On the night of December 11, as the quick count of the first direct election in Indonesia's once rebellious province of Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam showed that Irwandi Yusuf was - by far - the people's choice, Mr Yusuf was calm. He spent the night quietly, surrounded by a few friends in a private room, at the back of the restaurant of the luxurious Swiss Bel Hotel, in the provincial capital, Banda Aceh. Three weeks later, Mr Yusuf hasn't lost his aplomb. 'I have no special feelings. It is just an ordinary day, just more work. I have a huge job ahead,' the 47-year old said. Bespectacled, short but strongly built, Mr Yusuf knows his broad shoulders are carrying the expectations of 4 million Acehnese who entrusted him to cement peace and bring prosperity to the province. Mr Yusuf's election to the role of governor, which was confirmed yesterday, is a direct consequence of the peace deal signed by the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) and Jakarta in Helsinki on August 15, last year. The deal ended a 29-year separatist war that killed almost 30,000 people. Mr Yusuf, who was jailed for his association with GAM, was allowed to run for governor, thanks to the full amnesty granted by Jakarta as part of the peace agreement. In an electoral race that attracted eight candidates, the former rebel gathered 38 per cent of the votes. It was a landslide victory and a plebiscite for GAM that surprised many observers, but not the winner. 'I expected it,' Mr Yusuf said as he ushered us into a back office at GAM's headquarters in Banda Aceh. 'Actually, 200,000 of my supporters could not vote. It should have been more,' he explained. Adding to the pressure on the new governor is also a high degree of world attention, as many wonder how Mr Yusuf - a former veterinary lecturer turned rebel and now governor, without any previous political experience - will run one of the most difficult provinces in Indonesia, where politics, wealth, corruption, religion and idealism mix into a potentially explosive cocktail. At the outset, Mr Yusuf seems to have a clear idea of what he wants and how he is going to achieve it. As he talks about his vision, worries and expectations, his frankness and a distinct lack of diplomacy are two refreshing traits that immediately strike the listener. 'My main priority,' he said, 'is the grass-roots economy. But my most difficult task is fighting corruption.' Despite vast natural resources, Aceh is Indonesia's fourth-poorest province. The region is also the most corrupt in the nation-archipelago, which is rated among the most corrupt countries in the world. Aceh's plight was worsened by the tsunami that hit the province in December 2004. Almost 170,000 people were killed and large chunks of the infrastructure were destroyed. According to local watchdogs, corruption has dented at least 40 per cent of the ongoing reconstruction projects being carried out by national and international organisations. 'It is like gangrene, and I will land straight into the middle of this plague,' said Mr Yusuf, describing graft. 'It is not easy to get rid of it. You cannot just walk in and start kicking people's a****.' In regards to the economy, Mr Yusuf says Aceh needs to find new markets for its products. 'At the moment all our products are sold in Medan, where we are fooled by Chinese merchants,' he said, mentioning the capital of the bordering province of North Sumatra. 'We need direct access to foreign markets and to do that, we need to build ports and airports.' To increase production, and help the post-tsunami recovery, the new governor says he will allocate land to farmers and grant low interest loans to fishermen who need boats. To improve the people's general wellbeing, he also promises free education and better health care for all. 'We have the budget for that. It should be achievable,' he said. Besides the economy, Mr Yusuf is fully aware that he has some difficult politicking ahead, both in Aceh and in the province's future dealings with Jakarta. In Aceh, the new governor will have to find a way to co-operate with a potentially hostile local parliament, which was elected under the old system and is filled with representatives from national parties. 'This is my nightmare,' said Mr Yusuf, referring to the local parliament. 'They and I were both elected by the people, and we should work for the benefit of Aceh. But I am worried that they will try to block me. 'However, if they do, I have millions of people behind me. I can mobilise them,' he said. 'I am thinking of civil protests.' Mr Yusuf is also very conscious of how his intention to push for a revision of the Law on Governing Aceh (LoGA) may set him on a collision course with Jakarta. The LoGA is the translation into law of the Helsinki agreement, as approved by the national parliament. 'I don't care what Jakarta thinks. The clash may be unavoidable,' he said. 'If we do not push ahead with our plan to get a better LoGA, then there may be problems for the Acehnese in the future. There are too many loopholes at the moment. 'Now is not a problem because I trust President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Vice-President Jusuf Kalla, and I don't think they will lie to us. But if their successors are very nationalistic, Aceh will receive nothing and this may lead to another rebellion. 'On the other hand, if we get all that was promised to us in Helsinki, we will have achieved 90 per cent of what we fought for and we will be happy.' The peace agreement called for GAM to relinquish its call for independence in exchange for wider autonomy that includes control over 70 per cent of the income generated by natural resources in the province, and the right to form local political parties, which is banned elsewhere in Indonesia. The LoGA reduced Jakarta's role in the province to handling foreign relations, defence, national security, monetary and fiscal policy, the justice system and certain aspects of religious affairs. However, on a range of critical issues, such as fiscal matters and the powers of the Indonesian army stationed in the province, the LoGA is weaker than agreed in Helsinki. 'What we have to do now is to test the LoGA. Test it to the extreme, until we stumble onto something that is not clear. Then we will know what the problems are,' he said, adding that the revision of the law will go through the proper channels. 'The central government promised me verbally that only the Holy Book cannot be changed. The constitution can be changed and the LoGA can also be changed.' Mr Yusuf has also been called on to mend bridges with the GAM leadership in exile in Sweden, and put a stop to the advancement of Islamic law, known as sharia, in the province. 'The problem with GAM's prime minister Malik Mahmud is easy to solve. When the dust has settled, I will personally visit him,' he said. The rift within GAM followed Mr Yusuf's decision to run for governor, after Mr Mahmud committed his support to the pairing of Hamid Humam and Hasbi Abdullah, the latter the brother of GAM's foreign minister, Zain Abdullah. Mr Yusuf contested Mr Mahmud's decision because 'the pair was not strong enough, and it was running under the flag of a national party'. His argument won the full support of the GAM commander in the province, who disobeyed the leadership and voted for him in block. 'But if Mr Mahmud still does not want to reconcile, then it will be up to him,' Mr Yusuf said. The former rebel says he will also choose diplomacy in dealing with the ulamas, or religious leaders, who are pushing for an increasingly stricter implementation of sharia. 'GAM has always been a secular movement. We never wanted sharia but I cannot stand up against the ulamas very publicly as this will make me unpopular even with the grass roots,' he said. 'We have to find another way.' Aceh is the only province in Indonesia where sharia can be applied in full. However, although implemented partially, concerns are growing about it being biased against the poor and women. In the past 15 months, 135 people have been beaten for crimes such as drinking alcohol, gambling or having illicit relations with the opposite sex. Women also face lashes for not wearing their headscarves properly in public. While Aceh was in full election swing, the religious authority drafted a law that called for chopping the hand of thieves. 'I will not sign this law,' Mr Yusuf said. 'You cannot punish someone before you educate him. And you cannot amputate the hand or punish a thief when the state is not running well and there is hunger among the people,' he said. 'The purpose of sharia should be to increase people's welfare, wellbeing and education.' Then, holding his hands as if in prayer, he said: 'In five years' time, what I would really like is to see a corruption-free Aceh, where people do not have to worry about where they are going to get their next meal. 'I am going to work very hard for that. This much I can promise.'