THE OFFICE of the Aceh Transition Committee (KPA) is located at the side of Lamdingin street, Banda Aceh. It’s a two story building. Inside, the star and crecent flag of Free Aceh Movement (GAM) is seen along with the photo of Abdullah Syafe’i, the late supreme commander of GAM. Syafe’i was killed by the Indonesian National Army (TNI) in a military operation at Jiem Jiem village, North Aceh back in 2003.
Muzakir Manaf is the chief of KPA. He is the current supreme commander of GAM who succeded Syafe’i. This organization was founded after the peace agreement for the ex-military commanders and guerrillas of Teuntara Neugara Aceh (TNA), GAM military forces. The responsibilities of KPA are to help its members back to civilian life and to work in this time of peace.
Noon, November 23rd 2006, I met Irwandi Yusuf inside one of the room. His hair has started to grayed. His eyes are sharp. His appeareance doesn’t look like a military personnel, more like an scholar.
Irwandi is a veterinarian graduated from Syiah Kuala University, Banda Aceh, and holds a master degree in veterinary medicine from Oregon University, USA. He joined GAM in 1999 and became the GAM’s military intelligence advisor under the command of Muzakir Manaf.
“But there also will be time when we go off the record, ok” him joking, when I told him about my plan to cover his campaign journey.
While talking, he is busy checking the printer ink package which just arrived from Jakarta. He explained that his campaign are being done by his own people. There is no outsider involved.
“I work double. What we can do, we do” he said. His cell phone is keep ringing.
We are going to Pidie on November 26th for Irwandi’s first campaign. But before that, I will be confirmed.
NOVEMBER 26th , five to six in the morning, I arrived at Lamndingin. The office looks desolate. Whereas Fahlevi, a member of Aceh Referendum Information Center (SIRA), who is one of the campaign team of Irwandi Yusuf and Muhammad Nazar, asked me to come at six in the morning. Nazar, who become Irwandi’s partner in the race and running for vice-governor of Aceh is a SIRA man.
That two story building looks gloomy, just like the sky at dawn upon it. I was waiting alone. Irwandi finally arrived when the clock is almost seven. He drives the car himself and there’s a young lady sitting next to him, who I know later is his wife.
I greet Irwandi and his wife, Darwati. I asked to Darwati if she is going along to Pidie. “Yes, I’m going, I want to go home to Bireuen” she said.
Irwandi and his family has a house at Bireuen, North Acehm, but he spend more of his time in Banda Aceh where he rent a house at Darussalam area.
“Nazar has already going last night to South Aceh” said Irwandi, answering my question about Nazar’s campaign today.
ALONG with the melody of Scarborough Fair, the car is pretty fast if not very fast. One of Irwandi’s campaign team member who sits next beside me, saw my concern and said “Sorry, but we have time to catch”.
In the middle of the journey, the car stop at a house owned by a local NGO (Non-Govermental Organization) for a quick break.
“Bapak (Irwandi) used to help here” said Darwati about Irwandi’s involvence in Indonesian Flora and Fauna (FFI). This organization is working in environment safety field and Irwandi is one of the founders.
Accoriding to the schedule, we should have arrived in Pidie at 10 o’clock.. But just few moments before entering the Sigli border, our car has a problem. Smokes came from the front of the car. The journey has to stop for a moment.
The car’s radiator leaked. Irwandi himself checks the condition of the radiator. The road where the car stops is very solitary, only a car or two passing by. One of the campaign team member said “Contacts were often happened here”. What he meant were gun contacts between GAM and Indonesian National Army (TNI).
“Well, I hope with the blessing from god, it stays like this” he said more, before he continue helping Irwandi. He wants peace forever.
When our entourage arrived at the border of Sigli, there already waiting mass of people and sympathizer of Irwandi-Nazar. They are less than 100 people. Posters and stickers of Sinar (Seramoe Irwandi Nazar) are with them and on their car and motorbike. A lot of them want to shake hands with Irwandi or just photographed that moment with their cell phone camera.
