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Aceh Conflict Indonesia

Notes on ICG’s Latest Indonesia Report: “GAM vs GAM in the Aceh Elections”

ICG Report Header:  "Indonesia: GAM vs GAM in the Aceh Elections"
ICG Report Header: "Indonesia: GAM vs GAM in the Aceh Elections"

A few days ago the International Crisis Group (ICG) issued their latest Asia Briefing titled “Indonesia: GAM vs GAM in the Aceh Elections.” ICG reports are always excellent and this one is no exception, featuring a clear review and honest assessment of the internal divisions within the Free Aceh Movement (Gerakan Aceh Merdeka, GAM) since their peace agreement with Indonesia in 2005, and how those divisions are playing out leading up to the governor (provincial) and bupati (district) executive elections to be held on 14 November 2011. The report begins with the announcement in February—which I have written about HERE—that Partai Aceh (GAM’s local political party) would not nominate Aceh’s incumbent governor Irwandi Yusuf, also from GAM, for reelection. Instead they nominated Zaini Abdullah, a senior figure within GAM’s government in exile during the conflict, and Muzakir Manaf, former commander of GAM’s armed forces, as his running mate. They have since been cleverly dubbed the ZIKIR ticket. Irwandi, still a popular front-runner according to polls, intends to run for reelection anyway. The ICG report argues that if violent friction on the ground can be prevented, then GAM’s internal divisions may add healthy competition to the electoral process and “produce better policies and improved governance” for Aceh.

GAM vs GAM
GAM vs GAM

But that’s not how Partai Aceh sees it. The party has autocratic tendencies, backed up with thug tactics on the ground by KPA (Komite Peralihan Aceh, the Aceh Transitional Committee, representing the interests of GAM ex-combatants), which they are using to steamroll toward one-party rule in Aceh. The political issue at stake to ensure their ZIKIR ticket wins is whether independent candidates (without party nomination) may contest executive elections. If Irwandi cannot run as an independent candidate as he intends, then he effectively loses the election as nomination from one of the national parties would compromise his credibility as a former GAM leader, and there are no other local parties that could (or would) capably back him. In order to ensure this outcome, Partai Aceh leaders are arguing that independent candidates are not allowed under the terms of the peace agreement even though Indonesia’s Constitutional Court has clearly established the legality of independent candidates running for executive office across the country and specifically found this particular provision of the Aceh peace agreement unconstitutional. The irony here is that it was precisely GAM’s peace agreement with Indonesia that allowed independent candidates to run for the first time anywhere in Indonesia (thus enabling Irwandi’s first term), at least until local parties were formed. GAM’s own precedent paved the way for the Constitutional Court to allow independent candidates all across Indonesia, widely seen as a crucial democratic reform for the country. Now that Partai Aceh has a near monopoly over Aceh’s government, GAM is backtracking on its pioneering step for the country from which they no longer seek independence.

That’s a quick summary of the ICG report, which has a lot more detail about political maneuvers in Aceh, violent incidents that may be related to GAM’s electoral competition, and a refreshingly honest assessment of the emerging candidates for governor. I found two particular points in the report worth discussing further:  one is symptomatic of Partai Aceh’s poor governance, and the other is an amusing linguistic footnote.

Partai Aceh’s Delay Tactics as a Mode of Governance

Perhaps as a kind of face-saving measure to cover up their all-out effort to consolidate power, Partai Aceh has turned the issue of independent candidates into an ideological battle between Aceh and Jakarta. They claim that when the Constitutional Court struck down the article of Aceh’s autonomy law that awkwardly allows for independent candidates until local parties have been established (i.e. effectively for the 2006 executive elections only), it violated the peace agreement by interfering with Aceh’s autonomy. This is classic GAM ideology based on decades of rapacious and brutal intervention from Jakarta that understandably validate Acehnese suspicions of central government motives. If Partai Aceh allows the court to chip away at the powers granted under the autonomy law, their argument goes, then it’s just a matter of time before other aspects of Aceh’s autonomy law are revised, presumably toward Jakarta’s advantage (ICG, p.4).

But since assuming legislative office in 2009, Partai Aceh’s inability to legislate or resolve pressing issues has in many ways invited Jakarta’s intervention. Take for example the two controversial “last minute” laws—the Qanun Jinayat and the Qanun Wali Nanggroe—that the outgoing politicians from national parties passed in 2009 just before Partai Aceh legislators assumed office, widely criticized as cynical legislative gamesmanship. Both laws pertain to Aceh’s special autonomy but outgoing legislators framed them quite differently than what GAM intended when negotiating their autonomy provisions during the peace process. Irwandi refused to sign both laws, but then the new Partai Aceh legislators failed to take up either law for revision, leaving the central government to respond to related pressing matters in its own fashion.

