Aceh’s surprising election results

30 Apr 2014

Acehnese voters registered clear displeasure with the ruling Partai Aceh in national legislative elections, argues this report.


The 9 April 2014 legislative elections in Aceh produced three surprises. First, voters sent a strong message of displeasure to the ruling Partai Aceh (PA), the party controlled by leaders of the former rebel Free Aceh Movement (Gerakan Aceh Merdeka, GAM). PA still came out on top but with significantly reduced percentages in its east coast strongholds. Second, its major competition came not from a rival GAM-led local party but from national parties, particularly the newcomer NasDem. And third, despite its alliance with PA, Gerindra, the party of Prabowo Subianto, proved weaker than expected.

In the provincial legislature (Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat Aceh, DPRA), Partai Aceh dropped from 33 out of 69 seats to 29 out of 81 seats, or a drop from 47.8 per cent to just under 36 per cent. The drop was particularly striking given the party’s perceived control over the electoral machinery and widespread allegations of fraud in the counting process—factors that many Acehnese saw as more important than the violence that marred the campaign period.

Partai Aceh’s most serious opponent proved not to be the local Partai Nasional Aceh, as expected, but national parties. NasDem made a particularly strong showing, benefiting from being fresh and untainted by previous involvement in government. It also had good candidates, lots of money, and an Acehnese at the top, media magnate Surya Paloh. NasDem and Golkar each secured nine DPRA seats, while the National Mandate Party (Partai Amanat Nasional, PAN) received eight, up from five in 2009. PNA only received three after a poorly resourced and disorganised campaign, as well as intimidation of its supporters by PA sympathisers.

Gerindra, the party of presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto, which entered into an alliance with Partai Aceh in 2013, did worse than expected, securing only two seats from Aceh in the national parliament. It had targeted six. In 2009, President Yudhoyono’s Partai Demokrat had a similar alliance with PA and won seven. There appears to be no enthusiasm in Aceh for Prabowo as president, but with Partai Aceh’s backing, he will almost certainly do better than Jakarta governor Jokowi in the July 2014 presidential contest, if not with the extraordinary numbers that Yudhoyono received in 2009—93.2 per cent of the vote.

Jokowi’s Indonesian Democratic Struggle Party (Partai Demokrasi Indonesia-Perjuangan, PDIP) is widely seen as hostile toward Aceh, since its leadership formally objected to several points of the 2005 Helsinki peace agreement. It does not help that the one PDIP leader elected to the national parliament in these elections, Tagore Abubakar, is known for his leadership of a movement that wants to carve a new province out of Aceh. That said, Jokowi himself seems to have a reasonably positive image and could attract both voters who want a new face and those in the anyone-but-Prabowo camp. It could also help that he lived in Takengon, Central Aceh from 1985 to 1989 as a businessman and knows the province well.

Women candidates did better this time at the provincial level, with three women elected from PA, as opposed to one in 2009, and the percentage of women in the DPRA rising from 7.25 per cent in 2009 to 14.8 per cent in 2014. The percentage of women elected to district councils was only 8.8 per cent.

With PA’s reduced but still strong showing, its leaders could go one of two ways over the next five years. They could take this vote as a warning that voters want change and work more seriously to improve social services, protect forests, clean up corruption, end extortion and generally improve governance. Alternatively, they could see it as a reminder that this may be their last chance for serious rent-seeking and exploit it to the fullest. If they want re-election in 2019, they should choose the first.

Publication Details
Published year only: 
Subject Areas
Geographic Coverage