Three o’clock sharp, our car arrived at the Beureunuen football field. The podium where the speech will take place looks very simple. Maybe he (Irwandi) was honest when he said he is the poorest candidate in the campaign.
The stage is made from piled of wood and empty drums as its base. The roof is also just a plastic held by a bamboo.
At the field less than a thousand people gathered. Pidie admittedly is not a strong hold base for Irwandi-Nazar supporters. The area is H2O strong hold, a nickname for Humam Hamid and Hasbi Abdullah, who are Irwandi and Nazar’s main rival. H2O are candidates from United Development Party (PPP) and once officially backed by KPA. This official backing was suspected because Hasbi Abdullah is sibling of Dr. Zaini Abdullah, The Foreign Minister of GAM in Sweden.
The speech campaign was delivered in acehnese which I don’t understand, although there are some lexicons similar to bahasa. Despite that I could get some words when Irwandi said about rumours of his relationship with Jusuf Kalla.
“I didn’t accept money from Jusuf Kalla” he said, which greeted with applause and noise from the people there. There is a rumor that Irwandi-Nazar campaign got a five-billion financial support from Jusuf Kalla, the vice-president of Indonesia.
In that same place I met with the other member of Irwandi’s campaign team, Isjkarudin Muda bin Usman. First time we met, he mistakenly thought that I’m a foreign journalist. My appearance is like a Japanese, he said. After I speak in Indonesian, then he understands that I’m a Indonesian journalist. Isjkarudin is the special security personnel for Irwandi, thus he will always be in the same car with his boss.
The entourage then going to Bireuen to rest and spend the night there. On the way home, Isjkaruding is oftenly seen trading jokes with Irwandi in Acehnese which shows that he is Irwandi’s trusted person. He is in his thirties with appeareance like a soldier. Sturdy and heavily build. Most of the members of Irwandi’s campaign team are ex-guerrillas soldiers of TNA
After finished speaking with Isjkarudin, Irwandi said to me, “Dik (young brother), we got a lot of reports from friends on the field, lots of illegal voters”.
I don’t understand what he said.
“A lot of immigrants who just arrived here a week or a month, already got their id card KTP) and being registered (for the election)” explained him.
They are generally construction workers for Java” he said, explaining more about the origin of those illegal voters. Irwandi and GAM people are suspecting these construction labors, which they call as an intelligence game of Jakarta.
“We don’t trust with the Indonesian government since a long time ago” said Isjkarudin.
They are worried that those votes will be given to one of their rival candidates who are backed by the political party from Jakarta.
“It’s okay if we lost, as long it’s fair” added Isjkarudin.
The team arrived at Sagoe village in Bireuen. The car stopped infront of Irwandi’s family house. We are going to spend the night here before continue the campaign to Lhokseumawe tomorrow.
“Please” He welcomed me to enter his house. A nice simple house, it has four rooms with a cement floor instead of ceramics.
Along with Isjkarudin, I slept in the bedroom in the back.
The repetitive sound of rooster hear in the morning of November 27th 2006. I was just half awake and trying to ignore those sounds.
But I was perfectly awaken when Isjkarudin woke me up, half insisting.
“Rony, Rony wake up! It’s already seven, quick take a bath, we’re about to go in just a moment” he said. Reluctantly, I got up and took the quick bath.
After shower, I found Irwandi and the other member of the team at the dining table for breakfast.
Lhokseumawe is one of the GAM stronghold.
The first place we visited is a traditional market. There, Irwandi are greeted by the people who are generally merchant and fisherman.
The campaign was held in a football stadium. But, surprisingly not too many people came. About 1500 people. It turns out that many people has misinformed about the campaign location because the venue was changed from Hiraq football field to that stadium.
On his speech that noon, Irwandi said that KPA which institutionally backed and support Humam Hamid-Hasbi Abdullah pair or H2O has revoked its support. It is indeed that the Head of KPA, Muzakir Manaf along with Bachiar Abdullah and Sofyan Dawood had called a press conference at that same day at the KPA office in Banda Aceh to issue a statement about the revoked support to H2O.
