Subject: WPR: Aceh Peace Threatened by 'Democracy Deficit'

World Politics Review March 11, 2009

Aceh Peace Threatened by 'Democracy Deficit'

By Fabio Scarpello

DENPASAR, Indonesia -- Not very long ago, many observers considered Aceh, Indonesia's formerly war-torn separatist province, a success story. But a recent rise in political violence has led Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Aceh Governor Yusuf Irwandi to warn against potential spoilers of Aceh's peace process. Nobel Peace Prize laureate Martti Ahtisaari, who brokered the 2005 deal between the former secessionist Free Aceh Movement (GAM) and Jakarta, has also emphasized that a long-term resolution is far from ensured.

Tucked in the westernmost corner of the Indonesian archipelago, Aceh's conflict ended in the aftermath of the December 2004 tsunami that killed 168,000 people. The tsunami destroyed large swathes of the province and dwarfed the political ambitions of both the insurgents and the Indonesian government, who had been at war for three decades.

The immediate post-war period was indeed a grand success, crowned with local elections held in 2006. The election of Irwandi, himself a former GAM member, was lauded worldwide. A progressive disengagement by the international community followed, while the national political elite moved its attention elsewhere, apparently satisfied with the happy ending.

Fast forward to this year: In the last month, three former rebels have been killed and one injured in separate shootings. The killings have brought long-simmering tensions to a boil: They follow a string of kidnappings, shootings and grenade attacks on pro-GAM party offices and politicians' homes that has been going on for two years. The police ineptitude in solving any of the main crimes has paved the way for spiraling suspicions and a risky blame game.

At the core of the problem lie two mutually reinforcing dynamics: the obviously unhealed wounds of the decades-long violence, and a not-so-obvious "democracy deficit."

Former rebels -- gathered under the Aceh Party and the KPA, a civilian organization made up of former guerrillas -- blame the Indonesian military (TNI) for the killings. While the latter denies any involvement, there are indications it has renewed ties with anti-GAM militias. Some Aceh Party and KPA members now fear they have been included on an alleged hit-list drawn up by the TNI, and talk about preparing to defend themselves.

This mistrust, rooted in the war, is kept alive by a toxic cocktail -- equal parts jealousy and resentment -- created by the gap that exists between the winners and losers of the peace. This gap is largely due to a malfunctioning democracy that began with the 2006 elections.

According to a recently released study by the World Bank, the vote succeeded in the short-term goal of including former GAM members in the political process. It failed, however, to provide a solid basis either for managing political competition or for good governance.

Poor oversight and rules meant that votes were won mainly thanks to political entrepreneurs who sold their services to the highest bidder. After the elections, the newly elected leaders distributed government jobs and contracts to those who had helped them win office.

The $6 billion in relief funds that poured into Aceh after the tsunami exponentially widened the gap between winners and losers. As a result, some former rebels have become powerful politicians or rich businessmen, while others are struggling to make a decent living. Infighting among former GAM members is probably the largest single reason behind the violence.

The TNI is also on the losing end. Once the undisputed masters of the province's politics and economics, army generals are now forced to watch from the sidelines as their former enemies run the show. So the possibility that some soldiers may have taken the law into their own hands cannot be ruled out.

The danger of immediate violence and a worsening of the "democracy deficit" is particularly high as the April 9 elections draw closer. The voting will decide who will represent Aceh in the national parliament and, more importantly, who will sit in the local assembly.

Authorities in Jakarta are being called on to act immediately to stop the rising violence. Sidney Jones, senior adviser to the International Crisis Group, has suggested that an elite police team with a few top criminal investigators should be sent to Aceh. But Indonesian authorities should also put in place the necessary checks and balances to ensure that the April vote produces a functional democracy, rather than just strengthening the current factionalism and patronage.

If they fail to do that, Aceh's happy ending might just prove to be a not-so-happy interlude.

Fabio Scarpello is the Southeast Asia correspondent for the Italian news agency Adnkronos International. He is based in Denpasar, Indonesia.

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