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Good prospects for national parties in Aceh elections

  • The Jakarta Post

    The Jakarta Post

| Mon, March 10, 2014 | 09:53 am
Good prospects for national parties in Aceh elections

The province of Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam '€” popularly known as Aceh '€” was granted special autonomy status following the signing of a peace accord in Helsinki in 2005. One major clause in the agreement was the liberty for Acehnese to have local political parties of their own, aside from the national parties. The Jakarta Post'€™s Apriadi Gunawan takes a closer look at the political situation in the westernmost province ahead of this year'€™s general election.

Political parties'€™ paraphernalia is festooned all over Cinta Raja village, Bendahara district, Aceh Tamiang regency. Located in an oil-palm estate, the village is electric with energy as the April legislative election approaches, with legislative hopefuls soliciting villagers for their support at the polls.

Syaifullah Abdullah Nurdin, a Cinta Raja community figure, said local and national aspirants'€™ promotional activities had increased over the past few days. He described
the situation to be an interesting phenomenon because five years ago the village was an Aceh Party stronghold.

'€œThe residents of Cinta Raja are now open to all contenders ['€¦] there'€™s been a tendency among locals to elect non-party figures,'€ he told The Jakarta Post in late February.

During the conflict in Aceh, Cinta Raja village was the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) base in Aceh Tamiang. Unsurprisingly, following the signing of the Helsinki peace accord in 2005, most residents backed the Aceh Party founded by ex-GAM combatants through the Aceh Transition Committee (KPA).

Syaifullah, also a former GAM member, said in the 2009 elections the Aceh Party won in Cinta Raja. '€œOver 60 percent of the vote went to the Aceh Party here,'€ added Syaifullah, now an official of the KPA in Bendahara district, Aceh Tamiang.

Yet he expressed pessimism about a repeat victory in the April elections especially in Cinta Raja. This village has 542 eligible voters this year out of a population of 890.

'€œI predict the Aceh Party'€™s vote gain in this village will be reduced to 40 percent, because many party cadres in legislative and executive positions have forgotten their supporters,'€ said Syaifullah, referring to the poor-welfare conditions of the party'€™s grassroot followers and the appalling state of the road leading to Cinta Raja.

Syaifullah indicated that the KPA, with its former GAM-combatant membership and its position as an embryo of the Aceh Party, was no longer solid.  

'€œThe KPA was originally united so the Aceh Party had a solid voice. Today the KPA is divided. Part of it remains in the Aceh Party and the other part has set up a new party, the Aceh National Party,'€ Syaifullah pointed out.  

Chairman of the Consultative Assembly of the Aceh National Party (PNA) in Aceh Tamiang regency, Tengku Rani, said he had left the KPA and joined the new party after being neglected by the Aceh Party leadership. He claimed that almost 70 percent of ex-GAM combatants in the KPA and Aceh Party had jumped ship to the PNA.   

'€œMost of the PNA chairmen are former GAM combatants,'€ revealed Tengku Rani, the one-time GAM governor in Aceh Tamiang. According to Rani, the PNA was formed by ex-GAM members in 2012. One of the cofounders was GAM negotiation coordinator and former Aceh governor Irwandi Yusuf, now PNA Consultative Assembly chairman.  

Tengku Rani acknowledged that as a new party the PNA had never been involved in legislative and executive elections. '€œThis is the first time that we will be involved in the elections. Our target is to garner 60 percent of the legislative vote for the PNA,'€ said Rani, who runs as Aceh'€™s legislative candidate for Constituency seven, covering Langsa and Aceh Tamiang.

Rani mentioned a number of regencies and cities that would bolster the PNA'€™s results in the April polls: Langsa, Bandar Meriah, Takengon, Subulussalam, Aceh Singkil, Bireun, Kutacane, Southeast Aceh and Banda Aceh.

'€œHalf of the PNA'€™s aspirants are ex-GAM fighters and the other half are community figures,'€ Rani concluded.