I also had a chance to read a copy of the statement letter that been signed by all the district commander of GAM. Happy faces clearly visible in all members of Irwandi’s team and of course Irwandi himself.
I once aksed Irwandi about the statement from the head of KPA, which follow the direction from Sweden and why he won’t listen to the GAM official instruction abroad.
“I am a rebel soldier. I can’t follow stupid order” answered him.
LIKE the other day before, today I was being awaken by Isjkarudin with the similar order: wake up quickly. Being fast at taking a bath and eating is also a necessity. For Isjkaruding and his friends, this kind of discipline is common. They get used to move fast according the circumstances as TNA guerrillas, before.
After meal, a middle-aged woman who live in the house said to me, “Friends outside”. What she meant are fellow journalist. That morning in the front porch has been waiting three journalists from AL-Jazeera International. One of the introduce her name as Stephanie. They will be following Irwandi’s campaign at Matang, Bireuen, today.
To Stephanie, Irwandi is complaining about the news coverage in some of Aceh local media, including Serambi Indonesia, the biggest newspaper in Aceh. News in Serambi Indonesia, according Irwandi looks taking side to one of the governor candidates.
“News about H2O most likely to be a headline” he said.
But when there’s a news about him and Nazar, for example the news of support withdrawal for H2O by KPA, it only take a small column. He then show today edition of Serambi Indonesia which published that news. The news length is indeed a single column.
Prior to heading to the campaign place, Irwandi and the entourage went to Lhong village. In this village many gun contacts occurred during the conflict.
“I remembered the old times (during the conflict), when we will meet at the junction and went together to the woods and mountains”. Said Irwandi, when he saw the KPA people waiting for him at the junction of the road entering the Lhong village.
Had he ever shot an enemy?
“I often decided no to pull the trigger to save their lives. When far away, they just looked like a target, but when they are near, I can look through in their eyes, and the like my brothers, just human being” explained him.
Apakah ia pernah menembak musuh?
Our car entered the villages. Roads are rocky. The houses are simple.
Almost all the people that met with our entourage look friendly and know Irwandi well. In the group that day, Irwandi’s youngest brother, Edi Suhaemi, was coming along. He introduced himself as Irwandi’s youngest brother.
Edi told me that his family is family of state servants. Many of its family member are working in governmental Institution.
Irwandi’s second brother is a police officer. Edi himself is working as a lecturer at Malikul Saleh University. While Irwandi is a non-active lecturer at Syiah Kuala University, Banda Aceh. Edi introduced me to some GAM people at Lhong village, including the ex-police officer of Takengon who defected and ran away with nine piece of AK-45.
The campaign at Blang Asan field, Matang, the crowd is about 5000 people. Like any other campaign before (in Pidie and Lhokseumawe), the campaign is started with Aceh and GAM’s struggle songs which always sing by Sarjani bin Abdul Samad, who are widely knowned as Imum Jon.
Me, myself is interested with the lyrics of the songs sing by Imum jon, especially the song which originally written for Irwandi and Nazar campaign. This song is funny and will bring laugh to anyone.