The Qanun Jinayat legislates some of the more barbaric aspects of Islamic law such as the stoning of adulterers to death (Aceh is the only province that may legislate Islamic laws), and triggered a wave of embarrassing bad press and international scorn for Aceh. When Partai Aceh refused to revise the law, perhaps wary of alienating their Islamist constituents in Aceh, the discourse shifted to leaders  in  Jakarta  such  as  the  Chief  Justice  of  the Constitutional Court, the President’s spokesperson, the head of the Department of Internal Affairs, and leading national human rights activists, who all publicly speculated upon the legality of the law’s harsh punishments for adultery and other crimes against Islamic law. The debate is no longer whether Jakarta should intervene to repeal Aceh’s religious laws if they violate human rights, but how.

The Qanun Wali Nanggroe establishes a royal leader for Aceh reminiscent of the Aceh sultanate prior to colonialism, and the outgoing legislators passed a version of the law that establishes merely a ceremonial figurehead, far from what GAM had in mind. While the Wali Nanggroe’s status remained ambiguous, in early 2010 the central government issued a routine government regulation that outlines the role and authority of governors across Indonesia and took the initiative to specifically include the Wali Nanggroe as a member of the Regional Leaders’ Forum (Musyawarah Pimpinan Daerah, MUSPIDA) for Aceh. The regulation states that the governor convenes and leads MUSPIDA, placing the Wali Nanggroe figure in a subordinate role, which accords with Jakarta’s understanding of the position. The regulation does not prevent Partai Aceh from enacting a revised law investing the Wali Nanggroe with more authority, but it does reinforce Jakarta’s normative understanding of the institution.*

When Aceh cannot get its legislative house in order, small discursive acts from Jakarta establish—in a piecemeal fashion and on an as-needed basis—precisely the kinds of regulatory precedents over Aceh’s autonomy provisions that Partai Aceh is worried about. The ICG report describes Partai Aceh’s second tactic to prevent Irwandi’s reelection bid (after disputing the Constitutional Court’s ruling), which is to delay issuing election regulations so that the clock will run out on Irwandi’s chances of mounting a campaign before his term ends (ICG, pp.4-5). This pattern of delay, whether strategic or merely incompetent, clearly invites intervention from Jakarta, most recently prompting the National Election Commission to instruct Aceh’s Independent Election Commission to follow the 2006 election law if the Partai Aceh led provincial assembly is unable to pass one for 2011. Partai Aceh only has itself to blame, and choosing now to pick an ideological battle with Jakarta reeks of hypocrisy given their inaction on other matters of importance to Aceh’s autonomy.

GAM & the Sacred Terms of Indonesian Statehood

I enjoyed a few LOLZ at Partai Aceh’s expense when the ICG report quotes senior party figure Adnan Beuransyah commenting on the Constitutional Court ruling. ICG correctly translates his statement as “rejection of the ruling is non-negotiable.” But in a footnote we learn that what he said in Bahasa Indonesia was “Menolak Mahkamah Konstitusi adalah harga mati,” where the phrase “harga mati” is translated as “non-negotiable.” For Bahasa Indonesia speakers, at least those who have spent a long time in Aceh, the kneejerk association with the rabidly nationalist and militaristic phrase “NKRI Harga Mati” is unavoidable. The acronym NKRI stands for Negara Kesatuan Republik Indonesia (The Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia), a state philosophy used as a bulwark against federalist frameworks (Republik Indonesia Serikat) that some argue would herald the disintegration of national unity. Pro-Indonesia groups in Aceh (especially national security forces) included this phrase in every statement and banner related to the conflict and subsequent peace process. While “non-negotiable” is a correct translation for “harga mati,” one may also infer more confrontational overtones because the phrase literally means “the price is death.” “Harga mati” conveys the sense of an aggressive line drawn in the sand.  (Meanwhile, Google Translate defines “harga mati” as “fixed price.” What.)

 "NKRI HARGA MATI" signs in Aceh (photo by Mercedes Chavez) "NKRI HARGA MATI" signs in Aceh

"NKRI HARGA MATI" signs in Aceh "NKRI HARGA MATI" signs in Aceh

Perhaps Adnan was deploying some satire with this turn of phrase, but the two times I met him in 2009 he had the sense of humor of a lamp post, so I’m guessing he spoke without a trace of irony. GAM has a habit of defining their struggle against Indonesia with sacred, thoroughly Indonesian, nationalist terms. Merdeka (as in Gerakan Aceh Merdeka), meaning “freedom” or “independence,” is an attenuated allusion to Indonesia’s revolutionary war for independence from the Dutch. On every Indonesian independence day, the word merdeka echoes across every village and city of the archipelago. Now Adnan Beuransyah defines his non-negotiable opposition to a court decision issued by Indonesia’s highest constitutional authority with similarly sacred nationalist grandiloquence. The ease with which pro-Aceh activists slip into rhetoric that evokes Indonesian nationalism has led some observers to emphasize the point that Acehnese and Indonesian identities were never mutually exclusive.** At a more prosaic level, other observers note the ease with which former GAM activists have slipped into a thoroughly Indonesian style of governance through patronage.*** And that’s what seems to be at stake here: Irwandi has not patronized Partai Aceh enough to earn their nomination. In order to consolidate their fiefdom, Partai Aceh will shamelessly try to cut Irwandi out of the electoral process in order to get what they want, but there are few left who are fooled by their stall tactics and appeals to a hollow “non-negotiable” ideological opposition to Jakarta.

