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Last Updated: Tuesday, 12 December 2006, 11:03 GMT
Aceh frontrunner praises election
Ballot boxes in Aceh - 10/12/06
The official result will not be known for weeks
The man expected to be Aceh's new governor has praised the first direct elections in the Indonesian province.

"This is the dream of Acehnese people fulfilled," said Irwandi Yusuf, who is well ahead in the race, according to unofficial results.

But Mr Yusuf, a former rebel leader, acknowledged that the road ahead would not be easy.

"It's going to be hard work," he said. "There are so many things to do."

Unofficial results suggest that Mr Yusuf won about 39% of Monday's vote, according to the Indonesia Survey Institute, but official results will not be available until January.

IRWANDI YUSUF
Irwandi Yusuf
Former spokesman and speech writer for Gam rebels
Escaped from jail during the December 2004 tsunami
A veterinarian by training, also worked as a university lecturer
Gam's representative monitoring last year's peace deal with Jakarta

The polls consolidated a peace accord agreed last year between the Free Aceh Movement (Gam) separatist rebels and the Indonesian government, after nearly three decades of conflict.

A spokesman for UN Secretary General Kofi Annan described the elections as "historic", and election observers said they were peaceful and transparent.

The chief of the Indonesian military also reportedly praised the polls, but he told the Associated Press that the result was "not a victory for the former rebels, [but] a victory for the Acehnese people."

Unexpected

Mr Yusuf said he would wait for the election commission's official results in early January before declaring victory.

His popularity in the poll was unexpected. He was one of eight candidates for the governorship, and it had been widely assumed that the vote would go into a second round, with no single candidate receiving more than the 25% of the vote needed to win outright.

But unofficial results show that another round is unlikely to be necessary.

"It wasn't predicted, it wasn't expected. It's a vote for change," said Sidney Jones of the International Crisis Group.

"Now we're going to have to see how somebody who has been associated with the guerrilla movement actually governs," she told the Associated Press.

Mr Yusuf, formerly a spokesman of the Free Aceh Movement (Gam), was jailed for treason in 2003 but escaped when the Indian Ocean tsunami of December 2004 struck his prison.

Much of Aceh was devastated by the tsunami. The scale of the disaster - which killed 170,000 people in Aceh - spurred the rebels and the government into peace talks.

Rebels gave up a demand for independence after winning autonomy and the right to participate fully in democratic elections, drawing a line under 29 years of war that left 15,000 people dead.

The Helsinki peace deal signed in 2005 paved the way for Monday's election for the posts of governor and deputy governor - previously appointed by central government in Jakarta.

Prior to the election result, Mr Yusuf said he was a reluctant candidate who had agreed to run at the urging of religious leaders and rebel commanders.

"Being the governor is like being in prison, I will lose my freedom," he said.




SEE ALSO
Aceh votes for major change
12 Dec 06 |  Asia-Pacific
Former Aceh fighters face ballot box
11 Dec 06 |  Asia-Pacific
Q&A: Aceh governor election
11 Dec 06 |  Asia-Pacific
Aceh wary over new Sharia police
08 Dec 06 |  Asia-Pacific
Viewpoints: Aceh's first elections
06 Dec 06 |  Asia-Pacific
Acehnese mark one year of peace
15 Aug 06 |  Asia-Pacific
Timeline: Indonesia
18 Jul 06 |  Country profiles

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