Beutoi hana salah…beutoi hana salah…betoi betoi nyoe lumboi nan hana salah 2x
Tanyoe aceh bek le meukleh sahoe jalan
Teungku Irwandi dan Nazar beutapeumeunang
Nyoe pasangan perjuangan perdamaian
Nyoe ureung droe koen ureung jak peu ureung droe GAM
Bak po tallah temue do’a uruoe malam
Nyoe lumboi nan beubeureukat tanyaoe meunang
Tamat keudroe aceh nyoe droe po piasan
Insya allah nyan ek leumoe jeut keu intan
Beutoi hana salah… beutoi hana salah… betoi betoi nyoe lumboi nan hana salah 2x
Geutanyoe koen ureung lap darah bak peudeung
Mita untong bak gop susah cok peuleuweung
Dalam uteun meutem susah meuteung payeung
Bak meutiyeup geuleugoeng yg raya umpeun
Watee rundeng ureung tanyoe geugloeng gaki
Hareum geu’ek ateuh perte atra RI
Independent tapeujuang nyan kajibrie
Pakoen pungo jinoe culok droe lam perte basi
Beutoi hana salah… beutoi hana salah… betoi betoi nyoe lumboi nan hana salah 2x
Meuploeh thoen ka janji-janji dijak ruah
Goep poh rimueng teuka jih jak laboe darah
Beutaturi rakan droe yg tem susah
Demi nanggroe demi bansa geu rhoe darah
Kasep dile dum tadeungoe janji-janji
Kapileh kee kubloe bajee sareng kupi
Buet kupeuget jalan kulhat langet kucet
Ban teupileh peng dipeugleh pasoe lam bhep
Beutoi hana salah… beutoi hana salah… betoi betoi hai bang kaoy hana salah 2x
Beutoi hana salah… beutoi hana salah… betoi betoi nyoe lumboi nan hana salah 2x
Right no wrong right no wrong this number six (Irwandi and Nazar) is not wrong 2x
We Acehnese don’t be separated, has to be on one road
We have to make Teungku Irwandi and Nazar win
This is the candidate of peace and struggle
This is our people (GAM people) not people who claimed themselves GAM
Night and day we pray to Allah
Number six (IRNA duo) be blessed so we will win
We control Aceh’s government on our own
Insya Allah, bull’s shit can be diamond
Right no wrong right no wrong this number six is not wrong 2x
We’re not people who clean blood in swords
Making fortune from other peope misery
In the woods we suffer and wretch
When chasing greedy bastards
When we close, our people strong
Forbidden to join RI’s party
Independent way that we fought has be granted
Why now we joined stale party?
Years and years have promises made
People who killed the tiger, he’s the one who bleed
We have to know our friends who want to suffer
For the country, for the people willing to shed his blood
It’s enough we hear promises
Vote me so I can buy clothes and coffee
I will work, road will be made, sky will be painted
After we vote, all the money went to his own pocket
Right no wrong right no wrong this number six is not wrong 2x
Right no wrong right no wrong this number six is not wrong 2x
Nazar is also there in the campaign at Matang and for the first time the governor and vice-governor candidate present in a campaign together outside Banda Aceh. It is indeed that they scheduled the campaign all over Aceh separately. Dividing jobs, the term for it.
From my special commander, Isjkarudin, I was told that tomorrow the team will go back to Banda Aceh. This is a pleasing news. That means, I can get some rest and some clean clothes before continue the journey. For the record, I only brought two t-shirts and a piece of trousers that I wear.
IN THE MORNING, I already packed up to go back to Banda Aceh with the team. But when we finished our breakfast, Irwandi go a call and he afterwards inform us that we won’t coming back to Banda Aceh. We will be heading to Blangkejeren for tomorrow’s campaign. There goes my dream to relax just a day in Banda Aceh. Clean clothes is out of the question.
Blangkejeren is located at Aceh Tengah regency, Gayo Lues. In order to get there we have to go to Bener Meriah, 101 kilometers from Bireuen. The journey will take two hours.
Irwandi will be meeting Nazar who that day are scheduled to campaign at Bener Meriah. While Irwandi doesn’t have any campaign schedule for today. It is the next day that he will campaign at Blangkejeren.
It turns out that our trip to Blangkejeren cost more time. From Takengon, we have to take up to 156 kilometers. It is not only far, the field is also rough. We have to pass through the marching mountains between Takengon and Blangkejeren.
Before going, Irwandi bought shovels and axe.
“To clean land slides” he said.
The trip to Blangkejeren has a high risk of land slides, especially when the rain comes. This makes me a little bit worried.
The road is quite narrow and steep. Again, Irwandi is driving the car himself which carry us himself. When I asked why he like to drives on his own, he answered, “I can’t trust my life in the hand of a driver”.
He actually very proper to be a racer. He likes to drive very fast.
My heart is like want to fly because of it.
“Scared seeing bang (old brother) Wandi drives the car? We also scared when bang Wandi drives” said Isjkarudin, laughing at the same time.
