Former rebel chief is now state guardian of Aceh

Ex-Free Aceh Movement (GAM) leader Malik Mahmud Al-Haythar is the province's ninth Guardian of State and first since Aceh gained regional autonomy.

By Nurdin Hasan for Khabar Southeast Asia in Banda Aceh

January 18, 2014
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Aceh residents are looking to their new Wali Nanggroe-- Guardian of State-- to unite the province and keep its cultural traditions alive.

  • Martial artists perform outside the House of Representatives in Banda Aceh on December 16th during the inauguration of Aceh's Guardian of the State. [Nurdin Hasan/Khabar]

    Martial artists perform outside the House of Representatives in Banda Aceh on December 16th during the inauguration of Aceh's Guardian of the State. [Nurdin Hasan/Khabar]

The Acehnese House of Representatives (DPRA) installed former Free Aceh Movement (GAM) head Malik Mahmud Al-Haythar as the province's Wali Nanggroe on December 16th.

Malik is the ninth person to hold the role, which dates to the Dutch colonial era, but the first since Jakarta granted Aceh regional autonomy through the 2005 Helsinki peace deal that ended the province's three-decade armed rebellion.

"I hope there will be a lasting peace in Aceh. Hopefully, the Wali Nanggroe can realise prosperity for the people of Aceh," Efendi, a 24-year-old who travelled to Banda Aceh from his home in Pidie Regency for the inauguration, told Khabar Southeast Asia.

Acehnese see the Wali Nanggroe as a supreme leader who fosters social cohesion. The guardian is authorised to oversee policies to do with Acehnese culture, customs and language, as well as preside over traditional ceremonies.

"This is an important and heroic moment because today we continue our traditions and strengthen our knowledge, local wisdom, and culture of Aceh," Taufik Akbar, a leader of a traditional Acehnese martial arts troupe that performed at Malik's induction, told Khabar.

However, the Wali Nanggroe's installation was not automatic.

The Indonesian Home Ministry had not yet ratified Malik's appointment. But the House of Representatives of Aceh (DPRA) still installed him during a special plenary session, according to the Jakarta Post.

The ministry earlier asked the DPRA for clarification of 21 points in the regional bylaw (Qanun) on the Wali Nanggroe position, the Post quoted provincial administration spokesman Nurdin F. Joes as saying.

"The Aceh DPRA certainly had to clarify some of the Qanun contents to the ministry. We have done that, so there is no problem anymore," Nurdin told the Post.

More specifically, the bylaw was changed after the central government rejected a version that would have given the Wali Nanggroe "supreme authority in the province," according to a December 18th article in Eurasia Review.

Safaruddin, director of the Aceh People's Advocacy Foundation (YARA), questioned the legitimacy of the induction of the new leader.

"Legally, the DPRA has no authority to induct the guardian. In Aceh's constitution, the DPRA is only responsible for the inauguration of the governor and vice governor," Safaruddin told Khabar.

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