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Sunday, July 09, 2006

ACEH: Activists launch first local political party

James Balowski, Jakarta On March 16, left-wing Acehnese political activists publicly launched the Acehnese Peoples Party Preparatory Committee (KP-PRA), which they hope will provide the basis for establishing the first local political party. The launch — held at a restaurant in the provincial capital of Banda Aceh — was attended by around 600 KP-PRA supporters. Also present were representatives of Acehnese mass organisations and Juha Christensen from the Aceh Monitoring Mission. The launch heard greetings from a number of Acehnese and Indonesian organisations as well as solidarity messages from political parties in Malaysia, Bolivia, Venezuela and Germany. According to the March 17 website, KP-PRA chairperson Thamrin Ananda said that the group has already established representative offices in 11 regencies across Aceh, including in Banda Aceh, Greater Aceh, Sigli, Bireun, North Aceh, Lhokseumawe, Central Aceh, West Aceh, Nagan Raya and South Aceh. The KP-PRA is aiming to establish a presence in 12 regencies in order to fulfil the administrative requirements to establish a new political party. According to the March 16 Aceh Kita daily, Ananda said that the idea of forming KP-PRA was a response to the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed by the Indonesian government and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) in Helsinki on August 15, and the a decision reached at the Acehnese Popular Democratic Resistance Front (FPDRA) congress in February to encourage its activists to form a local Acehnese party. It is still unclear however if the draft law on a government for Aceh currently being debated by the House of Representatives will allow the formation of local parties. Speaking with, Ananda said that if after the draft law on a government for Aceh is ratified, “local parties are accommodated in accordance with the Helsinki MoU, then next August we will proclaim the KP-PRA as a local party in Aceh”. Ananda went on to explain that if it turns out that local parties cannot be formed, the KP-PRA will affiliate with one of the existing national political parties that has the same vision and program. He emphasised that such a party would have to be one seeking to create “a government that is clean, democratic, popular and free from foreign intervention”. On March 21, Ananda told Green Left Weekly that one of the other reasons PRA supporters had chosen to first launch a preparatory committee was to give an opportunity to other groups and individuals to join and participate in the KP-PRA's congress in August — so that they can be actively involved in deciding the party's program. Ananda said that there has been a “very positive response from ordinary Acehnese to the initiative", in particular from students, teachers and nurses’ groups. He said that KP-PRA’s main support was among the small farmers who make up the majority of the population and who were most affected by the 30-year armed conflict between Indonesia and GAM. Ananda told GLW that, although there are still problems with bureaucratic obstacles, since the signing of the MoU there has been a dramatic decline in the level of repression and an opening up of democratic space. When asked about the threat of militia groups and the February 17 attack on the offices of the Aceh Referendum Information Centre, he said that while the government has failed to disband or disarm the right-wing militias, their activities have been largely restricted to Central Aceh. “Certainly, militia groups still exist but they are not very visible and largely inactive and their activities are in no way as bad as during the period of martial law and civil emergency when they could count on the open backing of the military and police.” Ananda also explained that the massive influx of aid money for reconstruction has created a scramble among local capitalists to link up with foreign capital in competition with Indonesian capital from outside of Aceh. “This is one of the main reasons sections of the Jakarta elite supported the peace process, to promote their own business activities in Aceh. As a result, this massive inflow of money has done nothing to improve the standard of living of the majority of Acehnese people. That is why the Acehnese people need a local political party such as KP-PRA as a concrete vehicle to defend the people's future.” From Green Left Weekly, March 29, 2006.

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