* This discussion of Qanun Jinayat and Qanun Wali Nanggroe is paraphrased generously from the Syiah Kuala University’s Center for Peace and Conflict Resolution Studies publication titled “Aceh Peace Monitoring Update September – December 2009” 

** Siegel, James T. “Possessed.” In The Rope of God. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2000.

*** Aspinall, Edward. “Combatants to Contractors: The Political Economy of Peace in Aceh.” Indonesia, no. 87 (2009): 1-34.

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Aceh Conflict Indonesia Publications

Aceh Peace Monitoring Update September – December 2009

Due to an unfortunate two-month contract gap for the research staff at the Center for Peace and Conflict Resolution Studies (CPCRS), this latest Aceh Peace Monitoring Update (APMU) is four months late. We are still in a process of catching up. The next APMU will cover January through April 2010, and then I hope we will return to a bi-monthly and more timely publication schedule.

The English version is here: Aceh Peace Monitoring Update September – December 2009 (and cover letter)

The Bahasa Indonesia version is here:  Laporan Pemantauan Perdamaian Aceh September – Desember 2009 (and surat pengantar)

Summary:

In November 2009 there were three shooting incidents in Banda Aceh targeting foreigners (causing one critical injury), the first such attacks since the peace agreement in August 2005. To date, few details have emerged about police investigations into these incidents, fuelling security concerns among the international community and allowing space for speculative theories that undermine trust in Aceh’s ongoing peace process. Apart from these attacks, levels of conflict-related and criminal violence from the beginning of September 2009 until the end of the year were at their lowest since the peace agreement, while levels of non-violent conflict remained similar to previous months. In September the outgoing provincial assembly (DPRA) passed the Qanun Wali Nanggroe (“Guardian of the State” law), but like the controversial Qanun Jinayat legislation described in the previous APMU edition, Governor Irwandi has refused to sign it and the new DPRA legislators have yet to repeal or amend it. The ambiguous status of both the Wali Nanggroe and Jinayat laws serves as another example of how legislative gamesmanship with roots in conflict-era political cleavages can weaken government performance, which can invite resolution from the central government in Jakarta, undermining the autonomy provisions that Aceh’s new generation of leaders worked so hard to attain.

Previous updates (formerly titled “Aceh Conflict Monitoring Update”) from August 2005 until February 2009 can be downloaded from the website:  http://www.conflictanddevelopment.org

Previous updates (now titled “Aceh Peace Monitoring Update”) from March 2009 until present are available at the Center for Peace and Conflict Resolution Studies – Syiah Kuala University website:  http://cpcrs-usk.or.id/

Categories
Aceh Conflict Indonesia Publications

Aceh Peace Monitoring Update July – August 2009

At least three months late, today we at the Center for Peace and Conflict Resolution Studies (CPCRS) finalized our July-August 2009 edition of the Aceh Peace Monitoring Update (Laporan Pemantauan Perdamaian Aceh). It was our first experience writing one of these from start to finish, so we had a steep and lengthy learning curve at every step in the process. Next time around should be more efficient, except now we are waiting for the CPCRS research staff to get new contracts before work on the next APMU can resume.

The English version is here:  Aceh Peace Monitoring Update July – August 2009

The Bahasa Indonesia version is here:  Laporan Pemantauan Perdamaian Aceh Juli – Augustus 2009

Summary:

In August 2009, upon the fourth anniversary of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) and the Indonesian government, violent incidents remained at their lowest sustained levels since 2006. Overall conflict figures (violent and non-violent) also remained at their lowest levels since early 2008.  On 8 July, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was reelected, winning more than 93% of the vote in Aceh, more than in any other province in Indonesia. His landslide victory in Aceh has been widely interpreted as a vote for peace, but his pro-poor development policies and an informal political alliance with leaders from Aceh’s ruling party Partai Aceh (PA) also appear to have contributed importantly to his victory. Through the legislative and presidential elections, GAM completed its transformation into a political force accountable to voters. The election results also strengthened a central government that supports the peace process, thereby delivering a favorable political configuration to sustain and consolidate peace in Aceh. Following the elections, provincial and district governments in Aceh face a dual challenge. On the one hand, they will need to maintain the broad coalition of supporters that brought them into political office. On the other hand, they must pursue governance reform. Before the new PA dominated parliament was sworn in at the end of September, outgoing legislators focused more of their attention than usual on a long list of administrative issues that highlight poor performance in the executive branch. Tensions between provincial parliament (DPRA) and the executive reached their peak in September when the DPRA rushed into law a new and controversial syariat-based criminal code, the Qanun Jinayat, which Governor Irwandi has refused to sign.

Previous updates (formerly titled “Aceh Conflict Monitoring Update”) can be downloaded from the website:  http://www.conflictanddevelopment.org

Center for Peace and Conflict Resolution Studies – Syiah Kuala University:  http://cpcrs-usk.or.id/