Polling booths will be open for eight hours and many voters will be looking to the victor to deliver a better future for a province left scarred by years of war and natural disaster.

Yakinah, a 40-year-old housewife, joined dozens of other voters at a polling station in the provincial capital, Banda Aceh.
 

"This is a dream come true"

Usman Darusalam,
local election organiser

"I'm excited to take part in the election because I am able to vote for a better leader to make Aceh more prosperous.
 
"I want a good and clean leader who not only thinks of himself," she said.
 
The vote comes almost two years after the Asian tsunami which killed an estimated 167,000 people in Aceh alone.

The huge loss of life proved the eventual spur to bringing an end to the province’s brutal 29-year civil war.

Peace

In a Finnish-brokered peace deal signed on August 15, 2005, both the rebels and the Indonesian government made major concessions.

The separatist Free Aceh Movement (GAM) gave up its long-standing demand for complete independence and agreed to disarm itself.

Meanwhile the government removed half of the 50,000 troops stationed in Aceh and promised the region control of 70 per cent of it mineral wealth.

More than 2.6 million voters are eligible vote in Monday’s election, which will decide the province’s governor and deputy as well as 19 mayors and regents.

"This is a dream come true," Usman Darusalam, a local election organiser told Reuters before voting began.

"We never thought it would reach this stage considering how often gunfights occurred."

Security

Challenges ahead

Post-tsunami rehousing: Some 25,000 families homeless

Disputes about dividing government funds for reintegration of former rebels

Tackling unemployment among demobilised rebels

Overseeing Islamic sharia courts and authority of religious police

Campaigning in the run-up to the vote has been largely peaceful, but a force of 13,000 police has been deployed to monitor voting at more than 8,400 polling stations.

Mustafa Abubakar, the province’s caretaker governor, urged residents to exercise their democratic rights.

"I hope people really use this chance and go to the polling stations in droves," he told reporters on Sunday. "Don't be afraid anymore to come out."

Eight candidates are competing for the top job of provincial governor in what is expected to be a tight race.

To win outright in the first round a candidate has to grab at least 25 per cent of the vote.

A "quick count" of votes from selected polling stations should allow accurate results to be known later on Monday, but official results will not be declared until January 2, with a run-off – if needed – between the top two candidates held within 60 days of the announcement.