Sharia dominates polls in Indonesia’s Aceh
BANDA ACEH, Indonesia - Agence France-Presse
Former Foreign Minister of the Free Aceh Movement Zaini Abdullah casts his ballot. REUTERS photoIndonesia’s only province ruled by hardline sharia laws elects its powerful governor yesterday, in polls watched by militant Muslims pushing for an Islamic government nationwide.
The elections in Aceh are the second since the province suffered 170,000 fatalities in the Asian tsunami of 2004, and since a 30-year war against Indonesian rule ended in 2005, having claimed 15,000 lives. The restive region, on the western edge of the scattered Indonesian archipelago, now enjoys autonomy and it remains an anomaly in a country where most of the 240 million people practice a moderate form of Islam. Alcohol is freely sold in the rest of Indonesia, but it is banned in Aceh. In some of the province’s regions, women are forbidden to wear tight trousers. Debate still churns in Aceh over whether adulterers should continue to be publicly flogged, or stoned to death.
Irwandi Yusuf, who was elected governor in December 2006 and is seeking a second five-year term, backs sharia but has remained a bulwark against stricter enforcement, such as the harshest punishment for adultery.
The 51-year-old’s main challenger is Teungku Ahmad Tajuddin, an Islamic schoolteacher who is confident of victory. The 49-year-old cleric will not say outright whether he backs the stoning laws, but condemns Yusuf for rejecting the stiffer sharia by-laws. “I want Aceh as a model of Islamic sharia for Indonesia and Southeast Asia,” Tajuddin said.