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New Aceh chief pledges to push peace, prosperity

Jakarta Globe - April 18, 2012

Nurdin Hasan, Banda Aceh – Newly elected Aceh governor Zaini Abdullah, on Tuesday vowed to make stability and the economy his priorities during his time in office.

"We will strengthen peace across Aceh, and we will also work to improve the local economy to create prosperity and greater welfare for the Aceh people," Zaini said just a few minutes after Aceh's Independent Election Commission (KIP) declared him and running mate Muzakir Manaf as the governor- and vice governor-elect.

Zaini, 72, is a former foreign affairs minister for the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) who lived in exile overseas before a peace treaty between the government and the now-defunct rebel group was signed in 2005. He also served as the right-hand man to GAM founder Teungku Hasan Ditiro.

Muzakir, 46, is the former commander-in-chief of the Aceh State Army, the GAM's military wing). Their ticket was backed by Aceh Party, a local party formed by former GAM guerillas that won the majority of seats in Aceh's 2009 legislative election.

"We will try to cut poverty rates in Aceh because it's quite high, although Aceh received quite a lot of money not only from its status as a special autonomous province, but also from overseas grants," Zaini said.

To improve the people's welfare, Zaini said he would focus on the agricultural, plantation and fisheries sectors due to their large financial potential.

"Aceh has huge natural resources, so it is really strange to see that the poverty rate is quite high," the governor-elect said, adding that he would create a clean and uncorrupted government and improve the discipline of state employees.

"Our main goal is to eradicate corruption, or at least minimize it. So, we will try to improve the bureaucracy by cutting red tape to accelerate development in Aceh."

Zaini also said that he would fight to implement all the points in the Helsinki Memorum of Understanding to create a prosperous Aceh that remains a part of the Unitary State of the Indonesian Republic. "All this time the rules were only lip service, because in practice they went against the Islamic Shariah which as adopted by the Acehnese," he said.

The Shariah law that has been adopted by Aceh was a gift from former President Abdurrahman's era that seemed to be laced with political intention to give the impression to the international community that the Acehnese were extremists and fundamentalists, he said.

"Islam in Aceh should follow the Koran and Hadith. Therefore, a full awareness is needed so that Islam can return to where it was during the Sultan Iskandar Muda era," the governor-elect said.

"What's the point of cutting hands of 100 or 200 people? The devil will always be around to meddle with people's minds. So, we will enhance the Islamic education on the young Aceh generation so that they can tell the difference between right and wrong."

Zaini said he planned to invite all the ulema in Aceh to draft a Shariah law that was acceptable to all Acehnese, the Indonesian people in general and the international community.

"Aceh has long adopted moderate Islam. Therefore, we will adopt the Islamic Shariah that's in line with the Koran and Prophet Muhammad's hadiths," he said.

Zaini also promised to ask all gubernatorial candidates who were defeated in the election to join him in rebuilding Aceh.