Partai Aceh (PA) cadres on the campaign trail. Photo credit: the Jakarta Globe.

Indonesia has frequently been lauded for its free and fair elections but Aceh is an exception. This election, like others before it, has been marred by politically motivated killings, kidnapping, vandalism, intimidation and threats to voters.

To quantify the scale of the problem, the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation (YLBHI) has counted 32 election-related crimes for the period April 2013to March 17, 2014. This number has increased from 20 cases in the 2009 elections and 22 cases in Aceh’s 2012 provincial election.

Other monitoring institutions, state and NGO, arrived at similar figures. The Election Supervisory Body (Bawaslu) recorded 34 cases of infringement. Civil society organisation MaTA recorded 42 cases of money politics and the use of state facilities in campaign in just 6 districts alone.

Koalisi NGO HAM recorded 61 cases of violence, including 10 cases using firearms, 5 with sharp weapons, 14 involving fuel, 2 with explosives, and 6 cases of verbal threats.

The available documentation indicates that cadres of one local political party, Partai Aceh (PA), were largely responsible for most of the incidents. Partai Aceh held 33 seats of 69, or 48% of the seats in the previous provincial legislature formed after the 2009 elections This election, PA is slated to win 29 seats of 81, or 36% of the total seats.

Aceh is also exceptional politically in that it is the only province in which local political parties are permitted to contest elections. Aceh’s exclusive right to have local parties contest for seats in the district assemblies was part of Aceh’s peace agreement (Helsinki MoU) signed in August 15, 2005. PA was the most dominant of six local political parties that formed to contest the first of Aceh’s local elections since 2006.

From the beginning PA was hostile to the idea of a diverse political terrain. PA believes that it alone should be the political instrument to channel Acehnese aspirations and set about discrediting the competition. That fragmented political scene has gradually narrowed to just three local political parties contesting the 2014 elections – Partai Aceh (PA), Partai Nasional Aceh (PNA) and Partai Damai Aceh (PDA). This is due both to the poor performance of other parties as well as the consolidation and increasing assertion of PA’s now vast political machine.

This election, PA’s hegemonic claim to political representation resulted in the party resorting to crude and often violent electoral tactics, as outlined above. However, one of the most important arenas of their influence is in the electoral bodies tasked with administering and regulating the election. These are the Electoral Commission (Komisi Independen Pemilihan, KIP), its oversight body (Badan Pengawasan Pemilu, BAWASLU) and Polri, the national police.

The Electoral Commission (KIP)

Established in 2006, the KIP is another uniquely Acehnese body. Unlike the rest of Indonesia, where the election is administered by provincial, district and municipal level electoral commissions (KPUD), Aceh’s elections bear the stamp of Acehnese exceptionalism in that they are implemented by KIP.

KIP is officially under the umbrella of the national election commission and so structurally, its just another KPUD with another name. However, Aceh’s political leadership is at pains to stress that the KIP is “exceptional” and that this difference relates principally to the mechanisms concerning the number, selection and recruitment of KIP commissioners.

70-80 potential KIP commissioners are identified by an independent selection panel made up of community members, academics, women and NGOs. They test and interview commissioners and narrow the pool to 21 hopefuls which is then surrendered to parliament. It then sits with the provincial parliament to select the 7 commissions and their substitutes. This differs from the process used by the KPUD wherein the entire selection process is dominated by an independent selection panel and parliament has no scope to interfere.

What is exceptional about elections in Aceh is that the KIP selection process provides for interference by parliament. In contemporary Aceh, PA dominance in the regional legislature allows them to elect commissioners uncontested and the process of selecting commissioners is subject to unusual politicking. PA has proven exceptionally willing to exploit democratic political process for their own gain.

Unsurprisingly, Aceh’s PA dominated parliament has appointed KIP members favourable to party interests. As a result, in this election we have witnessed commissioners at the provincial and district levels who are either affiliated informally to the party or openly active on the party board such as in Sabang (Serambi Indonesia, March 4, 2014).


A KIP Commissioner at a PA rally in Sabang. Photo credit: Teungku ZyAd

As a result, there are reported incidents where it appears that KIP has both directly interfered with ballots or wilfully overlooked infringements by PA cadres. For instance, Chairman of KIP in East Aceh, Ismail, was caught transporting ballot boxes and ballot papers without a police escort. There are strong suspicions that he was attempting to inflate the PA vote (Serambi Indonesia, 8 April 2014). A few days after the incident, the Consortium for a Clean Election (KBPA) uncovered an audio recording of a one-hour conversation between Muzakkir Manaf, President of PA and current Vice Governor, and Ismail wherein Muzakkir instructed the KIP Chairman to ‘safeguard’ a PA victory in East Aceh district.

