chapter  3
18 Pages

Political Reconstruction in Aceh

ByDamien Kingsbury (Deakin University)

The political environment of Aceh has undergone profound change in the period since the tsunami of December 2004. Given the normative qualities associated with such alteration, Aceh’s political change could be understood as a political reconstruction. This is especially so when compared with the province’s previous political under-development. Aceh’s recent history had been one of Jakarta-appointed governors operating in a corrupt system and working with the military in effect as an administration of occupation within a conflict environment, with all the abrogation of civil and political rights that implies. The removal of Aceh’s last Jakarta-appointed administrator in July 2004

and the more conciliatory rule of his temporary successor marked an important shift in Aceh’s political life. However, the signing of a peace agreement in 2005, known as the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), ended the province’s 29-year-old separatist conflict, significantly reduced the military and police presence and disarmed the Free Aceh Movement (Gerakan Aceh Merdeka – GAM), which reorganized as a civil political party, Partai Aceh (Aceh Party). The outgoing temporary governor ensured that the provincial administration employed or re-employed staff identified with the previously illegal GAM, thus ‘Acehnizing’ the civil administration. Parallel to this, Aceh civil society groups and NGOs re-emerged as active and vocal political participants, while new political groupings operated in what was widely embraced as a largely free political environment. Perhaps most importantly, these changes allowed for the creation of local political parties, and the elections of a new governor and district officials, all of which marked a further and more profound development in Aceh’s political reconstruction. This chapter assesses Aceh’s political paradigm shift following the signing of the MoU, itself in significant part an outcome of the impact of the 2004 tsunami. The term ‘political reconstruction’, as it is often used, implies that a

political environment has been reconstructed or restored to its previous

state. In Aceh, the previous political environment was not restored or rebuilt, but overturned and replaced by a normatively better political environment. In this chapter, then, ‘reconstruction’ refers to a regeneration and renewal of Aceh’s political landscape. Aceh’s political landscape prior to the 2004 tsunami was marked by a long history of warfare, along with an associated failure on the part of the state to actively promote the welfare of its local citizens. In this respect, Aceh existed at a low level of political development (on ‘political development’, see Kingsbury, 2007a), meaning that it had a low or functionally non-existent level of political participation and representation in which there had not previously been free and fair elections, that civil and political rights were limited or entirely abrogated, and that state institutions were often dysfunctional, malignant and sometimes predatory (see Evans, 1995). Political reconstruction thus implies political development, where the political environment was redeveloped to better reflect both the aspirations of the people of Aceh, as well as to correspond more closely with normative political values around representation, participation, accountancy and transparency. The particular relevance of political reconstruction within the context of

wider post-tsunami reconstruction is three-fold. The MoU signed between GAM and the government of Indonesia, which ended the long-running separatist war, was reached within the context of the post-tsunami environment in Aceh and was, if not entirely an outcome of it, then at least in part a consequence of the impact of the tsunami. Secondly, the peace agreement allowed material post-tsunami relief and reconstruction to proceed unhindered. The third element of post-tsunami relevance was that the MoU established many of the normative criteria of political development. In this sense, the tsunami metaphorically wiped away much of the pre-existing political infrastructure in Aceh, and allowed the construction of a new political framework.