New Aceh Governor ‘Can Learn from Mandela’: EU

JAKARTA ~ Aceh’s new governor can learn from Nelson Mandela, the chief EU election observer has said following the first elections since a landmark peace deal ended decades of conflict in the province.

Irwandi Yusuf, a former spokesman of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM), appears on course for a landslide victory after Monday’s elections, with unofficial results giving him around 39 percent of the vote.

In 2003, Yusuf was sentenced to seven years for rebellion and had his sentence increased to nine years on appeal. He escaped when the tsunami struck on December 26, 2004 and flooded his prison.

“I only know of two people who within less than two years have gone from being a prisoner to a governor,” chief EU election observer Glyn Ford said on Wednesday.

“The other was Nelson Mandela and I can’t think of a better person to recommend that the new governor of Aceh learns from,” he told journalists.

Mandela spent 27 years in jail under apartheid in South Africa but became its first democratically elected president and advocated a policy of national reconciliation.

Ford stressed that the new Aceh governor needed to draw on the support of the population in rebuilding the province.

“Aceh’s future and prosperity require that whoever is the governor takes the large majority of the people of Aceh along with him,” he said.

“Irwandi was the most popular choice by far but he still received less than 50 percent of the vote.

“I know he will take that into account in his decisions in the future,” the Member of the European Parliament said.

Ford said Yusuf’s surprise win was not a success for GAM but “a success for the people of Aceh.”

“In 25 days of the campaign, GAM has achieved more than it did in 25 years of fighting,” he said, admitting to exercising poetic license as the campaign only lasted two weeks.

“This is an election that in our view has integrity and which the people of Aceh can have confidence in. It seems to us that the person they voted for is the one that has been elected.”

The election was held following a landmark peace agreement last year between GAM and the government to end decades of bloodshed.

Ford stressed that the European Union would continue to support Aceh despite the impending departure of election and peace monitors.

“The European Union has not done this to walk away at this stage,” he said.

The European Union had helped consolidate the peace in Aceh after decades of conflict “for less than the cost of one hour’s spending by the US in Iraq,” Ford said, stressing he was speaking personally.

“And that’s value for money.”

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