GAM ex-combatant wins Aceh governor election

Samiaji Bintang

Thu, 18 January 2007

SIX HOURS after the polls closed, dozens of local and foreign journalists gathered around Irwandi Yusuf. Monday (11/12) became a day that he will never forget, as he and members of the Aceh Independent Movement (GAM) celebrated the Irwandi win.

SIX HOURS after the polls closed, dozens of local and foreign journalists gathered around Irwandi Yusuf. Monday (11/12) became a day that he will never forget, as he and members of the Aceh Independent Movement (GAM) celebrated the Irwandi win.

With Muhammad Nazar as his deputy candidate, Irwandi defeated seven others who competed in this Aceh gubernatorial election. Lingkaran Survei Indonesia (LSI) and Jaringan Isu Publik announced that based on their quick count, from 331 sample districts out of 8,471 polling stations, Irwandi and Nazar received 39.27 percent of the votes, while his closest rival, Ahmad Humam and Hasbi Abdullah, who had the official support from the Sweden-based Prime Minister of GAM, Malik Mahmud, received 16.17 percent.


“With an error margin of plus-minus 2 percent, we are very confident of our methods and our results. The percentage could be changed, but not the rank. First-ranked is Irwandi-Nazar and second-ranked is Humam-Hasbi,” said Denny Jauhari Ali, executive director of LSI.

The quick count result from Aceh NGO Jurdil Aceh was similar. From 335 polling centers, Irwandi-Nazar finished first with 38.57 percent and Humam-Hasbi received 17.04 percent.

Aceh governor Mustafa Abubakar said people enthusiastically exercised their right to vote, while head of Aceh police General Bachrumsyah Kasman said one bomb exploded in North Aceh two hours before villagers came to that polling center. But generally, he said, the polling went smoothly.

About 10,000 police secured this first election in which Aceh citizens could vote directly for their candidate. About 2,000 Indonesian soldiers helped to secure the polling centers. The election was also witnessed by hundreds of national and international observers.

“This win shows that the Aceh people are more mature in democracy,” said GAM spokesperson Bakhtiar Abdullah, who celebrated Irwandi’s victory Monday night at Swiss Belhotel in the provincial capital of Banda Aceh.

“From the beginning I was convinced that GAM and SIRA (Central Information for Aceh Referendum, a political association that supported GAM) would win,” said Nur Juli, a GAM member who lives in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

“And this victory is also for other provinces in Indonesia, because the election was held peacefully. As a consequence of this victory, there will be new local parties. What has happened in Aceh will happen elsewhere in Indonesia.”

Irwandi, 46, was the military advisor of the Aceh National Army when a military emergency was declared by the Indonesian government in Aceh in 2003. He graduated from the veterinary faculty at Syiah Kuala University in Banda Aceh in 1987. He received a master’s degree in America at Oregon State University. While he was in the United States, his interest in GAM became more intense.

“In 1998, I joined GAM after Suharto fell,” he said. “The first GAM headquarters was in my home (in Banda Aceh). But the commander was Tengku Abdullah Syafei di Pidie. Many press releases came from me.”

Two years later, he was promoted to military advisor in the GAM army, and he began guerrilla activity throughout Aceh. At the same time, he was teaching at Syiah Kuala, spending two months in the jungle and then two months teaching.

But his decision to join GAM led him into jail in 2003, when former Indonesian president Megawati Soekarnoputri declared a military emergency in Aceh. He was arrested in Jakarta and moved to Keudah Prison in Banda Aceh for 11 months before the tsunami of December 26, 2004 changed his fate.

What does this victory mean for the former GAM rebels?

“This is a victory for peace, because I was struggling for peace,” Irwandi said.

IN DAYAH LAMPOH Awe village, two hours east of Banda Aceh, Irwandi and Nazar were not as popular as they were in the Swiss Belhotel. In one polling center, 140 voters out of 148 chose Humam-Hasbi. Only one chose Irwandi. This village was the homeland of Tengku Muhammad Usman Lampoh Awe, one of those present for the declaration of independence of Aceh on December 4, 1976. Tengku Usman was the first GAM Finance Minister in head of state Muhammad Hasan di Tiro’s cabinet.

“This was my first time to go to the polling center since the 1955 election,” said Tengku Usman.

Tengku Usman said that GAM supported Humam for governor because he was a strong intellectual who also helped Aceh by inviting many foreigners to help Aceh after the tsunami. In Tengku Usman’s view, Humam had a good track record.

“In the Indonesia government’s view, he is a good man,” Tengku Usman said.

During an interview, Tengku Usman’s cell phone rang. There was an SMS message for him. The content follows:

The top leader of GAM in Sweden, Dr. Muhammad Hasan di Tiro, today in Stockholm said that he prohibited all members of GAM from supporting Humam-Hasbi or any other candidates that were nominated by Indonesian political parties. The Aceh leader must be a GAM member running as an independent. He must not be from the Development and Unity Party (Hasbi’s party). I will sanction any GAM leader who is bribed by that party because it is not in line with the GAM party and the interests of the Aceh people. Acehnese people have to be independent. They must not be seduced by any other party. Aceh people have suffered enough because of  their treatment by political parties, di Tiro said to the AFP (Agence France Press) bureau in Sweden.

“That is false!” said Tengku Usman said angrily. “It’s a betrayal, and it’s a huge libel, just because some party wants to win in this election. I call upon all Acehnese to have self-confidence to choose who they think is right, using their heart to decide.”

He insisted that right up until the polling day the GAM prime minister still supported Humam-Hasbi. But supporting Humam-Hasbi was not an easy decision for GAM. Tengku Usman said GAM had to pick the best of a bad bunch of candidates, and that was Humam-Hasbi.

Irwandi comes from the younger generation of GAM. His candidacy did not receive official support from the older GAM elite. Tengku Usman said that for 30 years, GAM was built by di Tiro, and then some “elementary students” came along and said their teachers were stupid.

“If the student is brave enough to say the teacher is stupid, you can figure out who is really stupid,” Tengku Usman said.

Although Irwandi didn’t have official GAM support, he won. Many people chose him “because people want change,” Irwandi said. “And  I’m one of the people who have made changes.”

“We still communicate with the old people and have a good relationship,” Nazar added. “There is no gap between the younger and the older generation.”

THE VICTORY BY IRWANDI surprised Sidney Jones, a researcher for the International Crisis Group, based in Brussels. Jones studies human rights issues, terrorism and separatist issues in Indonesia. She was present Monday night for GAM’s historic victory.

“I think it will be very difficult to change from a guerrilla to a governor,” Jones said. “This is a big challenge. How can he cooperate with many parties? But this result is amazing. Now Jakarta must deal with Irwandi.”

Irwandi has the will to revise the Aceh governmental laws which were written by the Indonesian parliament.

“The government in Jakarta has already promised to revise the laws,” Irwandi said. “But we don’t know when.”

“We hope we will succeed,” Nazar added.

*) Samiaji Bintang ( is journalist and work as PANTAU Contributor in Banda Aceh, Aceh Province, Indonesia.

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by:Samiaji Bintang