Elections in Aceh: Another Step Forward

Publication Date: 
8 Apr 2012

On April 9, Aceh, a special autonomous region of Indonesia located on the northern tip of the island of Sumatra, held the second set of provincial elections for the governorship since the end of the thirty-year secessionist conflict with the government of Indonesia. These elections for governor, vice-governor, district heads and deputy district heads are considered to be an important step for the region's continued reconstruction and democratization. Meredith Applegate, Operations Coordinator for IFES Indonesia, answers some questions about these momentous polls. 

How was the mood on Election Day? 

After months of political and legal disputes, Election Day appeared to proceed fairly calmly here in Aceh. Polling stations opened at 8 a.m. and voters cast their ballots in what appeared to be a generally peaceful environment. While some minor incidents were reported throughout the day by local civil society organizations, the impressions gathered from observers here tended to be generally positive and many praised the restraint and effort by all participants in contributing towards a peaceful election process.

Unfortunately, the previous 24 hours in Aceh were not as tranquil as polling day. There were reports of altercations between political parties, voter intimidation, the destruction of a polling station and even a short hostage-taking. However, there haven’t been any indications as of yet that this interfered in people casting their ballots today.

How was turnout? 

The Independent Electoral Commission of Aceh (KIP Aceh) has reported that there were a little over 3.2 million eligible voters for today’s election in Aceh, and 9,786 polling stations throughout the province. However, voter turnout for today’s election will be difficult to gauge accurately at this point. From the polling stations we visited in Banda Aceh and Aceh Besar, turnout appeared to vary quite drastically from one location to another – some TPS had almost all voters cast a ballot, while others appeared to have a somewhat lower turnout.

When can results be expected? 

There is no electronic results system in place in Aceh and KIP Aceh will release results after they have been made official by the 23 regency-level KIPs, rather than releasing partial or unofficial results as they are being tabulated. KIP Aceh currently expects to release results in about 10 days.

A local survey firm did conduct a preliminary quick count today that indicates that Partai Aceh’s candidate for governor has taken a strong lead. However, this is based on only 61 percent of a sample consisting of 300 polling centers. Official results from KIP Aceh next week will be the deciding factor.

Election safety was a concern in the past election and some election violence was seen ahead of these polls. What measures are being taken to help mitigate election violence this time around? 

Civil society and many other electoral stakeholders have prioritized making the elections in Aceh peaceful, but sporadic instances of violence and intimidation have been reported in several districts, particularly during the months prior to Election Day.

Efforts to support peaceful elections in Aceh have targeted political parties, journalists, the public and other electoral stakeholders. To monitor and mitigate election-related violence, IFES has partnered with two local civil society organizations to implement an Election Violence Education & Resolution (EVER) project. These organizations, Forum LSM Aceh and Aceh Institute, seek to mitigate election-related violence by the monitoring and documenting of incidents in 60 districts and 12 regencies for a six week period (four weeks prior to Election Day and two weeks after). EVER partners issue reports and press briefings based on field monitoring results to stakeholders, including KIP Aceh, and they held a second press conference last week, which reported about 40 verified incidents of election violence since March 12, 2012.

There has also been a peace initiative led by the interim governor, called Pemilukada Damai (Peaceful Elections). This has included a roadshow throughout the districts, a media campaign and the establishment of information centers available for the public in each of the districts. In coordination with this effort, journalists and editors have been encouraged to report on elections responsibly by KIP through media trainings and via the KIP Aceh Media Center.

Peaceful elections in Aceh require efforts from all stakeholders. Local civil society organizations, government institutions, ulamas, and candidates themselves have all contributed to work that encourages a peaceful transition of government, including the signing of a peace declaration by all candidate tickets. While tensions and acts of violence did occur during this election period and may likely remain throughout the results process, it was encouraging to see the wide-range of stakeholders publicly dedicated to non-violence.

What was IFES' role in these elections?

