In the lead up to last Thursday’s elections in Nangroe Aceh Darussalam (NAD, aka Aceh province) there seemed to be tension in the air. Internationals watched with open eyes for something to happen, but other then peaceful elections there was not much to see.

No one would have under-estimated the importance of these elections; the second to be held since the historic signing of the Memorandum of Understanding, which saw an end to a thirty year conflict between the GAM resistance movement and the government of Indonesia. Critically they were the first elections to have seen the implementation of the LoGA (Law on Governing Aceh) stipulation to allow local parties to contest the elections in Aceh.

Whilst counting is not finalised it looks like the local Partai Aceh is the winner. Many believed the elections to be a litmus test of the province’s peace process and the decentralisation program which has been operating since the fall of the New Order.

Walking the streets of Banda Aceh (metaphorically of course because you cannot walk more than ten meters in any direction before you are confronted with man holes and open sewers) in the days leading up to the election it was easy to tell how important the elections were. The city was awash with a kaleidoscope of campaign material; banners, flags, posters and election convoys parading the streets. Like magic these were taken down the day before the election to abide by the laws which require all campaigning and advertising to have ceased two days before elections.

For those of us also signed up for Google alerts on Aceh, it was clear also that the international press was expecting something to “happen”, our in-boxes were inundated with warnings and alerts about the ensuing possible chaos. But the day itself went off without a hitch.

The morning was eerily silent as people made their way to the polling stations, but by afternoon the city of Banda Aceh was back to business as usual. Most people were happy to talk briefly about the voting, but wanted to avoid talking too much. You cannot help but sense disappointment from the foreign press that the situation was calm, that whilst the peace in Aceh is tenuous it seems to be jumping all the hurdles.

After the election comes the shutdown of BRR, the provisional government set up to guide NAD through its reform and recovery period. The majority of foreign actors and NGOs who have shaped the landscape here for the last five years are downsizing or shutting up shop.

All eyes will remain on NAD for a while to watch the outcomes, but for now the story seems to be that NAD is just doing its thing, decentralization is coming along, albeit slowly, and the elections were a bit of a non-issue, albeit a democratic and improved non-issue.

Peter Fray

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