GAM’s Flag: The Provocation of Former GAM Members in Aceh?

By : Irfani Nurmaliah

It is quite an irony that Aceh, which received Special Autonomy (Otsus)fund from 2008 to 2015 accounted for Rp 41.49 trillion, is still trapped in poverty and unemployment. Aceh is the 7th poorest province with highest unemployment rate in Indonesia. This fact is indeed a contrast to the big amount of fund Aceh has received every year with 11% increase per year. Such fund was almost half of total budget of Aceh which accounted for Rp 12 trillion in 2015. This condition must be the concern of Aceh people, especially the elites who run the government because since the Otsus has been implemented, Aceh local government plays more dominant role in shaping the policies for Aceh.

Unfortunately, some basic but important issues regarding public service such as healthcare, employment, education are lack of attention. Should the elites of Aceh be more focus to take care those issues and Aceh development as a whole, Aceh must soon be able to catch up. Yet, these will be a difficult task if the lack of attention was caused by the lack of capacity of the elites in local government or because of any hidden agenda of the elites who are mostly former GAM activists.

Referring to the Helsinki MoU, Indonesian Government and Free Aceh Movement (GAM) should respectively abandon the hostility and together commit to make Aceh a better place. Regarding this, the central government has managed to make some basic changes on the relationship between Aceh government and Central government by giving a wide opportunity for Aceh people to be in the local government and play roles in Aceh development by the implementation of the Otsus. The legal basis for this was Act no. 11/2006 on Aceh Government, establishment of local political parties, Otsus budget allocation, and reintegration of former GAM activist into governance and society. Meanwhile, GAM was expected to stop their separatist and armed movement and transform itself to be a new power in civil society and contribute to the development of Aceh as an integral part of NKRI.

The expected changes of attitude of Central Government and GAM were required in the context of embodying the interests of Aceh people. As a wise man says “it takes two to tango”, the Central Government cannot handle all problems and embody all aspirations of Aceh people alone. Therefore, the former GAM activists must also hand in hand with the government in realizing the Helsinki MoU to create a safe, peaceful, and prosperous life for Aceh people. Any hidden agenda must be eliminated especially of those who are still not “willing” to return back to NKRI.

Aceh’s Flag: The Symbol of Aceh or GAM?

It is an ultimate privilege of local government to create their own symbol and flag that will represent their characteristic and uniqueness. Aceh government of course has the same privilege and it is written in local regulation (qanun) no. 3/ 2013 about the flag and symbol of Aceh. A polemic came up when the flag is apparently the flag used by GAM. This indeed has insulted the central government. Therefore, it is natural that the central government demur it as the use of GAM’s flag will likely bring back the collective memories on the past conflict between GAM as a separatist movement and Indonesian government. The use of the GAM’s flag will only be counterproductive to what has been achieved by Helsinki MoU.

The symbol and flag of local government are regulated in the Indonesian Government Regulation (PP) no. 77/2007 about local territorial symbol. Article 2 of the regulation suggests that local territorial symbol includes logo, flag, territorial leader flag, and hymn. Article 3 mentions that local territorialsymbol plays roles as the area’s identity (paragraph 3) and a socio cultural binder of the local people in the NKRI (paragraph 2). Furthermore, paragraph 4 emphasizes that local territorial symbol is not the symbol of territorial sovereignty. Referring to MoU Helsinki and all these regulations, it is clear that GAM’s political identity cannot be transformed into Aceh symbol.

This attitude of some Aceh politicians who force the implementation of the Qanun regarding Aceh flag creates suspicion. There have been some demonstrations demanding Aceh flag raising such as by Yayasan Advokasi Rakyat Aceh (YARA) to Aceh House of Representative (DPRA) and the Governor. The DPRA also demanded Wali Nanggroe and Aceh Governor to convince Central Government that Aceh flag is not a separatist symbol. In fact, DPRA and DPRK threaten to boycott the 2017 election in Aceh if the Qanun is not soon implemented. Some members of DPRA/DPRK especially those from Partai Aceh suggested that they will raise the flag together all at once on 30 April 2016. Although a number of former GAM members said that they have no intention to spread GAM’s political aspirations, the flag raising could mean otherwise especially since the existing Aceh Flag does not represent any socio cultural value of Aceh. It is merely a political identity of GAM who apparently still run their “peaceful”politics post Helsinki MoU.

Aceh local elites, especially former GAM members should realize that in article 4a and b of Helsinki MoU it firmly says that GAM should abandon all their attributes, flag and symbol. This is important to be the foundation of Aceh’s future. GAM is not the only organization in Aceh that can represent Aceh as a whole. The elites should instead take a good care of the efforts to improve the quality of public services and the development in Aceh. Since Otsus was implemented, it seems that the elites are too busy dealing with the issues of political existence and power, not caring their people.

 Local Wisdom Is Required

All of us must be grateful to learn that Aceh people can go through their difficult period post the conflict between GAM and Indonesian Government. All stakeholders thus need to be wise in controlling themselves so that they can see all problems occurring after the Helsinki MoU clearly, including about the Aceh Flag controversy. All sides must understand that there is no prohibition to embody the aspirations of Aceh people regarding their identity and symbol as long as it still respects the pluralism in Aceh, strengthens national integration and can support national government to work effectively.

All local elites in Aceh must be wiser in setting the priority for Aceh people. They deserve better public service especially in healthcare, education, infrastructure, and welfare in the framework of Aceh development through the implementation of Otsus NAD. The attitudes to impose own wishes by demanding the raising of the flag that contains the symbol of GAM as Aceh Flag only shows a sectoral ego and exclusivism. The flag raising will not only remind the people of the past conflict that might trigger turmoil, it is also counterproductive to Aceh development.

All former GAM members who now become political elites must voluntarily transform themselves as a new power representing the civilian. Most of them have had the opportunity and been trusted by Aceh people to make Aceh better. This should not be tainted by provocative moves such as raising GAM’s flag (Bulan dan Bintang / Moon and Star) at the end of April 2016. GAM was over soon after Helsinki MoU were signed. The nightmare shouldn’t return. If Aceh government want to have their territorial symbol, they should create one according to the existing Laws and one that represent the social power and the culture of Aceh. The symbol should also respect pluralism in Aceh and it must be in line with our national identity that we all, including Aceh people, must respect. Territorial symbol should strengthen national symbol such as our Red and White Flag, Sang Saka Merah Putih. It must also strengthen the existence of the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia (NKRI).

*The writer is a political observer at LSISI Jakarta

*Seluruh isi tulisan menjadi tanggungjawab penulis.