While 34 national political parties will contest the general elections in April 2009, the contest in Aceh will be very different. This will be the only place where local parties will also participate.
Six local parties have complied with the requirements needed to stand regarding minimum membership and having the required number of branches in the districts and sub-districts. Unfortunately some requests for recognition were rejected including a women's political party, several Muslim parties and a party combining members of GAM and the ulama party.
The six parties which complied with the requirements were:
1. Partai Aceh
2. Partai Aceh Aman Sejahtera
3. Partai Bersatu Aceh
4. Partai Daulat Aceh
5. Partai Rakyat Aceh
6. Partai Suara Independen Rakyat Aceh
All the parties bear the word ‘Aceh’ in their names. It is also clear from the composition of their leaderships and programmes that they advocate a variety of political programmes from left to right.
It is widely expected that the majority of votes will go to the local parties. According to some observers, they could between them win up to two-thirds of the votes. On the list of contesting parties, these local parites will be listed as numbers 35 - 40.
This is the first time in Indonesia that local parties will be allowed to stand and it is likely that certain complications will emerge. Votes for the national Parliament at the election in April may only be cast for one of the national parties. Votes cast for local parties will determine the composition of the local parliament. It is therefore likely that, in the interest of both local and national parties, agreements will be reached to make coalitions of two or more parties so as to attract more support for some of the national parties.
Some candidates nominated by national parties have withdrawn from the national list in order to stand for local parties. The most striking example is Farhan Hamid, a well-known Acehnese politician from PAN (Partai Amanat Nasional) who has decided to stand for the new local party Partai Bersatu Aceh. It is quite likely that PAN will decide to place Farhan high on their list of candidates.
Partai Aceh represents the electorate that supported GAM, the Free Aceh Movement. It it chaired by Muzakkir Manaf who was the commander-in-chief of the armed wing of GAM. It is widely predicted that this party will win an absolute majority, anywhere between 50 and 60 percent of the votes. Several problems emerged at the launching of the party. One was about the choice of its name and another was caused by internal frictions within GAM. The authorities in Jakarta refused to accepted the name first adopted, Partai GAM, arguing that this would portray it as a party in support of independence.
After many months of wrangling, the dispute was resolved at a summit meeting between the GAM leadership and the President when it was agreed that the initials GAM would be dropped. In accord with the consensus reached, the central government promised to allow a museum to be established in Aceh to commemorate the struggle of the Acehnese people and to commemorate the victims who died in the more than 30 years struggle for independence.
This GAM party has already began to organise itself on a grand scale; in many parts of Aceh, the streets are festooned with the red flag of Partai Aceh.
Another serious problem was the deep rift between the senior GAM leadership, some of whom are still based in Sweden, and a much younger wing of rank-and-file GAM leaders under the present governor of Aceh, Irwandi Yusuf who won a sensational victory in the local election for governor last year, even defeating senior GAM leaders. The new party, Partai Aceh, is basically a creation of the senior leaders and all the signs indicate that a consolidation will be reached between the two factions within GAM.
With the huge victory of GAM candidates in the local elections where contests for the majority of district chiefs were also won, another interesting phenomenon emerged. A batch of relatively inexperienced administrators suddenly had to take over and in the course of weeks swift decisions were taken. A new layer of young advisors and bureaucrats was recruited, often originating from the large group of pro-democracy activists, while civil servants are now required to pledge loyalty to these new office-holders. Some key activists like Kautsar, Ary Maulana and many others became advisors of the district administration and have now also joined the ranks of the new party.
Partai Aceh will likely seize a substantial majority and will continue with a policy of openness towards the outside world, secular with deep roots in the Islamic traditions of Aceh and will safeguard good relations with the government in Jakarta.
Partai Aceh Aman Sejahtera (The Aceh Peace and Prosperous Party) is an initiative of a senior Acehnese politician Ghazali Abas. He served several terms in the MPR, the People’s Congress, in Jakarta, and has a splendid track record in raising serious human rights problems in Aceh during the difficult periods of the eighties and nineties. PAAS will try to win support from the non-GAM electorate and in certain districts will attract many voters. Whether PAAS will succeed in establishing a
stronghold in the new local parliament depends on the success of its campaigning. PAAS will emerge as a mainstream party with conservative inclinations.
Partai Bersatu Aceh /(The Aceh Unity Party) under Farhan Hamid will also try to attract non-GAM voters. Farhan Hamid comes from PAN, the party that was established by key members of Muhammadiyah, arguably the only Muslim organisation that has followers all over Indonesia. In previous elections it drew a large share of the votes but it remains to be seen how well this new party will perform. PBA will also emerge as a mainstream party with a more progressive programme and a modernist Muslim outlook.
Partai Daulat Aceh (Aceh Sovereignty Party) will emerge as the sole party with a solid Muslim identity and its electorate will be the dayah communities, the communities based around Muslim educational centres. In the Suharto era, the Acehnese electorate for over 20 years voted for PPP, the Muslim federation, one of only three parties permitted to exist. PDA will probably draw its votes primarily from the traditional PPP electorate plus votes from other Muslim national parties such as the PKB and the PBB. PDA will run on a conservative programme.
Partai Rakyat Aceh has adopted a leftist nationalist programme and a cautious attitude towards foreign investments in Aceh. Its board include familiar names, those who were active in the period before and after the fall of Suharto, the so-called reformasi generation, including chairman Aguswandi (who studied abroad for several years), Nanda Thamrin (who had to flee from Aceh during the military emergency period) and spokesperson Raihan Diani, who spent some time in prison for allegedly insulting President Megawati; she too was forced to leave Aceh for several years. It remains to be seen whether they can attract a large number of votes but so far PRA has always been able to mobilise large crowds in their rallies.
Partai Suara Independen Rakyat Aceh is the party of the mass movement SIRA that was able to mobilise hundreds of thousands of people in the period from 1998 to 2000 under a slogan calling for a referendum on the political future of Aceh. SIRA still enjoys the sympathy of many Acehnese but at the same time SIRA is often seen as the unarmed wing of GAM. The present vice-governor of Aceh is Muhammad Nazar, till very recently chairman of SIRA. The present chair of Partai SIRA is Taufiq Abda, a very able and sociable young politician. His party will definitely score well but at the same time will find it hard to compete with its big brother, Partai Aceh.