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Last Updated: Friday, 24 November 2006, 04:09 GMT
Election campaign begins in Aceh
By Lucy Williamson
BBC News, Aceh

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Campaigning has got under way for next month's elections in the Indonesian province of Aceh.

It is the first time Acehnese will be able to directly elect their own governor and the first time independent candidates can run in the polls.

The elections are the culmination of a two-year peace process.

Peace talks between the government and separatist rebels were started after the December 2004 tsunami that devastated huge swathes of Aceh.

Key test

Eight pairs of candidates have put their names forward for the positions of governor and vice-governor.

Among them are two teams from the former separatist group Gam (the Free Aceh Movement), a former military commander of the province, and representatives from the powerful Indonesian party, Golkar.

They have for the first time the opportunity here to vote for independent candidates... and effectively to vote for the Gam, the political wing of the freedom fighters
Glynn Ford, head of the EU election monitoring team
This is the first time Acehnese who are not members of the main national parties can stand for election and Glynn Ford, head of the European Union's election monitoring team, thinks that this will go a long way towards engaging the voters:

"Indonesian politicians probably have a worse reputation than European ones but nevertheless they have for the first time the opportunity here to vote for independent candidates, not people who are tied to the 20 recognised parties, and effectively to vote for the Gam, the political wing of the freedom fighters," Mr Ford said.

"If that doesn't interest anybody, I'm not sure what will. This is a peace process and if you're not interested in voting at the end of a peace process, then I think we're probably never going to get them to the polling station."

Many people see these elections as a key test of the province's new autonomy as set out in the peace agreement signed last year between the Indonesian government and the Gam separatists.

That agreement, which was given a boost by the 2004 Asian tsunami, put an end to 30 years of civil war.

But there are still deep divisions in the province and there are concerns that disputes over this election could bring them to the surface.




SEE ALSO
Aceh holds first child congress
22 Nov 06 |  Asia-Pacific
Acehnese mark one year of peace
15 Aug 06 |  Asia-Pacific
Oxfam acts over Aceh aid misuse
05 May 06 |  Asia-Pacific
Overview: Aceh after the tsunami
18 Feb 05 |  Asia-Pacific
Country profile: Indonesia
18 Oct 06 |  Country profiles
Timeline: Indonesia
18 Jul 06 |  Country profiles

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