Irwandi’s driving skills is infamous among GAM people, especially by the ex-guerrillas.
One day a representative of Aceh Monitoring Misson, an organization who monitor the implementation of Helsinki MoU in Aceh, going with Irwandi in his car to go to Irwandi’s house at Bireuen in Banda Aceh, and of course Irwandi’s driving. In the middle of the trip, that person want to get out of the car, extremely scared. He finally preferred the bus instead going with Irwandi.
During the trip to Blangkejeren, the more I believe, that if he’s not going to be governor, he may as well be a hell of a driver. Why shouldn’t I? During this trip he passed the curving roads at the mountains with ease and relax, even at the road turn, he didn’t slow the car down! Thus the car swerved, like what we usually seen at world rallies!
The car is going along with the music from Bon Jovi, a music group from America, which played rather hard. I constantly worried. The steep cliff lay below us.
Irwandi then said to me, about how less scary if we drive in the night. When I asked why, he answered while joking, because in the nights the cliff can’t be seen, just dark black, so it’s not too worrying. But actually the distance between the car and the cliff just centimeters away. My god!
The farther we go, the less frequent car we met on the road. It is not long when we start to pass small villages. I’m quite confused, because in every houses we pass there’s a picture of red and white flah, the national flag of the republic of Indonesia.
“It’s a loyal gesture to RI (The Republic of Indonesia)” Irwandi answering my curiousity, “if there’s no red and white would be considered GAM, but actually there also GAM sleeping in those houses” continue him.
He then told me about the deforestation that are visible on the road we passed.
“Look on the top, bald, only one or two threes.” He said, a bit upset.
When we take a break for a moment in the middle of the trip, he once again point to the bald hill above us because of the huge deforestation. He said the Right of Deforestation (HPH) as the mastermind of the severe deforestation happened there. “Bob Hasan and his cronies” he said.
Bob Hasan is knowned as the lord of woods and very close with president Suharto when the new order still in power in Indonesia.
In a village called Owaq, we once again take a break. It’s almost four o’clock afternoon. The village looks quiet. No activity seen on the road. Only a dog passing by.
The team use the time to satisfy their hunger in the local waroeng (small shop). Irwandi is chatting with the waroeng owner and some man who happened to be gather there.
Suddenly the silent broke by the sound of cars going fast toward us. The closer it get, it followed with honking sound, a middle-aged man showed him self out in the window of one of the car. He had his smile set, although the car hasn’t stopped yet.
Irwandi greet him and yelling for that guy’s name. When the car finally stop, those two man are hugging and smiling to each other.
That middle-aged man is retired General Djali Yusuf, who also runs for Governor of Aceh. Their dialogue become an inevitable agenda, while their encounter is a mere coincidence.
Djali Yusuf is a former Iskandar Muda region military commander, who in charge to all TNI troops in Aceh. Before the peace, both Irwandi and Djali who has the same surname Yusuf was involved in an infamous gun contact called The Besiege of Cot Trieng.
In that besiege, a lot of TNI soldier killed by GAM fighters. It began when TNI was informed that there’s a high ranked GAM officer at Cot Trieng. That officer was rumoured as Sofyan Dawood, GAM spokesperson.
And Djali Yusuf ordered his troops to beleaguer that area. But that rumour was false and on the contrary it was TNI that being counter besieged by the GAM rebels. Until now TNI never acknowleged that “defeat” at Cot Trieng. Irwandi knew that incident precisely, because he himselfwho organized the strategy there and deliberately misinforming that there was a high ranked GAM officer there. Then he was the GAM military intelligence advisor.
“We have the same surname Yusuf. The difference is this one is Irwandi Yusuf, while the other one is Djali Yusuf” joked Djali, embracing his ex-foe.
“This is the beauty of peace, we can be like this”. Even in my team I have ex-guerillas members” continued Djali.
Smile never fade from both of their faces. Finally it is time that made both party continue their journey. We’re going to Blangkejeren and Djali Yusuf’s back to Banda Aceh.
