Fabio Scarpello, Denpasar – The death of Teungku Hasan Muhammad di Tiro, the founder of the former pro-independence Free Aceh Movement (GAM), could intensify existing divisions in Indonesia's historically restive Aceh region and complicate ongoing discussions with Jakarta concerning the implementation of a 2005 peace agreement signed in Helsinki. The 85-year-old Hasan di Tiro died of natural causes in Banda Aceh on June 3.
Hendra Fadli, coordinator of human-rights group Kontras-Aceh, says "Hasan di Tiro's charisma worked as a unifying factor that smoothed over some of the different interests present in Aceh". Fuad Mardhatillah, an analyst at the Aceh Institute, added that "latent conflicts are widespread in Aceh, but yet to emerge" and that di Tiro's death "means that there is one less unifying figure that may keep the various players at bay".
As a secessionist rebel leader di Tiro was Jakarta's number one enemy for decades, but he died as an Indonesian citizen after his request to regain his citizenship was granted by Jakarta – the official documentation was delivered to him on June 2, the day before he died. He fled to Sweden in March 1979 as the Indonesian Army closed in on him after he declared Aceh an independent state in 1976. As a political asylum seeker, he became a Swedish citizen in 1984.
Throughout GAM's armed struggle, he maintained remote political control of the movement, relinquishing it only in his latter years as his health deteriorated. He was also respected by many Acehnese who did not subscribe to GAM's political objectives. This was evident when he was able to return to Aceh to a hero's welcome in October 2008 on the invitation of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. On that occasion, di Tiro was unofficially hailed as Aceh's "Wali Nanggroe", which loosely translates to "guardian of the state".
Despite a transition to democratic governance and a large measure of local autonomy, Aceh is still in search of a post-conflict equilibrium. Analysts say fault lines still exist on at least three different levels.
Aceh is the only province in Indonesia that has been allowed to implement the Islamic code of sharia. But this implementation has taken on political overtones, with the religious establishment maneuvering to work as a counterweight to local government authorities.
On the streets, local police have had their authority challenged by sharia police, while in the provincial legislature sharia-inspired laws have pitted Islamic-oriented lawmakers against secular representatives. For example, current governor Yusuf Irwandi, himself a former GAM member, refused to endorse a law that allowed for the stoning to death of adulterers. The regulation was nonetheless passed into law without Irwandi's signature in October 2008.
Tensions also exist between former GAM members that have entered mainstream politics since the conflict ended. The well-documented rift between the reformist wing, led by Irwandi, and the conservative wing, led by Malik Mahud, is alive and well. It stemmed from Irwandi's decision to run for governor as an independent candidate in 2006, defying Malik's endorsement of Humam Hamid.
Malik was prime minister of GAM's government-in-exile and a signatory to the Helsinki peace accord. Malik is now viewed as firmly in control of Partai Aceh (PA), the party that was established in mid-2007 to bring former GAM members under one political umbrella. Although the two factions managed to work together during the 2009 local elections, when Irwandi endorsed the PA, deeply entrenched differences in outlook remain.
Further tension has resulted from the unequal division of the peace dividend. On one hand there are the mid- to high-ranking former rebels associated with the network of patronage established after the 2006 and 2009 elections. In 2006, ten of the 23 district chiefs elected in the local polls were from GAM's ranks. In the April 2009 election, the PA won 33 of the 69 seats in Aceh's legislature, plus a majority of seats in seven of Aceh's district councils.
On the other hand are some former GAM foot soldiers that have remained on the periphery of the new power structure and have struggled to make a living. This group is alleged to be behind the spike in petty crime that was so evident in Aceh between mid-2007 and September 2009.
In between the two blocs is the Aceh Transition Committee (KPA), a civil organization established shortly after the 2005 peace accord to represent former combatants of GAM's military wing. According to some sources, KPA has grown into an almost parallel power structure in some areas of the province.
While divisions have grown among ex-GAM cadre, simultaneously the relationship between Aceh and Jakarta has also become fraught, specifically over the translation of the Helsinki Memorandum of Understanding into the Law on Governing Aceh (LoGA), which some say is a significantly watered-down version of the original memorandum of understanding (MoU).
For example, the Helsinki agreement states that any central government policies regarding Aceh would need the "consent of the Aceh government", but the LoGA weakened this provision to "consultation with" the provincial government. Other contentious items include the role of the Indonesian military, human-rights issues, and the release of the remaining GAM prisoners – as well as the disbursal of central government funds for reintegration.
Some locals argue that even this watered-down version of the MoU has been implemented in a patchy manner, with Banda Aceh complaining that Jakarta has been slow to issue the so-called regulation transfer – a document needed to legally transform a written law into one that can be applied in reality.
Analyst Mardhatillah argued that "the piecemeal implementation of the MoU has been very disappointing" and that "in order to hold Jakarta accountable, Aceh needs to be united". An Aceh-based foreign security consultant said that the current divisions present in Aceh actually play to Jakarta's advantage. He emphasized that di Tiro's death would weaken Aceh's intention to make the Wali Nanggroe a powerful, official position in the province similar to a sultan.
The provision to establish a Wali Nanggroe was a significant victory for GAM during the peace negotiations, but the text of the MoU is vague and the position has been a contentious issue ever since. GAM envisioned the Wali Nanggroe would have power to veto laws, dissolve the local assembly, maintain legal immunity and take decisive action in emergency situations. Jakarta has refused this wide-ranging view of the position, and has pushed via the LoGa for a more ceremonial role.
"Without Hasan di Tiro, it is likely that Jakarta's view will prevail," the security consultant said.
[Fabio Scarpello is the Southeast Asia correspondent for Adnkronos International. He may be contacted via www.fabioscarpello.com.]