Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Aceh Elections - Jakarta Post mentions Panga

From the Jakarta Post:

Former GAM stronghold abuzz with talk about upcoming Aceh elections

Nani Afrida, The Jakarta Post, Aceh Jaya

It was once too dangerous to dine out in Aceh Jaya's Tuwe village, a former Free Aceh Movement (GAM) stronghold and the scene of frequent fighting between guerrillas and soldiers.

But now the ominous sound of gunfire, which used to be common in the former military "black"-zoned district of Panga, has been replaced with good-natured banter.

The village's coffee shop is regularly packed with locals keen to talk politics before the upcoming Dec. 11 elections.

The walls of the premises are adorned with campaign stickers, with those belonging to ex-GAM candidates dominating.

A former rebel soldier, Jalina Budi, was among the regulars when The Jakarta Post went there.

"I came back home to this village especially for the elections. I was living in Malaysia before," Jalina said in thick Malay accent.

A native of Panga, the 31-year-old was GAM's operational commander for the district. During the recent military emergency period, Jalina fled to Malaysia to avoid capture by the authorities.

"I support the elections but I still don't have a personal preference for any candidate. (GAM) leaders haven't released instructions on who we should vote for," Jalina said.

Two former GAM leaders are running for provincial governor, from the eight pairs ruled eligible to contest the elections.

Among the hopefuls are Irwandi Yusuf, the movement's representative on the Aceh Monitoring Mission, who is pairing up with the chairman of the GAM-affiliated Aceh Center for Referendum Information, Muhammad Nazar.

GAM's Hasbi Abdullah, meanwhile, is running with United Development Party deputy candidate Humam Hamid.

While he was still waiting for a GAM "instruction", Jalina hoped Aceh's new leaders would help rebuild the province, following the signing of peace deal between the government and GAM in Helsinki last year.

Jalina said he would vote for anyone one who was honest, fair and a native of Aceh, regardless of whether they were from the military or GAM.

"If we vote for a person who is close to us, it doesn't mean they will be able to lead Aceh. But most importantly, there should be no bloodshed," he said.

Aceh people will also vote for 19 regents and mayors in regional polls held the same day.

Panga district was badly affected by the 2004 tsunami, with the waves sweeping through 19 of its 23 villages, killing hundreds of people.

Three thousand people from the district are eligible to vote in the elections, with 420 of them from Tuwe.

Village chief Marwan Basyah believed the elections would proceed peacefully here because most of "the residents have already chosen their candidates", he said.

However, many villagers said they were unsure whether they had been officially put on the voting lists.

"I know there will be elections but I don't know whether I've been registered or not," 23-year-old Misnawati said.

The tsunami destroyed 4 villages in Kec. Panga, Kab. Aceh Jaya, killing more than a thousand people there. All of the villages in Panga were really cut off save for travel by foot, bicycle, or helicopter, for 2 months. Lots of the inland villagers took family or other survivors in with them, depleting their own food supplies. Most stayed in schools in two villages, until UNHCR tents were erected for them in Keude Panga and Tuwi Kawreung, and on the other side of the creek, Ladang Baru and Kota Tuha.

I spent 2 - 3 months there, before the peace deal, after the tsunami. Mostly working on agriculture and medical entomology issues. Sometimes I translated and attended to logistics...

The word Tuwi means something like place or village (I am on the road, I don't have my Acehnese/Indonesian dictionary with me). There are lots of villages with the word Tuwi in the name:

Tuwi Kawreung, Tuwi Kayi, Tuwi Empeuk, etc. Kayi means wood, Empeuk is a vegetable (talas - an arum like taro)

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