The Indonesian Parliament recently passed two landmark legislation . On July 11, the Aceh Governance Act was passed, after over 5 months of debate following the agreement between the Indonesian government and the Free Aceh Movement (Gerakan Aceh Merdeka, GAM) reached at Helsinki in August 2005. The agreement was brokered by the European Union and representatives from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). All credit to Interior Minister Muhammad Maaruf and his staff who tirelessly defended that the any provisions of the MOU with GAM must pass the litmus test of Indonesian sovereignty as provided in the Indonesian Constitution of 1945.

GAM had insisted, for example, that the Indonesian Defense Force (TNI), should exclusively deal with “external defense” and that only the Indonesian Police be assigned to internal security duties. This demand runs counter to article 30 of the Indonesian constitution which stipulates that all Indonesian citizens are obliged to participate in the “total defense and security” of the nation. Hence, the soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines of the TNI (and even civilians) have an important role to play in supporting police in internal security affairs.

The second bill, on Indonesian Citizenship, passed July 12 was hailed as a landmark in Indonesia’s legal history. All Indonesians, “irrespective of heritage of race, color, religion and country of birth” would be “guaranteed equal treatment under law”. The act provided assurance that Indonesian female spouses of foreign nationals, for example, retain their nationality and guaranteed fair and equal treatment. The Citizenship Act assured nationals of “foreign descent” (read: Indonesian of Chinese origin) that they would be protected from discriminative behavior.

Now comes the hard part: matching legal provisions with the realities on the ground. Or, more precisely, of getting realities on the ground match with the legal provisions enacted in both the Aceh Governance and the Citizenship laws.

Questions abound: Can the pro-republican Acehnese provide the political leadership and direction so that the majority of ex-GAM Acehnese who have returned to the fold feel that they would sincerely be accepted as citizens of the Indonesian republic? Will the republicans feel that they will also share benefits from the special economic programs provided by the Jakarta central government, the Aceh Recovery Agency and the multinational donor agency?

Passing legislation in parliament is an important legal step in supporting democracy and decentralized government. But acceptance and legitimacy of the two laws (or of any law for that matters) must be matched with the political, economic and realities on the ground. For the Aceh Governance Act, the real test is in providing equitable distribution of economic growth with special emphasis on employment. The more ex-GAM are integrated through employment schemes with republicans, the more the Governance Act will resound in the hearts and minds of all Acehnese. The hearts and minds programs must be supported by timely access to basic needs: water, housing, electricity, schools, health care, hospitals and employment. These are the realities that must be improved at the ground level to match the legal formulations

Likewise, the more that the disparity between rich and poor is significantly reduced, the more all Indonesian citizens will be united by their respective professions, skills and work. Rather than being divided by race, religion or primordial identity, the “Indonesian mosaic” will reflect the calls for national unity of the Citizenship Act.

All democratic nations profess to believe in the rule of law and the famous adage “equal justice under law.” But we all now that in all countries, that often some enjoy more justice than others because they “can afford the law.” For those who still have to struggle to make ends meet, legal provisions are beyond their ken. Our biggest challenge is to drastically improve the social-economic realities of decentralized government in Aceh and of citizenship for all Indonesians so that the soaring rhetoric of the law will be within their intellectual and material grasp. After all, any “rule of law” can have meaning only to those whose basic human needs have been adequately met.