As Tamlicha Ali's promises for a brighter future blast out from speakers in Banda Aceh's Lapangan Blang-Padang park, Rosman sits cross-legged on the grass and lights another clove-flavoured kretek cigarette. Aceh-born Mr Tamlicha is a former member of the Indonesian Army (TNI) and one of eight candidates running for governor in the first direct election to be held on Monday in Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam. The vote follows a landmark peace deal between the former rebel group of the Gerakan Aceh Merdeka (GAM) and Jakarta, signed in Helsinki in August last year. The agreement ended a separatist war which started in 1976. Mr Rosman, 46, who like most Indonesians has only one name, drives a becak, the smoke-spitting motorcycle-taxis that crowd the town's pot-holed roads, where signs of the December 2004 tsunami are still visible. In Aceh, the tsunami destroyed large chunks of the infrastructure and killed about 170,000 people. At the same time, the disaster dwarfed GAM and Jakarta's political stance and paved the road to the historic Helsinki agreement. The deal called for GAM to relinquish its struggle for independence in exchange for a wide autonomy, which includes the control of 70 per cent of revenue derived from the local natural resources. The deal also called for Jakarta to withdraw more than 20,000 troops and for GAM to disarm. The former rebels were also granted full amnesty and the opportunity to form a local political party, which should be ready for the next election, in 2009. For the present vote, GAM has been allowed to field nominees with other political parties or as independent candidates, which is an exceptional situation in Indonesia. GAM is also fielding candidates for the 19 positions as head of districts and as mayor, which will be elected on the same day. The smooth running of the election is considered essential to cement the peace process. Local observers, as well as members of the Asian Network for Free Elections and the European Union Election Observation Mission, have been entrusted with checking that the poll is conducted according to the rules. Yet Mr Rosman said he was paid to attend the rally. 'I'm paid 15,000 rupiah [HK$12] to be here; most of us are,' said Mr Rosman, whose pragmatism is somewhat justified by his daily average earnings of only 30,000 rupiah. 'I don't really care about what Mr Ali says, but I care about the election. When it comes to the vote we will make our own decision,' said the father of three, waving at some colleagues to join him. Endy, Zulkarnain, Mem Hasan and Razali heed the call, bringing with them bunches of lightly salted, boiled peanuts, bottled tea, water and a handful of loose kretek. Their conversation reflects the views of many in the province. What's clear is that in Aceh, peace is at the forefront of everybody's minds. What's also obvious is a deep apprehension about the importance of making the right decision; and the heavy shadow of the past conflict, which killed almost 15,000 people. 'We need to make the right decision. If we do, then peace will be safe. If we don't, we may have problems,' said Mr Rosman. Mr Mem, 45, said that although people had 'generally accepted' autonomy, it was important that whoever was elected made sure the Helsinki agreement was respected. 'If the promises are not kept, I worry that problems may start again.' However, according to local human rights activist and analyst Aguswandi, local people may not have the tools to make an informed choice. 'People should have been prepared better; they should have been taught how to scrutinise candidates.' He said it was better to have postponed the vote. 'This election is too important to get wrong. It's part of the settlement of a 30-year-long conflict; it's also aimed at replacing the political elite that was wiped out by the tsunami and it's part of the transformation of GAM from a fighting group into a political force,' said Mr Aguswandi. His main attack was directed at the candidates who, he said, 'spent the campaign talking about empty jargon and have failed to disclose what they will do after they get power. The best effort many candidates make is to use their personality and sell it to voters.' In general, candidates have promised improvements in various sectors such as education, health, politics, security and Islamic law or sharia. Aceh is the only part of Indonesia that has the legal right to apply Islamic law in full. Mr Endy, 31, said he did not know what each candidate stood for; what mattered was the candidate's personality. 