.[]
Aceh Elects Ex-Rebel 'Foreign Minister' As Governor Aceh Elects Ex-Rebel 'Foreign Minister' As Governor Reviewed by Nurdin Hasan on April 17, 2012 Rating: 5

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