In other ways the KIP has also abused its control over the administration of the election to the advantage of PA. For instance, polling stations in the north and east coast of Aceh did not use the requisite C1 form used to tally up the vote immediately after the election. Moreover, during the plenary session at the district level, there have been numerous cases where the ballot numbers compiled by party witnesses and KIP diverge significantly. In addition to this, election results have not been published in public places as required by law.

Finally, PA officials were permitted into the Aceh Government Election Desk’s tabulation room to monitor vote counting directly. This room is off bounds to anyone outside of the KIP, including media. However in the photo below we seen Kamaruddin (in a white suit), Vice President of PA, sitting in the middle of the desk surrounded by KIP officials.

Kamaruddin, PA Vice President, sits in the tabulation room as votes are counted.

Kamaruddin, PA Vice President, is resplendent in white as he sits in the tabulation room while votes are counted. Photo credit: Teugku ZyAd

In Pidie, thousands of election cards were found pre-marked in favour of a PA candidate and for a national level Gerindra candidate. In polling station # 27, in Pulo Mangat village, Syamtalira Bayu, North Aceh, a PA cadre was permitted to enter the voting booths to direct voters how to vote. Meanwhile, outside the voting station a car brandishing PA campaign colours was broadcasting pro-party slogans, though such intervention is prohibited by law.

Another area of manipulation has been in the significant numbers of no-show voters, which in some areas were around 40%. In Aceh Besar, witnesses from Nasdem, PNA, PAN and several others noted a 60% turn out, but after the plenary session, the District KIP announced voter turn out was 84,33%. PA’s rivals believe that many of these additional votes have been entered into the count to boost the PA tally.

In short, there is strong circumstantial evidence to suggest that electoral manipulation has occurred systematically and on a massive scale involving the KIP commissioners from provincial down to village levels. This suggests that the KIP is not a neutral arbiter of the elections but is systematically involved in electoral fraud.

The Oversight Body (BAWASLU)

The Bawaslu has a centralized, national structure mandated to oversee the administration of the elections across Indonesia based on Law 22/2007 article 70 on the General Election.

National Bawaslu heads elected three local officials for Bawaslu Aceh (Asqalani STH, Dr Muklir SSos SH M AP, and Zuraida Alwi MPd) however they were rejected by the PA-dominated Aceh government who argued again for Acehnese exceptionalism. Aceh’s government argued that appointments to the Bawaslu were under its own authority based on Law 11/2006 (UUPA) article 60 and 61.

Jakarta did not buy this, pointing to Law 15/2011 on Elections and retorting that local government only has the authority to establish Bawaslu for local elections. The Aceh government’s response has been to delegitimize Bawaslu, giving justification to a PA-controlled KIP to ignore Bawaslu’s infringement reports.

Polri, the national police

Finally, it seems the Acehnese government under PA has effectively domesticated Polri, the national police force, the other regulatory body tasked with safeguarding the quality of the election. The role of the police has been deeply puzzling given the level of electoral fraud committed in Aceh.

Thus far, police have investigated 19 election-related criminal cases including the murder of two PNA cadres in North Aceh and an assault on the Nasdem office. However, investigations appear to be heading nowhere.

The police are a national level body and local police chiefs are selected by Jakarta, precisely for fear of undue political party influence in the regions. However, in Aceh, PA’s Zaini-Muzakkir administration lobbied strongly for Brigjend Husein Hamidi to become police chief.

The election is over, but many parties have rejected the election result. In Sabang 13 parties, PA not among them, have demanded that the election be repeated (Serambi Indonesia, 12 April 2014). Calls to rehold the election were also echoed by five national political parties in the capital Banda Aceh and other districts have seen similar calls. Last week, eight national parties came to together to demonstrate against the results. Every day now, new protests brew in other districts across Aceh.

Aceh’s political elites have regarded Acehnese political institutions and processes as exceptional from the rest of Indonesia. Indeed, it is clear that mechanisms to ensure the free and fairness of elections are weaker, but not absent, in Aceh. However what is truly exceptional about the Acehnese case is Partai Aceh’s willingness to exploit the political system for their own ends and their dominance within the political arena. As a result, perhaps exceptional measures are in fact required in Aceh to administer and monitor elections, including ending parliament’s power to recruit KIP commissioners. The question is whether Partai Aceh would concede to an exceptionalism that would curb their own influence?

Teungku ZyAd is an independent researcher from Aceh.