BANDA ACEH - Waving hands in the air and gyrating hips, residents in Banda Aceh got campaigning off to a pulsating start in one of Indonesia's most conservative provinces, even as violence continued to mar the lead-up to polls.
Indonesia's King of Dangdut Rhoma Irama belted out his hit songs to the 5,000 gathered in an open field in Lampeuneurut, and reminded them to vote "No. 2", the assigned poll number of his National Awakening Party (PKB).
"Come on, do you want to be a shepherd or sheep? Vote for change, take the lead," he yelled in Bahasa Indonesia.
Aceh, Indonesia's westernmost province, was a picture of contradiction ahead of the April 9 legislative polls.
With five million people, Aceh sends just 13 MPs to the 560-member Parliament in Jakarta. But violence here would mar otherwise peaceful national polls.
The merriment in town belies the heightened tension after a spate of violence - including shootings in its outer districts, leaving two political candidates dead, two severely injured and residents on edge.
On Saturday night, Mr Cut Lem, a candidate from the National Democrat Party (NasDem), was kidnapped by men who brandished pistols and later forced him into a van. He managed to escape despite being bound and stuffed in a gunny sack weighed down by stones.
That night, some men shot at the post of the National Aceh Party (PNA) in Blangpidie district, south-west of Banda Aceh.
Last week, an unidentified man on a motorcycle threw a grenade at the Aceh Party's post in Banda Aceh, which injured a nine-year- old boy, shattered the window panes and damaged a door. Police have stepped up patrols, especially in the evenings. They have caught one suspect for the fatal shooting of a candidate earlier this month, but are still looking for others.
"We find the spate of violence a concern," elections commissioner Mohammad Dahlan said, urging political leaders to rein in rogue supporters. Aceh ended a bloody three-decade separatist conflict in 2006 with a peace pact giving the province special autonomy.
But many residents and analysts say former rebels continue to stoke violence to maintain a firm grip on the province.
NasDem and PNA have threatened to sit out the polls if police failed to guarantee people's safety during the election period.
Aceh is also known for its strict application of Islamic laws in some districts, such as a ban on women straddling motorcycles.
In the dangdut concert on Sunday, four dancers in long-sleeved full-length dresses displayed toned down moves to avoid upsetting conservative voters. Said Ms Tiah Astuti, who was dancing with other women on a truck: "This is Aceh-style dangdut. We like that this party respects our identity."
But not all spectators were party supporters or PKB converts.
Said Ms Mariana: "Honestly, I came for Rhoma Irama and his band, Soneta Group. He's an icon and this is a rare treat."
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