Banda Aceh. The flag once used by Free Aceh Movement (GAM) rebels may fly in the province once again if the Home Affairs Ministry approves an Islamic bylaw passed on Friday by the Aceh Legislative Council (DPRA).
The DPRA passed an Islamic bylaw, known as a qanun, that changes the official flag and symbol of Aceh after months of discussion.
Hundreds of Aceh Party supporters cheered and applauded on Friday night after DPRA members agreed to instate the bylaw, while dozens of college students from the Gaya Highland protested outside the building, calling themselves “Independent Gayo.” They opposed the idea of turning the GAM flag into the official Aceh flag.
The approved flag is red with a white crest and star in the middle flanked by black and white bars, while the new symbol features a lion and a buraq (a mythological horse with wings and a human face).
Aceh Governor Zaini Abdullah said if the qanun is approved by the Home Affairs Ministry, the current Pancacita flag, which has been flown since 1961, would be revoked and would no longer be used. Zaini said that changing the flag was based on the 2006 Law No.11 in the Aceh administration code.
Based on regulations, any bylaws made by the province must be forwarded to the Home Affairs Ministry for approval. The governor said he expected the central government to approve the qanun on a new flag and symbol.
“I hope [the Ministry of Home Affairs] doesn’t reject the qanun on the flag and symbol because this is the desire of Aceh people,” he said.
DPRA chief Hasbi Abdullah, a prominent figure in the Aceh Party, which was founded by former GAM guerillas and controls 33 out of 69 seats at the provincial legislative council, said that the flag and symbol would unite the people of Aceh.
“The Aceh flag is also a manifestation for Aceh people’s cultural struggle,” he said.
Zaini said that the change would be conducted gradually, and urged residents not to raise the new flags just yet.
“We would change it gradually, there are steps for it. I think anyone should not rise the flag just yet because it takes time. We can’t rush it,” Zaini said.
Reydonnyzar Moenek, a spokesman at the Home Affairs Ministry, said the ministry had not received the qanun from the Aceh administration on Sunday night. He said the ministry will evaluate it once they receive it and determine if it is in accordance with other regulations.
“If it [the qanun] is against those regulations, the Home Affairs Ministry will conduct clarification and if it was not being followed then the president will dismiss the qanun,” he said in a text message to Jakarta Globe.
He said that based on the 2007 regulation, any regional symbol must not resemble or be inspired by any separatist movements, such as those in Papua, South Maluku Republic or even the Free Aceh Movement.
[Updated at 5:35 p.m.]