Chairman of the Aceh Party in Aceh Tamiang, Sahar, said although many ex-GAM members had turned to the PNA, the Aceh Party had not lost its relevance and the two parties would not sever relations.

'€œDespite the differences in our visions, we remain brothers and will later develop a legislative coalition,'€ he said.

Responding to complaints about the Aceh Party neglecting its supporters, Sahar stated: '€œIt is natural; we'€™re not free from mistakes. But we'€™ll make amends,'€ he added, remaining optimistic that the Aceh Party would continue to garner support.

Chairman of the Aceh Party Campaign Committee (KPPA), Kamaruddin Abubakar, said the Aceh Party would not just aim for a majority share of the vote but, most importantly, penetrate all segments in society. Admitting the challenges ahead, he said that with the Aceh Party'€™s history at the elections, it would not be impossible to achieve.

Based on KPPA data, the party gathered 1,007,173 votes from 3,900,965 voters in the 2009 elections. The Aceh Party scored 43.9 percent and secured 33 of the 69 seats in the Aceh Legislative Council. This party won the 2012 Aceh provincial elections and filled the posts of regent and mayor in 11 regencies and cities.

Aceh Party general chairman Muzakir Manaf, in a written message at the party'€™s campaign meeting in Aceh Tamiang, shared his hope that the Aceh Party could again be victorious as it had in the Aceh gubernatorial elections in 2012. Muzakkir emphasized the word '€œvictory'€. According to him, if the party failed, the dignity of Aceh would be ruined and the past struggle in vain.

'€œI wish to reiterate that if the Aceh Party loses, Aceh will return to political darkness, leaving only a stretch of land at the tip of Sumatra without meaning and dignity. It'€™s the burden we are supposed to bear,'€ said Muzakir, also Aceh deputy governor.

A political observer from Syiah Kuala University, Banda Aceh, M. Jafar, said the PNA'€™s participation in the elections signalized an internal rift, which would indirectly favor national parties.

'€œThis momentum impacts on public confidence ['€¦] It could favor national parties because the public is tired of conflict. People want to elect legislative candidates or parties that ensure tranquility and peace in Aceh,'€ M. Jafar told the Post early this month.

Jafar noticed, however, that national parties in Aceh were passively responding to the split. In this way, in Jafar'€™s view, the number of voters expected to turn to national parties is insignificant. '€œThe problem is that most national parties have not campaigned optimally so the vote transfer won'€™t be big,'€ he said.

He forecast that the Aceh Party and the PNA would garner between 40 and 50 percent of the vote. The Aceh Party, Jafar continued, would remain the majority. The Aceh Party will win the provincial and regency/city elections but the votes secured will be far less than those in 2009.

Jafar observed that the Aceh Party would secure several regions previously identified as GAM operational bases, including Aceh Jaya; Pidie; Bireun; North Aceh; East Aceh; and Lhokseumawe. In Central and Southeast Aceh, he believes, the Aceh Party will lose and the PNA and the Golkar Party will be victorious.

The Nasdem Party is expected to succeed in cities such as Banda Aceh, Langsa and West Aceh. Competition for Aceh at the national level between Nasdem, Golkar, the Democratic Party, the Gerindra Party and the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) will be tight, Jafar said.

'€œIn my opinion these national parties'€™ campaigns have been more prominent,'€ he went on.

Secretary of the Democrats of Aceh Tamiang, Hariyanto, acknowledged the tough competition, particularly against the Aceh Party.

'€œVoters'€™ fanaticism in certain regions remains linked to the Aceh Party in spite of its split with the Aceh National Party,'€ said Hariyanto.

Chairman of the Election Independence Commission (KIP) of Aceh, Ridwan Hadi, said three local parties '€” the Aceh Peace Party (PDA), the PNA and the Aceh Party '€” would run in the legislative elections in Aceh.

According to his records, the number of voters would be 3,315,094, as validated and determined on Jan. 20. '€œWe hope 70 percent of this number will exercise their right to vote,'€ he anticipated.

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