Jakarta - Despite fears of possible violence as seen during campaigning, the vote on Monday to elect a provincial governor and deputy governor in Aceh was peaceful. Located at the northern tip of Sumatra, Indonesia's westernmost island, the province enjoys special status; it is the country's only province where Sharia is enforced. The Independent Aceh Election Commission (KIP) will officially announce the results of the election next week. However, exit polls indicate that Zaini Abdullah, the former "foreign minister" of the once separatist Free Aceh Movement (GAM), is in the lead.
Thousands of soldiers and police agents at 9.754 polling stations where voters were called to elect the new governor of Aceh Nanggroe Darussalam province and his deputy. The election was supposed to be held last year but was postponed when the main political parties failed to agree on the participation of independent candidates. After the vote was cancelled four times and following a series of threats and acts of intimidation from hard-line Islamist groups, the vote went off without a hitch yesterday.
Five tickets were on the ballot box: outgoing Governor Irwandi Yusuf and his deputy Muhyan Yunan, Tengku Ahmad Tajudin and Suriansyah, Darni Daud and Ahmad Fauzi, Muhammad Nazar and Nova Iriansyah, and Zaini Abdullah and Muzakir Manaf.
Based on exit polls conducted by the Indonesia Survey Circle, the former minister in the separatist GAM movement Zaini Abdullah and his co-candidate Muzakir Manaf, a former GAM commander and leader, were leading in the vote count. Zaini, who spent many years in exile in Sweden, had 54.4 per cent of the vote, whilst outgoing Governor Irwandi Yusuf was second with 29.88 per cent.
In Aceh, Islam possesses the most radical traits. Here the pro-independence GAM fought a war against the Indonesian military and the central government, with at least 15,000 dead, mostly civilians.
The December 2004 tsunami caused widespread devastation, and opened the door for outside aid and peace negotiations, unthinkable until then.
The peace deal between the Indonesian government and the Free Aceh Movement opened the way to the first gubernatorial elections in December 2006, won by outgoing Governor Irwandi Yusuf.