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Aceh votes to decide life after war GAMPONG COT - More than 2 million people are expected to vote in Indonesia's once-rebellious Aceh on Monday in landmark elections aimed at bolstering a peace deal between the government and separatists. Jakarta and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) signed the Aug. 15, 2005 truce under Finnish mediation to end almost three decades of fighting that had killed 15,000 people since the rebels launched a struggle for an independent state on the northern tip of Indonesia's Sumatra island.

The pact paved the way for the province's first direct vote for top posts - its governor and deputy as well as 19 regents and mayors - in which ex-rebels could run as independents. In Gampong Cot village, where gunshots were heard daily during the rebellion, residents set up a polling station in a tent made of palm trees and blue plastic outside a mosque. "This is a dream come true. We never thought it would reach this stage considering how often gunfights occurred," said local organiser Usman Darusalam before voting began.

The situation during the campaign in the province of 4 million people has been largely peaceful, but 13,000 police officers will be alert during voting and counting at more than 8,400 polling stations. "I hope people really use this chance and go to the polling stations in droves. Don't be afraid anymore to come out," Aceh's caretaker governor, Mustafa Abubakar, told reporters.

Ordinary Acehnese hope the vote will bring a new lease of life in their battered homeland, where previous polls during conflict were conducted under tight security and military intimidation.

Generals in the race

Eight candidates are running for governor, including two retired Indonesian army generals and former GAM prisoner Irwandi Yusuf. They are hunting support from more than 2.6 million eligible voters across Aceh. On the eve of voting day, 51-year-old Nasrullah, who said he was kidnapped and tortured by soldiers four years ago, regretted that generals were allowed to race for the province's top job.

"I am sad to hear those people are running. If they win, that will be a loss for Aceh," said Nasrullah, whose brother has gone missing since troops abducted him in 2000. For Irwandi, who negotiated for GAM in talks with Jakarta, said that pessimism was off the mark. "I am confident that we could win this election in only one round. You will see," he told Reuters in an interview.

Many analysts say the race for governor would be tight and it will be very unlikely for a candidate to grab 25 percent of the vote, the least for one to win the job outright. One reason is because there is a split in GAM's voting base between Irwandi and a social activist who has paired up with a GAM stalwart who wants to be deputy governor on a ticket backed by Indonesia's leading Islamic party.

Polls have varied on who can top the count and the province's election commission will only announce the results in early January. If needed, a run-off between the top two will be held in 60 days after that announcement. Commission chief M. Jafar said he was not worried about plans from foreign and local groups to put out projections hours after the vote.

"Quick counts are unofficial and may not be right. Their results may come close to reality but also may be far off," he told a news conference on Sunday. The Helsinki pact came about after months of negotiations, partially spurred by the Dec. 26, 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that left around 170,000 Acehnese dead or missing.



Posted in Elections @ 11 December 2006 03:32 CET by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink






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