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Will fragile peace hold as results of the first direct parliamentary election become known?
A central element of the peace agreement, which has not yet been fully implemented, was the ability for Aceh to establish local political parties to contest regional elections. And it is the political vehicle of the former rebels, known as Partai Aceh, which is expected to sweep the provincial legislature.
If it doesn’t, some say the peace deal could fall apart.
“If Partai Aceh doesn’t win, there will be chaos, there will be riots," said Ali, 32, who was born in a rebel stronghold to a family with long ties to Aceh’s independence movement. "I never fought. I never went to the mountains and joined the movement. But independence was in my blood and in my heart.”
“I support Partai Aceh," Ali continued, "because it is made up of people that have always had the interests of the Acehnese as their top priority.”
But some feel Partai Aceh does not represent the interests of the country as a whole and might still be harboring desires for independence. The Indonesian military, in particular, remains suspicious of the ex-rebels and worries their election could threaten the country’s integrity.
A series of attacks against Partai Aceh officials over the last few months has added to the tension. Grenade attacks, shootings and other forms of intimidation have plagued the party recently and at least five Partai Aceh officials have been shot dead. Several unexploded bombs were found in the capital city Wednesday and Thursday.
Despite several arrests, police have remained silent about who is behind the attacks and as a result the capital city has taken to hushed whispering about who might be responsible. Savvy political operatives tour the coffee shops searching out local and foreign journalists who will listen to their side of the story.
Some are blaming the military. Others say the attacks are the result of internal squabbles within Partai Aceh. Still others think it is just common criminals.
Now everyone is wondering if the peace will hold after Thursday.
“I still don’t trust the government and I hold a grudge against the military here,” said Ali, whose best friend fought for the rebels and was killed by the military in 2000. “I think there is a 50-50 chance that the peace will fall apart. But I am grateful that there is peace now and I am hopeful that we can resolve the disputes that still remain.”
For now, the Acehnese, and the rest of Indonesia, can only wait as the behemoth undertaking of counting the ballots proceeds. A quick count result is expected late Thursday, but it could be weeks before those results are made official.
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