Two candidates — Zaini Abdullah and incumbent Governor Irwandi Yusuf — are dominating a field of seven campaigns running in the province’s gubernatorial election on Apr. 7.
Zaini Abdullah is a co-founder and former foreign minister of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM), while Muzakir Manaf was a GAM guerrilla commander. Zaini, whose younger brother Hasbi Abdullah is speaker of the Aceh Legislative Council, spent a third of his life supporting GAM, including a lengthy exile in Sweden with GAM chief patron Hasan di Tiro.
Supporters: Some of Jakarta’s power elite, including Regional Representatives Council (DPD) Farhan Hamid deputy speaker, and senior offi cials from the Home Ministry, the National Mandate Party (PAN), the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) and foreign investors.
Strengths: The Aceh Party, the political arm of GAM’s former members, has 23 branches in Aceh and boasts 60 seats on the Aceh Legislative Council. It is most dominant in Eastern Aceh, home to 60 percent of the province’s population. Muzakir is expected to garner votes from former combatants currently backing Irwandi. Former Iskandar Muda Military Command chief Maj. Gen. Sunarko is a member of Zaini’s campaign team.
Weakness: The party is unpopular in western Aceh areas such as Singkil, Bener Meriah, Subulussalam, and Central Aceh, which together account for 40 percent of Aceh’s population. The Aceh Party and former GAM members have been accused of extorting villagers and dominating development projects in the province. Insuffi cient campaign budget.
Strategy: The Aceh Party may nominate another independent candidate in western Aceh to divide support for Irwandi. The party has launched a PR campaign to improve its image as a down-to-earth and populist movement and to counter its current reputation as an exclusive club for former GAM combatants. The couple has prepared 1 million so-called success teams for the election.
Interview with Zaini Abdullah
What are your disagreements with Irwandi?
During our field visits, we’ve always been welcomed warmly by the people. What they say to us is that the changes in Aceh nowadays are leading to injustice and dishonest behavior from the current leaders, who are denying their given responsibility. We also witnessed people who were very disappointed when the Aceh Party refused to register their candidates. They encouraged us to run. We’re reluctant to fight in the election because we see that Irwandi’s position is strong and that he has abundant financial resources to serve his interests. We decided to undertake the necessary legal process to join the election, and we succeeded in delaying the election until Irwandi’s term as governor ended.
The end of Irwandi’s term gives us some advantage, as he can no longer use the people’s money to serve his personal purposes. We’re not requesting that the central government back us. What we demand is for the government to clarify the legal process.
The Home Ministry understands well that the election process may lead to conflict. The Office of the Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister also understands the situation, despite receiving most of its information from its Aceh desk, whose officials have close links to Irwandi. We also see that the Aceh Independent Election Commission [KIP] is being forced by certain parties to comply with their interests. I believe there’s a political conspiracy to destroy the Aceh Party after we won the previous election. They know the party is the home of most former GAM members.
What will you do if you lose?
Winning and losing are determined solely by Allah and the people of Aceh. We’re ready to lose. Despite my age, I’m still fighting to fulfill the responsibilities that were bestowed upon me as the guardian of the Acehnese state. But if I fail to get elected, then this is no longer our responsibility.
Is GAM really divided?
That’s not true. If there are former GAM members supporting Irwandi, they will be few. Their interest is just in the money offered by Irwandi. When we summoned members of the Aceh Party and the Aceh Transitional Committee, representatives from all 23 regencies and municipalities were present. So I believe [former GAM members] share the same spirit and support the gubernatorial candidates of the Aceh Party. When we registered for the election, our supporters accompanied us from kilometers away to the election commission office — and they were not paid, as we don’t have any money for them. It was a sincere support.
Has Irwandi betrayed GAM?
It’s more than a betrayal. We have been mistreated by Irwandi, who was once one of our children. Irwandi has behaved like an ungrateful child. We have taught him and promoted him to a good position. But his performance has ruined everything that we’ve dreamed of. He never tried to communicate with us in a good way, and also never showed up when we summoned him for a discussion.
