Crisis Group Says Aceh Progress Is Remarkable

Continuing its series of analyses of Aceh’s transition from conflict to peace, the International Crisis Group issued another report in late November that assesses the role of the former rebel Free Aceh Movement (GAM) vis-à-vis the elections that were held on 11 December 2006. The ICG analysis notes the crucial role of these elections, by pointing to a survey in which 93 percent of Acehnese respondents said they believed the elections would help cement peace, but 55 percent remained worried about violence.

ICG highlights the splits that have developed within GAM, principally between the “old guard” of exile leaders who spent many years in Sweden, and younger leaders who had remained in Aceh. The split is ultimately about the fundamental question whether GAM decisions are made in top-down or bottom-up fashion. Many were unhappy with the exile leadership’s support for Hasbi Abdullah as gubernatorial candidate. Hasbi lacked solid credentials and support in the Acehnese resistance movement. Avoiding greater infighting, senior GAM leaders decided that the organization would not contest the elections, but that individual GAM members were free to run as independent candidates. Hasbi decided to become the running mate of Humam Hamid of the United Development Party, a Jakarta-based party that is anathema to many in the pro-independence struggle.

GAM members opposed to Hasbi threw their support to a ticket of Irwandi Yusuf—who played a key role in overseeing the implementation of the 2005 peace deal and grew popular due to his hard work on behalf of demobilized ex-combatants—and Muhammad Nazar—who had played a crucial role in pressing for a popular referendum on Aceh independence. This ticket appears to have won the race for Aceh governor.

Contributing to the tensions within GAM have been ongoing problems—delays, poor planning, and chaotic administration—with regard to the funds earmarked for reintegrating former GAM fighters. Few if any of them received the full allotment that they expected under the peace deal, largely because the number of 3,000 combatants mentioned in the agreement turned out to be far too low because it did not include dependents and non-combat GAM cadres. But there are also charges of corruption, and of undue benefits going to former commanders at the expense of rank-and-file members. In addition, the ICG report notes that members of the Indonesian military intelligence have apparently sought to sow discord among GAM members through a variety of means.

ICG concludes that “The political distance Aceh has traveled since the December 2004 tsunami is remarkable.” The participation of GAM candidates in free elections would have been unthinkable two years ago. But “peace is still a work in progress,” and it remains to be seen whether GAM will close ranks in time for the important 2009 elections that will decided the makeup of the provincial parliament.