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Friday, 15 December 2006

'Aceh poll underlines popularity of GAM' reads the headline in The Jakarta Post following the return of results from the recent election for governor of Aceh, the beleaguered Indonesian province.

The article by Tony Hotland (warning: music plays automatically on this Site) makes interesting reading for anyone who has watched a process of reconciliation between the rebels and Jakarta's powerbrokers emerge over the past year or so.

Irwandi Yusuf is the surprise winner of the poll, which will hopefully serve to help establish higher standards of accountability throughout this ethnically-diverse nation. Corruption, which is a major element of public life in many countries that impedes the motions of democracy, may now become less endemic. We can only hope.

But you only have to read the work of Pramoedya Ananta Toer to understand the challenges facing Indonesian society. I generally refrain from laying blame at the door of colonialism, but in this case there are grounds for imagining a different present — and a different future — if things had been done differently in the past.

One welcome outcome from the point of view of Australia is that the Islamist party has fared as badly in the poll as "those endorsed by the traditional national political parties".

Defense Minister Juwono Sudarsono said Wednesday the early result of the gubernatorial poll giving a landslide win to the Irwandi Yusuf-M. Nazar pair was a message to Jakarta that Aceh wanted more action not more words.

"I think it's an expression of a desire for autonomy by the Acehnese. The message is that the central government must be more attentive to the Aceh people," he said.

Juwono said the failure of candidates endorsed by Jakarta-based political parties showed how badly Jakarta had treated Aceh in the past.

Now the challenges that president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and his colleagues will encounter must spread to the equally-beleaguered province of West Papua, where separatists are also active. The stink that blew up in May when a group of men, women and children found refuge in Australia by crossing from their country in a small boat promises to return if Jakarta cannot get its act together.

For the Islamists this result will be a blow they may not easily recover from in the short term. On TV the other night we were regaled with images of the politeness police driving around in their expensive vehicles and chastising young people who dared to express affection in public or who allowed a few stray hairs to emerge from beneath their hijabs. This kind of Saudi-inspired foolishness must stop.

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