After hard and painful events, ranging from political and military conflict to the tsunami disaster, the people of Aceh can now enjoy more political freedoms and special rights. Six eligible local parties will soon compete for legislative seats in the 2009 legislative election.
The establishment of these local parties is based on the Aceh Administration Law which says that Acehnese can have and be represented by local political parties, to help channel their political aspirations.
The law is part of the implementation of the memorandum of understanding (MoU) between the now dissolved separatist Free-Aceh Movement (GAM) and the Indonesian government, in Helsinki in 2005.
It was not easy for Acehnese to start initiating local parties. They had to move step-by-step towards their goal. Many people, especially ultranationalists, still consider local parties as a backdoor way out for Acehnese to separate the region from the unitary state of the Republic of Indonesia.
Further, sharp criticisms were made of parties set up by former GAM fighters.
"It seems that ultranationalist people in Jakarta want to constrain the establishment of local parties in Aceh," said Ibrahim KBS, spokesperson of Aceh Transitional Committee (KPA), an organization of ex-GAM members that had been granted amnesty by the RI government.
Therefore, they had to change the organization's name several times to avoid problems.
"Since the Helsinki agreement, we had put aside our dream to separate from Indonesia and become independent. Therefore, we consider Pancasila and the 1945 Constitution as principles in establishing the party," Ibrahim told The Jakarta Post recently.
The Aceh regional office of the Justice and Human Rights Ministry faced problems in verifying local parties, as many issues on party names and symbols had not yet been solved.
After lobbying, at last GAM and the government agreed to name one party of former GAM fighters as the Partai Aceh or Aceh Party.
The ministry's regional office verified 12 local parties which should then be verified further by the Aceh-based General Election Independence Commission (KIP).
Based on KIP's verification, there are now only six of these parties remaining as eligible to take part in the 2009 general election.
The 5 other eligible parties, along with the Aceh Party, are the Partai Suara Independen Rakyat Aceh or the Aceh People's Independent Voice Party (SIRA), the Partai Rakyat Aceh or the Aceh People's Party (PRA), the Partai Aceh Aman Seujahtera or the Aceh Safe and Prosperous Party (PAAS), the Partai Bersatu Atjeh or United Aceh Party (PBA) and Partai Daulat Atjeh or the Aceh Sovereign Party (PDA).
Political disputes in Aceh have not ended with these six parties being verified to compete for seats at the regional and provincial legislature councils.
There were controversial articles in the Aceh provincial bylaws on Local Parties, requiring all candidates for national and local seats to be proficient in reading the Koran.
Home Affairs Minister Mardiyanto annulled this requirement for those competing for national seats.
Another problem is the absence of the Election Supervisory Committee (Panwaslu), said KIP deputy chairman Ilham Syahputra.
"We have conducted many steps to prepare the election but the Panwaslu has yet to be formed," he said.
Ilham urged the provincial administration to push the involved institutions to form Panwaslu soon in order to avoid problems in the future.
"Local parties only exist in Aceh. Therefore, the General Election Commission can make this a pilot project for the success of elections involving local parties," he said.
"The involvement of local parties in the coming election will prove Indonesia is a democratic nation."