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From Bullets to Ballots - Transformation from Rebel Movement to Political Party: The example of Free Aceh Movement (Gerakan AchehMerdeka, GAM)
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of Theology, Department of Theology.
2013 (English)Independent thesis Advanced level (degree of Master (One Year)), 10 credits / 15 HE creditsStudent thesis
Abstract [en]

The Free Aceh Movement (Gerakan Aceh Merdeka; GAM) was formed in 1976 and it’s struggle for the independence of Aceh, the Northern tip of Sumatra in Indonesia, ended with the signing a peace agreement between the GAM leadership in diaspora and the Government of Indonesia in 2005. The so-called Helsinki Memorandum of Understanding brought peace to a region plagued by almost 30 years of guerrilla war causing the death of 33.000 people. Key for reaching the agreement was that GAM gave up its demand for independence and accepted the formula of ‘self-government’. The Government of Indonesia had to give in for the demand of allowing political representation for the Acehnese through local parties and to grant further transfer of power the province. This presented GAM with the opportunity to reform into a party.

However the idea the idea that GAM would become a political movement working for its beliefs within a democratic context was not new but originated from a series of dialogues between GAM and the Indonesian government initiated by Center for Humanitarian Dialogue in 1999. The dialogue broke down in 2003 but was still important as it generated the first genuine incentive for GAM to lay down its arms and set aside an immediate press to independence.

Including armed rebel groups into the political party system in post-conflict societies is widely considered key to securing peace processes. But transforming an armed rebel movement into a democratic political party is at the same time considered one of the hardest peace-building challenges.

After running with independent candidates in the elections in 2006 GAM reformed into a political party in 2007 and in 2008 officially changed its name into Partai Aceh. In the 2012 elections Partai Aceh was very successful and got more than 55 per cent of the votes (even 70 per cent in some electorates).

An analysis of GAM’s transformation based on Jeroen de Zeeuw’s analytical framework presented in the book From Soldiers to Politicians – Transforming Rebel Movements After Civil War (2008) shows that the structural changes in the rebel to party transformation of GAM have been largely successful but that work remains to be done on the behavioural aspects of transformation.  The analysis also shows the importance of the leadership in diaspora not only during the peace process but as well during the rebel to party transformation.

The first election in 2006 presented Aceh with a governor from a new generation of GAM leaders. This caused dismay within parts of the old, but still very influential leadership, in diaspora and caused them to act in order to take back the power they believed belonged to them. Their authoritative mode to run the party made many leave and a one-party democracy evolved in Aceh. The rebel movement that strived for the people of Aceh’s right to self-determination was soon turned into a political party with autocratic tendencies with the acceptance, both inside and outside Aceh, under the preserving the peace argument. Upholding peace was more important than safeguarding democracy and transparency.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2013. , 55 p.
Keyword [en]
GAM, Aceh, Rebel to party transformation
National Category
Other Social Sciences not elsewhere specified
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-219933OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-219933DiVA: diva2:703839
Subject / course
International Humanitarian Action
Educational program
Master Programme in International Humanitarian Action
Available from: 2014-03-12 Created: 2014-03-07 Last updated: 2014-03-12Bibliographically approved

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