'Irwandi is good. He talks well and he wore traditional Acehnese clothes at the launch of his campaign,' he said. Irwandi Yusuf is one of the hopeful candidates. He is GAM's representative at the European-led Aceh Monitoring Mission, the institution established to monitor the application of the peace agreement. He's running as an independent candidate alongside Muhammad Nazar, the chairman of the GAM-affiliated Aceh Centre for Referendum Information. The pair is one of two linked to GAM. The other pair is local academic Humam Hamid and GAM's Hasbi Abdullah, who is running under the flag of the United Development Party. Mr Irwandi seems to have large support among Aceh-based former GAM commanders. On the other hand, Dr Humam seems the favourite choice of the GAM leadership based in Sweden, where the group maintained a government in exile during the war. According to Sidney Jones, Southeast Asia project director for the International Crisis Group, the split within GAM has weakened the former rebels' chances of victory and created tension. 'It may lead to localised violence, but I don't think it can jeopardise the peace process as a whole,' said Mrs Jones, noting that Dr Humam was physically attacked by Mr Irwandi's supporters in Bireuen, East Aceh, last month. 'If something, there is more risk of violence after the vote, when the losing candidates are requested to accept the verdict of the ballot.' Apart from the two GAM-linked candidates, another hopeful is caretaker governor Azwar Abubakar, who is leading the pack in opinion polls, thanks mostly to the incumbent advantages and the endorsement of two Muslim parties. Following closely behind is Malek Raden, backed by Golkar, Indonesia's largest party, and those considered to have a slim chance are Iskandar Husein and Ghazali Abbas Adan. The most controversial candidate is Djalil Yusuf, another Aceh-born, former TNI general, who was considered a 'hardliner' when he headed the TNI operation in Aceh, during 2002-2003. 'Acehnese people are my brothers,' said Mr Djalil. 'And I don't think my military past is a problem. I'm running to help my place of birth.' His words have so far failed to convince the becak drivers. 'I think that Acehnese are not stupid and they will not vote for anyone who has a military background,' said Mr Endy, referring to the suffering that's still fresh from the past conflict. 'During the conflict, no soldiers ever said they wanted to help Aceh. Soldiers just used to push us to the ground, point a gun to our head and tell us to shut up.' Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International are among the organisations that have accused the TNI, and to a lesser extent GAM, of severe human rights abuse during the war. Mr Razali, 35, talks of enduring trauma. 'There was too much violence, too much injustice that is difficult to forget. Even now, whenever we walk around, we are alert, just in case something happens,' he said. His assessment is backed by a recently released survey, conducted by the International Organisation of Migration, in 30 of the villages worst hit during the conflict. The report says 65 per cent of the 596 people interviewed are still suffering from depression linked to post-conflict trauma. Also, 78 per cent say they experienced the war at first-hand and among these, 8 per cent of women lost their spouses; 5 per cent lost children; and 33 per cent say family members or friends had been abducted. In the study, 33 per cent of respondents say they had experienced extortion or theft, and 45 per cent report that their property had been seized or destroyed. Mr Rosman said most people suffered a deep sense of injustice and impotence during the conflict, which often translated into hate. 'But we have to move on and hope for the best now. That's why what I want most is peace,' he said, echoed by his colleagues. Mr Zulkarnain, 35, adds a corruption-free new governor and prosperity to the list of wishes. 'The new governor needs to be a clean man. I would like more money, for myself and for Aceh. I am tired of being poor,' he said. According to a report by the World Bank, Aceh remains the fourth-poorest province in the nation, despite rich natural resources and a six-fold increase in revenue since 1999, mostly due to the process of decentralisation, the granting of special autonomy status in 2001 and a large influx of post-tsunami aid, calculated at US$4.9 billion as of June this year. Experts blame the persistent poverty on local mismanagement and corruption. Aceh is considered the most corrupt province in Indonesia, a country consistently voted among the most corrupt in the world. Fuad Mardhatillah, philosophy lecturer at the Islamic University of Banda Aceh, said corruption was a foundation stone of Aceh's ills. 'Corruption is at the base of all the problems in Aceh. With corruption, people do not have any free space to compete, the government does not give good service, and the people feel neglected,' he said, citing graft as one of the reasons that fuelled the war. 'From the new leader Aceh needs transparency and democracy. A real democracy that gives people the right to take part in every facet of the province's life.' Back in Lapangan Blang-Padang park, Mr Rosman and his friends nod in agreement and expectation as they light another kretek.