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 Aceh Party.
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 Aceh nationalists.
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 agreement.
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.