Supreme Ruler for Aceh?

Dec 31, 2011

The former rebels show an autocratic streak in their attempt to enthrone an absolute ruler.

In the new draft, the office of the wali was politicised. The draft gave the wali powers that otherwise were reserved only for constitutional bodies at the national level. For example, the wali would be allowed to dissolve the regional parliament, set dates for elections and even dismiss the governor from office. He would also have the authority to sign business contracts with foreign companies and to open Acehnese consulates abroad. The wali also had religious privileges, such as the final power to decide on fatwa (religious legal opinion), an authority previously vested in the local ulama council.

1194 Malik Mahmud laying the foundations of the new Wali Nanggroe office. Photo: Gunnar StangeThe new draft did not contain any provisions on a body for electing the wali. Instead, it stipulated that the wali would be appointed for life and explained that after Hasan Tiro’s death the office should be passed automatically to Malik Mahmud. Proponents of this stipulation argued that these provisions were based on the 2002 Stavanger Declaration, a statement produced by an international meeting of GAM members in Norway. However, back then, only about 40 people had participated in the meeting. According to witnesses, the appointment of Malik Mahmud as ‘Prime Minister of Acheh/Sumatra’ at that event was not based on any democratic process.

To make matters worse, Malik enjoys by no means an impeccable reputation among his former comrades, let alone in wider circles. While many former combatants admire him tremendously, and he is a dominant force in Partai Aceh, others dispute his right to succeed Hasan Tiro. His opponents in Aceh and beyond – especially in the Acehnese diaspora overseas – hold him responsible for a series of unsolved murders and for the embezzlement of funds during the conflict years.

Sabre-rattling and the schizophrenia of power

The debates about the Wali Nanggroe qanun have continued. Numerous civil society activists blamed the drafting committee and in particular the Aceh Party for having produced a draft that was undemocratic and unconstitutional. For example, in an urgent action workshop organised in December 2010 in Banda Aceh, civil society members criticised the draft. They said the grant of wide-ranging executive powers to the wali would turn Aceh into a monarchy. This would fundamentally contravene the constitutional principles of the Republic of Indonesia. Moreover, discontented with the increasingly authoritarian and ‘feudal’ style of the Aceh Party, activists also criticised the assumption that Malik Mahmud should be the wali. They said choosing an occupant for the post without any sort of consultative process or vote contradicted basic democratic principles.

Critics said choosing an occupant for the post without any sort of consultative process or vote contradicted basic democratic principles

In the course of the debate, members of the Aceh Party eventually realised they had gone too far. However, instead of dispassionately facing the objections, they now started to declare that the draft was actually not of their own making, even though it had been officially launched by Adnan Beuransyah, a prominent member of the Aceh Party, who also serves as speaker of Commission A in the regional parliament. Yahya Muadz, the secretary-general of the Aceh Party, even went a step further, claiming that the draft was the outcome of a political act of sabotage meant to discredit the Aceh Party.

However, it has to be noted that the public debate about the wali did not only involve criticism of the Aceh Party. Some participants also saw the institution in a more positive light, as a chance for Aceh to politically and governmentally start from scratch, after the disruptions of the conflict years. University lecturer and public intellectual Fuad Martadilla advocated in his articles and lectures that Wali Nanggroe should become a supra-governmental institution. He stresses, however, that it should not only be up to the Aceh Party to decide who becomes wali and what powers that person enjoys, but that these decisions should accommodate the aspirations of all the Acehnese people.

Nevertheless, the Aceh Party still dominates the debate. A clear sign of its dominance within the regional parliament is the allocation of Rp 34.970.200.000 (AUS$ 3.800.000) within the province’s budget for the construction of the future office of the Wali Nanggroe. This allocation was made despite the fact that the regional law actually establishing the office has not yet come into effect. On 16 December 2010, Malik Mahmud laid the foundation stone for this new building. The whole ceremony appeared like an election campaign for the Aceh Party, which had decorated the surprisingly well-advanced building with its own flags.

Quo vadis Wali Nanggroe?

Against the backdrop of public outrage caused by the new draft in early 2011 the Aceh Party started again to work on a new draft. Given the brouhaha its predecessor had triggered, understandably, this latest draft is still being kept secret. But, according to Aceh Party leaders, this time it will conform to the Indonesian constitution.

Nevertheless, this does not mean that the party has completely given up on the idea of equipping the wali with some measure of political power. Ironically, for this endeavour they have received some unexpected supported from Jakarta. According to Government Regulation 19/2010 that seeks to strengthen the position of the governors vis-a-vis district heads and mayors, chapter III, article 6, paragraph 3 states that Aceh’s so-called coordination and leadership forum should not only consist of the governor, the head of police, the local military commander in chief, the senior prosecutor and the chairperson of the local parliament, but also the Wali Nanggroe. With regard to this stipulation, the Aceh Party now argues that Jakarta in fact welcomes the Wali Nanggroe playing a political role.

Moreover, they will likely see room to manoeuvre thanks to separate changes under consideration which aim to revitalise other local customary institutions. These changes might include the abolition of the position of camat (sub-district head) in Aceh and its replacement with the traditional institution of the mukim head. The mukim is a kind of parallel territorial structure, which incorporates several villages. It is already formally in place in Aceh, because it has already been revived by the Special Autonomy Law of 2001, although it has not been vested with any authority. According to the perspective held by leaders of the Aceh Party, since the Wali Nanggroe would be in charge of traditional institutions, even under the LoGA, this could include the mukim, an outcome that would provide the wali with a chance to at least exercise some control over the lower ranks of the public administration.