Before sitting in driving seat, Irwandi made a last joke with the waroeng owner, “the difference between TNI and TNI is TNA drives the car himself”.
We arrived at Blangkejeren on seven o’clock night and spend the night in an inn.
BLANGKEJEREN, November 30th 2006. The campaign will be held in a horse racetrack, not to far from our inn. It was three in the afternoon.
For the campaign, Irwandi invited two local clerics. This is because GAM doesn’t have too much influence in the area, and also because the language spoken by locals are different with the acehnese spoken by Irwandi’s team.
The view around the field is very beautiful. Mountains are like surrounding the area.
Only as much as 500 people came. The language issue is seen when Irwandi for the first time in the campaign deliver his speech in Indonesian. The applause from the crowd is also rare, because the locals also can’t speak Indonesian fluently .The Aceh struggle song which normally sing by Imum Jon is not on the schedule.
“We can’t be sold there, because people doesn’t understand” said Imum Jon afterwards.
Nagan Raya is the campaign target tomorrow.
But, sleeping is not an easy task. At one in the morning, Irwandi enters my room with Isjkarudin.
“Let’s go” order him, short.
The journey to Nagan Raya has to pass over Takengon and the same road that we took when we come to Blangkejeren. That means we’re going on a rally again through the marching mountains.
Irwandi is driving, Isjkaruding sit next to him while I on the back seat.
Before leaving, Irwandi instructed “Ikat, ikat!” to make sure that everyone has fasten their seatbelt. Like his usual habbit, he turn the tape to Bon Jovi’s songs and pacing the car relaxedly. The heavy road condition plus the dark vision from night don’t see, to trouble him at all. In the middle of “Blood Money” from Bon Jovi, I fell asleep.
I woke up when the car suddenly stopped. It turns out that the sky is still dark and from the window on my right and left were still seen leaves from the trees and steep cliff, sign that we are not arrived yet.
Our car has radiator problem yet again, the same thing happened from the first time the team entered Pidie on our first day of campaign. But this time the damage is quite severe.
The damage made the radiator to dry faster. So to refill the radiator, Irwandi used water from bottled mineral water. When the bottle empty, he refill the bottle from a water spring. The leaked radiator made the party has to stop every 20 minutes just to check the radiator and refill it with water that can be found nearby and it went on and on and on until finally we arrived at the cold city Takengon in the morning.
When we arrived at Takengon, the team stopped for breakfast. I’m impressed with the stamina and the durability of these GAM peope. Just Imagine, seven hours driving non-stop and now they can easily joke and eat, while on the contrary I’m still feel nauseous and sick because of the last night rally.
Irwandi teased me, “You’re still young, while I’m the older one still up for it”
The campaign in Nagan Raya is crowded by about a thousand people. The rain become one of the factors causing the little number of people showed up. The increasingly heavy rain made a lot of people left the campaign venue, although thera are some who stand still and being wet. The rain also made the campaign schedule shorter.
That day we spend the night at the local KPA member house. Tomorrow, December 2nd 2006, we are going to Calang.
The trip to Calang, is not becoming easier than the route to Blangkejeren. Not because the heavy road condition, but rather because the flood cut down the only road from Meulabon to Calang. At Kuala Bhee, our car had to stop because the water flooded the road for 50 meters. A colt truck stucked in the middle after took a risk passing it.
After seeing the only road to the campaign venue cut down, I thought today’s campaign will be cancelled.
But that is not the case. You can’t drive a car, can’t use a truck, then these ex-guerrillas of GAM decided to use a small boat to pass through the flood. The small boat used can only carry three people, including its paddler.
Irwandi has crossed first. I’m a bit worried, although the water level is just a hip of a grown up. The boat is unstable and often become wobbly. If it turn upside down, then my camera and all my photo would be gone.
At the end of the bridge has waited two cars that will bring us to the campaign venue. To get there we have to spend three more hours on the road.
At Calang has gathered 10.000 people crowding the simple podium which erected by KPA. The people who come mostly from the barracks and refugee camps nearby.
