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Violence against legislative candidates in Aceh an attack on secularism

Jakarta Globe - March 5, 2014

Kennial Caroline Laia, Jakarta – A recent string of attacks against legislative candidates and political parties' headquarters in Aceh may be a form of dissatisfaction toward efforts to introduce a national idealism into the province which only a few years ago was waging an armed struggle for separation from Indonesia, an analyst says.

Tensions continue to escalate in Indonesia's only province permitted to implemented a limited interpretation of Shariah law, marked by a string of attacks on political targets as next month's legislative election draws closer.

On Sunday night, Faisal, a legislative candidate from the Aceh National Party (PNA), was shot and killed by unknown gunmen who opened fire at his car as it passed a secluded road near Sawang in South Aceh district.

It was the second attack against PNA members in less than a month. On Feb. 6, the party's head in Kuta Makmur, North Aceh district, was beaten to death in front of a crowd by two men who were allegedly from the rival Aceh Party (PA).

Last month, the campaign office of Zubir H.T., a legislative candidate from the National Democrat Party (NasDem) was attacked by unknown masked shooters who fired 10 shots, followed by the beating of two members of Zubir's campaign team in Munyee Kunyet Village, in North Aceh district.

Arbi Sanit, a political analyst from the University of Indonesia, told the Jakarta Globe on Tuesday that the attacks on members of two nationalist political parties were related to political sentiments.

He said the sense of autonomy among the Acehnese remained strong, and any push toward embracing the Pancasila-based nationalism espoused in the rest of the country was unwelcome.

"NasDem is chaired by Surya Paloh who originally comes from Aceh. It is a party that carries a national idealism and Surya wants to bring that ideology into Aceh along with the party he established," Arbi said. "Some Acehnese don't seem too happy with that. They feel betrayed and feel like they are being used by their fellow Acehnese in achieving his own goals."

He emphasized that the sense of independence from Jakarta remained strong in Aceh, even after the 2005 peace deal that ended a three-decade separatist struggle by the Free Aceh Movement (GAM).

Arbi said the attacks were an expression of Acehnese dissatisfaction toward the "invasion" by "outsiders," who in this case took the form of legislative candidates and political parties espousing nationalist ideals.

"For people in Aceh, the province is the country. History shows that they had been trying to separate from the Indonesian republic for years. The sentiment gets stronger as the election draws nearer," he said. "Indonesian issues are of little interest to most people in Aceh."

He urged the government to beef up security in the province as tensions started to heat up, to prevent things from getting out of hand and disrupting the legislative election on April 9 and presidential election on July 9. "The police and military should take quick action to secure the elections before they even start," he said.

Of the Rp 2.5 trillion ($215 million) election security fund requested by security forces, the government has so far only disbursed around Rp 1 trillion and an additional Rp 600 billion from a budget reallocation.

Arbi said security officers would not be able to work to their best ability with limited funding. "If the government keeps postponing the disbursement of the security fund, it will undermine election security," he said.

Arbi also warned of the potential for similar outbreaks of violence in other restive provinces before and during elections. "Although we now have a system of direct elections, Papua has grown accustomed to 'representative elections,' which deprives individuals of their rights to vote. In addition, prejudice towards candidates from outside the area is still high in Papua," he said.

"Similar to Aceh, Papua is also strong in terms of religion and ethnic identity. That's why most people there are not happy with outsiders," he said.

Arbi also said that Poso district in Central Sulawesi, plagued by sporadic acts of terrorism, could be a potential hot spot. "All this unrest can happen in different areas, but it indicates they have the same ideas which are not in line with the Indonesian ideology of Pancasila," he said.

To prevent the spread of this unrest, Arbi said security officers should be seen as taking firm action against suspected terrorists during the election campaign period, with no room for negotiation.

"We cannot give up the nation's integrity for local disputes. When it comes to national security, there should be decisive actions from the officials. Local interests come second," he said.

Kusnanto Anggoro, a military analyst from the University of Indonesia, agreed the shootings in Aceh were politically motivated, calling them a form of reaction from some groups that were dissatisfied with nationalist political parties.

"Interestingly, the victims so far were from parties with the word 'national' in their name, such as NasDem and PNA," Kusnanto said. "It could be related to dissatisfaction from non-nationalist groups."

Source: http://www.thejakartaglobe.com/news/political-violence-against-legislative-candidates-in-aceh-seen-as-attack-on-secularism/