Supreme Ruler for Aceh?

Dec 31, 2011

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

The Wali Nanggroe debate reflects not only diverging interpretations of the function and the role of a particular institution in Aceh’s dramatically changing and highly fluid political landscape. It also reveals uncertainties about Aceh’s much-discussed historical, cultural and religious uniqueness as well as the collective identity that supposedly derives from that uniqueness. The debate shows that it is hard to find agreement on an institution which, in the views of its advocates, lies at the very heart of Aceh’s distinctive culture and identity. This uncertainty is underlined by the fact that representatives of the Gayo ethnic minority who live in the central mountainous region of Aceh have repeatedly rejected the institution of the Wali Nanggroe altogether, saying that it is an institution of the Acehnese ethnic group and not representative of the diverse population of the province as a whole.

All in all, the various drafts prepared by the Aceh Party attest to an ongoing autocratic claim for absolute power and leadership by and for Hasan Tiro’s successors. They see their leadership role as an automatic right deriving from GAM’s leadership of the 30-year long struggle for Aceh’s independence. Negotiation and compromise in the political arena are still a novelty to the movement’s elite. It is rather ironic that GAM members welcomed free and democratic elections to make their way into Aceh’s political system, only to now try to remain in power with the help of quasi-authoritarian methods.

Antje Missbach is a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Melbourne and author of Separatist Conflict in Indonesia: The Long-Distance Politics of the Acehnese Diaspora (2011). Gunnar Stange is a researcher and PhD student at the Department of Anthropology of the Goethe-University, Frankfurt am Main, whose doctoral research focuses on identity politics in Aceh after the signing of the Helsinki peace agreement.

This article was first published in Inside Indonesia.