Calang is the west coast area of Aceh which was struck by tsunami the worst. Houses and adequate buildings are still rare to see, despite it has been two years gone by. The people houses are more suitable called shack.
Journalist was not seen in Irwandi’s campaign. All this time his campaign has lack of attention from the media coverage.
Irwandi was wearing a full Aceh traditional dress. He was being ready to make his speech which is not too different with the other campaigns before. Free education starting from elementary school to High school. Free basic health service. He defined while joking the meaning of “basic”. “As long is not cosmetics. If you want a nose job, it will not be free” he said, which greeted by noisy applause of the crowd.
He also mention about independence.
But “the independence that we want to get is no longer territorially, but the true freedom” he said.
The true freedom according to Irwandi, is that Acehnese can be live a free and prosperous in every aspect of their lives. That freedom includes the freedom to regulate economic, religion and culture life in Aceh, which by know is still far away to reach.
After the campaign, the team is getting ready to go back to Meulaboh. But when we passed the Aceh Jaya discrict police office who happened to be next with the campaign venue, a police officer went out and suddenly smiled and called Irwandi as well as shaking his hand.
“Come on, come on document this, This is a historical event” said someone to me.
Irwandi with a couple of his men are being let inside. It turned out that that police officer is the chief of Aceh Jaya district police.
That 3 x 10 meter square is cozy and cool because of the air conditioning. The police officer let us seat in a couch at the end of the room, near the door.
He was very friendly to us, especially to Irwandi, just like old friends. It is quite astonishing because before the MoU was signed in Helsinki, Irwandi was captured by the authorities and put in jail until the tsunami at the end of 2004 freed him from prison.
“He is my mentor” said that police chief. I can’t tell whether he was joking or not.
They were speaking in Acehnese after that. The police told about how he survived when the devastating tsunami struck Calang causing many police members died.
I’m amazed seeing two side, GAM at one side and police at the other end, can sit and dialogue relaxedly. Maybe it is true what Djali Yusuf said when he met Irwandi, “This is the beauty of peace”.
The flood leved hasn’t subsided yet at Kuala Bhee, but this time there were no small boats available and big truck became our transportion to cross. Irwandi seat in the front, while me and the others ride on the back container, I think this truck is usually used for transporting sand or woods looking from the wood splinter and some sand on the container.
“Your first time to Aceh, all have been explored, north, west, east have been done, going with small boat, going with truck, only the horse you haven’t gone with!” One of the team member teased me.
We arrived at a house to spend the night at 00.30.
MEULABOH, December 3rd 2006. 12.000 people has gathered at Teuku Umar field
Once again the media coverage for Irwandi is very minimal. Only a foreign print correspondent and a tv who interviewed Irwandi after the campaign.
The lack of media attention towards Irwandi is caused by several factors. One of them is the decision of Irwandi and Nazar to run independently without any political party backing. Many people doubted their preparation and above all, their success.
Most of people are guessing that Humam Hamid and Hasbi Abdullah (H2O) with the support by The United Development Party (PPP) or Malik Raden with the support of a major national party from Jakarta, Golongan Karya (Golkar), have bigger chances to win.
With the support from a party, of course there will be financial budget to spend for the candidates campaign. Humam-Hasbi themselves is reported has spent more than 20 billion rupiah for this current campaign. Well, the most campaign banner and posters are from this candidate.
How about Irwandi? He said he only spent less than 500 million rupiah for his campaign.
Where did he get his finance supported?
“I was looking from my friends who support me. Well, I got a little from fellow poor” said him, without saying details about his friends.
Irwandi chose to run independently, because he thinks that there are no polical party which can bring the people aspiration, and the local party wich will be formed by KPA, is yet to be ready.
After sunset prayer, we went to Bireuen and spend the night at Irwandi’s house.
FROM Bireuen we went to Lhokseumaswe. Irwandi will be have his campaign at Lhokseumawe again. A lot of cars are coming with people who want to see the campaing at Hiraq field. From men, women even children. Irwandi-Nazar is displayed on those cars. Some people event using a head wrist with “Irwandi-Nazar” on it.