IFES has provided support to a number of electoral stakeholders in Aceh throughout the electoral period, including civil society groups and KIP Aceh. In addition to the EVER program mentioned above, IFES has been facilitating a large-scale voter education effort in Aceh on behalf of the election commission. Local civil society organizations and KIP Aceh have worked together to hold workshops and trainings that target a wide range of stakeholders in Aceh to increase awareness of the April 9 elections. These activities, supported by IFES, have actively targeted traditionally marginalized groups, the media, and community leaders.

For example, hundreds of women voters in Aceh have participated in discussions on the elections throughout the province and taken part in polling simulations through a local women’s organization. The Aceh Province’s Center for Accessible Elections for People with Disabilities (PPUA Penca) held a workshop and polling simulation for people with disabilities. A local student organization held a three-day democracy camp for students and then helped to facilitate public viewings across Aceh of a voter education film, Pemilukada Aceh Damai (Peaceful Aceh Elections), for thousands of voters. This KIP Aceh voter education film, starring a popular Acehnese comedy group, has been distributed to over 8,000 stakeholders in Aceh and public viewings have been to packed audiences. IFES has also provided support to KIP Aceh’s voter education efforts through traditional media campaigns, such as newspaper advertisements, radio talk shows and public service announcements (PSAs).

These KIP Aceh voter education campaigns have truly been multi-stakeholder efforts; civil society organizations, media, and government organizations have all played critical roles in their implementation.

Elections in Aceh were originally scheduled for November 2011. Why were they delayed?

Elections in Aceh were rescheduled three times over the past year due to legal challenges and rulings from the Constitutional Court. The initial legal dispute focused on independent candidacies. This dispute pitted the then-incumbent governor, Irwandi Yusuf, against the dominant political force in Aceh, Partai Aceh. The 2006 Law on Governing Aceh (LOGA), enacted after the 2005 Helsinki Agreement between GAM (Gerakan Aceh Merdeka or Free Aceh Movement) and the Indonesian government, allowed independent candidatures as a one-time transitional measure for the 2006 gubernatorial race. The issue surrounding independent candidates sparked a contentious legal battle, with the Constitutional Court eventually ruling unconstitutional any measure aimed at disallowing independent candidacies.

This decision led Partai Aceh to “boycott” the election, and as of January 2012 it had still refrained from registering a candidate. Six weeks before the then-scheduled 16 February election, the Constitutional Court ruled that KIP Aceh must reopen candidate registration for the fourth and final time, allowing Partai Aceh to register a candidate for the gubernatorial race, thereby delaying the elections until today.

In 2006, Aceh held elections that were widely considered to be credible. Please tell us about their electoral system. 

Local elections in Aceh are scheduled to be held every five years, with the first local elections occurring after the 2005 peace agreement that ended a 30-year armed conflict between the Indonesian Government and GAM. While there were instances of voter intimidation and electoral violence during the 2006 election, observers generally agreed that elections were held in a manner compliant with international standards.

Aceh, under the Helsinki Memorandum of Understanding signed between GAM and the Indonesian Government in 2005, is governed by special autonomy. This special autonomy is enacted in the Law of Governing Aceh (LOGA), and electoral law is drafted by the provincial legislature (DPR-A) before being signed by the governor. This allows Aceh to have some flexibility in determining the structure of elections; however, the National Election Commission (KPU) still has supervisory authority over KIP Aceh, and Aceh’s legal framework for elections and electoral administration must conform to national standards.

The election today was the third local election in Aceh, including the elections for provincial legislature in Aceh in 2009, and it will determine the future governor, thirteen district heads and four mayors in Aceh. Elections in Aceh are direct elections by relative majority. To win a candidate must receive the most votes on Election Day and must have at least 30 percent of the valid vote in the first round of elections; if not, the electoral law requires a second round of elections between the two tickets with the most votes in the first round, to be scheduled within 60 days. This is a very recent change in the electoral law, which previously required only 25 percent of the vote to avoid a second round. We will know if a second round election will be required as soon as KIP Aceh announces the final results.