Zaini Abdullah and his running mate, Muzakir Manaf, recently won Aceh’s gubernatorial election with more than 51 percent of the vote and are expected to lead the province until 2017. Both were senior members of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM), which waged a decades-long violent insurgency against the Indonesian government that ended with the signing of the Helsinki agreement in 2005. Zaini, GAM’s former foreign minister, recently talked with The Jakarta Post’s Hotli Simanjuntak about his plans and strategies to develop one of the nation’s poorest provinces. Below are excerpts of their discussion:
Question: What will be your top priority in the short term?
Answer: We are putting efforts to maintain peace and security on the top of our agenda. Then we will focus on how to increase the welfare of the people and reduce unemployment by helping to create more jobs.
I want Aceh to be strongly self-sufficient in its economy, as we have a huge potential in the agriculture, fishery and plantation sectors, where the people who work there are still using traditional means. We want to ensure that we can facilitate them to be more productive. In the foreseeable future, there will be more subsidies for these sectors as well as more education and training.
Our attention will also cover poor people, who have been long affected by the conflict and the  tsunami by providing them not only with healthcare facilities but also with free education until high school. We will also select students with high IQs to be groomed to develop the province.
There are actually no contentious issues in Aceh, other than miscommunication and a lack of information and equal participation of all elements. I even plan to have women and ulama [religious leaders] play a greater role in developing Aceh.
Another issue is to ensure that all points in the [Helsinki] memorandum of understanding are implemented well and included in the Law on Aceh Governance. Many points have not been accommodated, such the division of authority between the central and local government.
Also, some points in the Aceh governance law do not comply with the [memorandum]. We want those points to be reviewed. We’re planning to have a coordination meeting with the central government every three months to discuss sustaining peace in Aceh.
How will you convince business to come to Aceh?
The most important thing is to ensure investors that Aceh is a safe place to do business. We are hoping to forge better cooperation with the central government to reach out to investors and make sure that their security here is guaranteed.
There should be sincerity, honesty and openness on the part of the central government to explain what really happened in Aceh. We need to build more trust with the central government so that investors do not feel hesitation or concern over the business climate in Aceh.
How will you assure investors concerned about rampant illegal fees?
Creating a clean government is a must. This is among the top items on our agenda. We want to change the mind-set of the bureaucracy in Aceh from working to merely make a living to working to serve.
How do you plan on exploiting Aceh’s abundant mineral wealth?
I will definitely reorganize the management of our mining resources. I am sad and concerned to see how the natural resources in this province have been managed.
I’ve lived in Sweden and I would adopt strategies and polices applied there to ensure that our natural resources here are managed in a sustainable way.
I am surprised to see all of our natural resources are sold in raw form, and have only benefitted China, as the commodities have been sold very cheap.
What I will do is have all of our mining commodities processed here in Aceh and then exported. I would also revoke all mining licenses that have the potential to harm our protected forests. There are even some licenses to mine in such forests. This will be a huge disaster for the environment. This must be stopped
I thank nongovernmental organizations in the environment sector for raising these issues. We will cooperate to rearrange our mining policies.
On security, how do you plan to reconcile the losing parties to ensure stability?
The focus point of my reconciliation efforts will not only cover the losing parties but also all of Aceh’s people to ensure that they are involved and accommodated.
I welcome all parties to our camp as long as we share the same vision. If they don’t, I cannot force them.
How do you see the implementation of sharia law in Aceh?
Well, I’ve never missed prayers, including when I lived overseas. For the Acehnese, religion is the meat that has nourished you since you were a child.
No Acehnese would ever sever their ties with Islam. But for me, religion and sharia are not contentious issues.
What’s important is to bring the province to its glory as in the time of [Sultan] Iskandar Muda [1583–1636]. At the time all affairs were based on the Koran and the Hadith [the sayings of Muhammad]. That was how the kingdom gained prosperity.
Iskandar Muda could forge quality ties with people from all walks of life, domestically and overseas, whether they were Muslim or non-Muslim. And that’s exactly what I’m planning to replicate.
I want to implement full sharia law, not just partially, as what has been implemented today. This can only be done if you can balance prevention and treatment. I want all Acehnese children to have the highest quality of religious teachings so that they can become good Muslims.