I take pictures of the crowd enthusiasm, several times.
“Many of them won’t be eligible to vote (on the local election)” said on of the sympathizer.
Many who hasn’t yet hold an id card (KTP).
People crowding. The wide football field couldn’t accommodate the crowd, who are approximately 20.000 people.
Out of nowhere two of GAM sympathizer waved the GAM star and crecent flag. Irwandi’s team become panic. The want the flag to be kept down. But the photographes and journalistm want the flag raised. The want to write and document sensational news.
The night rally will likely be happened again. The team will be heading to Tapak Tuan, South Aceh, 220 kilometers from Bireuen or about 12 hours on the road. Leaving at one am, we arrived at one pm.
Tapak Tuan has tremendous potential for tourism. On on side stands a high mountain, at the other side a beatiuful beach. But the road to reach here is pretty difficult. The road is narrow and can only be passed by a single car.
At the Lhok Tapak Tuan bus station, the podium has been erected although its simplicity and the sound system is also ready. All of that is being done by local KPA people. Although KPA institutionally doesn’t support any candidates, even they issued a statement to support H2O before being withdrawn, but the people inside who are mostly GAM ex-guerrillas support Irwandi Yusuf, fellow young generation of GAM.
Irwandi is 46, the youngest among all other seven candidates. His partner, Nazar is even younger. Nazar is 33. If elected, Nazar will be the youngest deputy governor in Indonesia.
The crowd has gathered. About 12.000 people. The campaign went on like previous campaigns. Speeches, Songs.
Tomorrow is the peak campaign and will be held at Blang Padang field, Banda Aceh. That means 14 hours driving from Tapak Tuan.
I’m impressed with Irwandi’s stamina. If we counted, it is already at least 50 hours we spent on the road and Irwandi was driving more than half of it.
THE CAMPAIGN at Blang Padang was only attended by 3.000 people. There are no songs from Imum Jon. But this time the media coverage is huge. Maybe because the campaign is held in Banda Aceh and journalist doesn’t have any difficulties to go to the campaign venue.
Photograpers busy taking pictures. Reporters busy taking notes. Sofyan Dawood, KPA spokesperson is present and gave a speech. Irwandi said one time that Sofyan is his campaign team leader.
I didn’t go to Irwandi’s last campaing at Sabang, Weh island. I’m not fit enough. My bones are breaking.
I met with him again at election day, December 11th 2006. Irwandi was wearing a black-black suite. He was smiling to greet the journalist waiting at KPA office front yard, Lamdingin, Banda Aceh. It was a tense smile, a politician smile, not the smile I often saw during the rally.
A journalist asked about his chances on the election. He answered that he is sure that he will win directly on one round. When the journalist asked the reason behind his confidence, he said that he doesn’t have enough money for the second round.
What is he lose?
“If I lose, I will only be a loser” he said relaxedly, then again state that he will win.
At Swiss Bel-Hotel, Banda Aceh, seven o’clock at night there was an announcement of quick count result of the election that day. The organizer was The Indonesian Circle Survey (LSI). The official result will be issued by The Independent Election Committee (KIP), but the counting from LSI is accurate enough. It has been used on the last presidential election.
Denny Jauhar Ali, the chairman of LSI, stated that Irwandi got 39.7 percent of the votes. That means 14 percent more than the amount needed to win the election direcly on one round.
After hearing the announcement, I decided to go to the KPA office at Lamdingin using a motor pedicab.
The office looks quiet. No journalist seen in the front loby. It turns out that Irwandi was in this office and doing an interview with a foreign journalist. When it was over I immediately met him and shook his hand.
“I won because you came along with my campaign” joked him, straightly followed by laughs.
This victory is a surprise to many people.
“One of the thing that other don’t now is my network. I have networks, which despite its complexity, it still tidy to beneath”. He said.
That command line is what he talking about. The local commanders spread out all over Aceh are the ones who support and become front line for his success.
But the road to bring Aceh to the true freedom is long. And he know it. ***
*) Rony Zakaria is photographer and work as Pantau contributor in Jakarta.