We never intended to have him here to honor us. What we expected was for him to explain his difficulties, and ask how we could help in resolve the problem. It is obvious in this struggle to see people who are pragmatic and those who are idealistic. I believe that when Irwandi is no longer governor, many former GAM members will return to the Aceh Party, except for people like Nur Djuli and Sofyan Dawood.
Irwandi was Aceh’s first directly elected governor, serving from 2006 to 2011, while Muhyan previously led Aceh’s Public Works Agency. Irwandi led GAM’s intelligent unit during the separatist movement and represented GAM at the Helsinki peace talks.
Supporters: Some members of the political elite from the Offi ce of Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister, the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), various NGOs and activists, the local Rakyat Aceh Party (PRA) and several former prominent GAM leaders, including former spokesperson Sofyan Dawood, former reintegration agency chief Nur Djuli and Muharram, a former guerrilla commander in Aceh Raya.
Strengths: As the incumbent, Irwandi is popular for launching the Aceh Health Guarantee (JKA) insurance scheme, giving local residents free medical treatment. Irwandi’s partner, Muhyan Yunan, is expected to garner votes from western Aceh. Muhyan’s intelligence and network may give him an edge in the race. The campaign is adequately funded. Irwandi has been praised for keeping Aceh peaceful and stable.
Weakness: Irwandi might be tarred by allegations of graft and environmental destruction during his tenure as governor. Repeated election delays may lead supporters to defect to the Aceh Party.
The campaign has little infl uence in eastern Aceh, particularly in Pidie, Pidie Jaya and North Aceh.
Strategy: Irwandi has launched a PR campaign promoting his programs and accomplishments as governor and has recruited many activists and professionals for his campaign team.
Also touting his lack of connections to the Indonesian Military (TNI), which has been accused of gross human rights violation in Aceh.
Interview with Irwandi Yusuf
What are your disagreements with Zaini?
I was puzzled after learning that the Aceh Party was not satisfied with my administration. I’ve already implemented pro-people programs such as health insurance, free education and scholarships and more. I’ve tried to fulfill all of their requests. They seem to remain in vengeance mode after their candidate’s defeat against me [in 2006].
I can be said to be abnormal because I no longer have any ‘pessimistic nerve’. People always see me as overly optimistic. I’ve no special strategy for facing the upcoming election. What’s important is that I work sincerely. I’ve never instructed anybody to prevent A or B from becoming a gubernatorial candidate, as everyone has the right to do.
What will you do if you lose?
I’m ready to lose, although they may try to cheat me. What’s important is that there not be bloodshed. If there turns out to be casualties, then I’m ready to fight for justice. I actually don’t want to run for second term, but I’ve found no figure to lead Aceh. I want a qualified candidate.
Is GAM really divided?
Currently, there is a division among the former GAM members in the upcoming election. I believe it will be temporary. People say that this division has led to a horizontal conflict, but I say otherwise. There are a few horizontal conflicts that are by nature short-lived. The divisions have been going on since 2006 when I decided to run as gubernatorial candidate against Hasbi Abdullah and Humam Hamid, who were supported by former GAM members and elites.
Currently, of the 17 areas of GAM strongholds in Aceh, only three areas — Pidie, Pase and Pidie Jaya — have joined the Aceh Party, while the remaining 14 areas have decided to join my side.
What happened is that Aceh Party fi red the commanders of the 14 GAM areas and installed new leaders with no roots, history and experience as combatants during the confl ict.
What’s your response to those who say you have betrayed your fellow GAM members?
Who’s actually betraying the dreams and the aims of our struggle? I’ve never told people to prevent anyone from running in local leader races. If the Aceh Party is not satisfied with my work, they should point it out why. What are my programs that they allege violate the interests of the public?
They just cannot point to anything. My success seems to be their problem. I feel threatened. I’ve received information from my intelligence agents. But don’t ask me who’s threatening me.
People see me as a die hard. But there’s always a way to resolve a problem without using violence. I’ve proven it. Since I have lead Aceh, I have managed to ensure peace and stability.