Jakarta (AsiaNews) - For the second time in its
recent history, the Indonesian province of Aceh will be led by a former separatist
rebel leader. Zaini Abdullah, a doctor who spent many years in exile in Sweden,
won by a landslide (55.75 per cent) the election of 9 April. He will take the
place of outgoing Governor Irwandi Yusuf, also a former separatist leader. Together
with his deputy Muzakir Manaf, Abdullah will be responsible for policy-making
and administration in a province, where Islam is extending its grip on society
in more radical and fundamentalist ways. Both ran for the newly established
Until a few years ago, Zaini Abdullah topped
Indonesia's most wanted list. He was forced to flee to Sweden in 1981, where he
spent the subsequent 24 years. In exile, he was the 'foreign minister' for the
separatist Free Aceh Movement (GAM) under the late Hasan Tiro, a hero to many
Last night, the new governor gave a brief speech to
his supporters in the provincial capital of Banda Aceh. He told them that he would
fight corruption, one of the most serious problems afflicting Indonesian society,
and that he would fully implement Islamic law.
Indonesia is famous for its moralisation campaigns
in the name of Sharia and Islamic customs. In Aceh, the latter have taken on a
special character. Recently for example, a proposal
was made to ban short skirts, local ulema launched a moralisation campaign
against yoga and tobacco, and police cracked
down on people wearing jeans and tight skirts.
During the fight between the pro-independence GAM and
Indonesian Special Forces sent by then President Suharto, who ran the country from
1967 to 1998, claimed the lives of at least 15,000 people, mostly civilians.
However, the devastation caused by the December
2004 tsunami couple with the need to bring humanitarian aid to the affected
areas created a window of opportunity that led to a hitherto unthinkable peace
The first gubernatorial election under the
agreement reached by the Indonesian government and GAM was held in December 2006
and saw the victory
of Irwandi Yusuf.
Protected by thousands of police officers deployed
in 9,754 polling stations, last week's election had been scheduled in 2011 but had
to be postponed over a dispute concerning the right of independent candidates
to run. After four postponements, threats and extremist intimidations, the poll
went off without a hitch on 9 April.