"During the war, people were stuck in the middle of two warring elephants, GAM (Free Aceh Movement) and the army," Muhammad Helmi, one of the tsunami survivors, told Reuters on Sunday, December 10.
"Now, we have a say and I don't care whether the governor is GAM or not as long as he brings us peace and food."
For the first time, Acehnese will be able to directly elect their governor and deputy as well as 19 mayors and regents.
Also it is the first time independent candidates can run in the polls.
About 2.6 million Acehnese are eligible to vote, as 80 European Union monitors and a smaller number from the United States are to monitor the process.
More than 10,000 police have been deployed to secure 8,625 polling stations across the province.
GAM and the Indonesian government signed the historic Helsinki accord on August 15, 2005, aimed at ending a 30-year war.
The group had agreed to give up its fight for an independent state in return for greater power over the resource-rich province's affairs.
The conflict, one of Asia's longest running, had seen the death of an estimated 15,000 people, mostly civilians.
Caught in the bloody conflict for decades, people say the social and political issues and Aceh's relations with Jakarta were not their topmost priorities.
"We want houses. We want rebuilding. We want jobs," said displaced Ibnu Mulia who still lives in a barrack two years after the catastrophic tsunami waves.
"And we want a leader who will not rob funds."
Oxfam, an international aid agency, said in a report issued on Thursday, December 7, that nearly two years after the killer tsunami washed away their homes, more than 25,000 Acehnese families are still homeless.
Around 169,000 people were killed and 600,000 driven homeless in Aceh alone when walls of water smashed into the Indonesian province in 2004.
The disaster destroyed 141,000 houses, caused $4.5 billion damage and left a quarter of the province's population jobless.
"Corruption has existed for years from planning to procurement," admitted ex-caretaker governor Azwar Abubakar.
"The way to tackle it is by fixing the system and giving officials worthy remuneration," added Abubakar, who is one of the eight candidates running for governor's office.
Despite the devastation brought by the tsunami, Acehnese believe the disaster taught all parties a hard lesson.
"God gave us the tsunami to show the conflict was petty and force us to make peace," said Teungku Sobirin, a 48-year old village chief.
He lost his seven children and home to the tsunami, but yet believes there might be a good outcome of the catastrophe.
The killer tsunami has spurred the deal between GAM and Jakarta after months of nonstop talks.
Acehnese hope the upcoming leaders brought by the elections will remember the lesson and work hard to ease up people's lives.
"People are enthusiastic to vote. We want a new lease on life," said one Achenese.
"We want a leader who will not forget he has reached this stage because of the tsunami."
A survey conducted in September-October showed 93 percent of Acehnese believe the elections will help cement peace.
Nevertheless, 55 percent remain concerned about violence, whether by ex-GAM, ex-militias, government security forces or political party supporters.
Keen to make it a success, the GAM marks the anticipated elections as a key test for their transforming from a guerrilla army into a political force.
"We hope for change and work for all of us and we don't want to take arms again," Herry Nurmansyah, a GAM member, told Agence France Presse (AFP).
The 25-year old former fighter who just celebrated his wedding expect the vote to have a huge impact on his life.
"My wedding is very important for me but the election is also important because it will guide our future."
Analysts believe GAM appears to have committed wholeheartedly to the peace process, eyeing the more important 2009 national elections.
"The election is a chance to start the strategy for 2009 elections. GAM will form a local political party for 2009," said Tengku Hamzah, a former GAM district commander who is now on a campaign team.
After three decades in exile, GAM leaders returned home in April to help promote peace in the province.Güncelleme Tarihi: 20 Eylül 2018, 18:16