In 2010, a senior Timorese political figure remarked in private conversation that Timor-Leste had never been better. This particular political figure was commenting on the general state of Timor-Leste since his return in 1999, after a forced 25 year absence from the country.
What is remarkable is not the political figure’s comment at that time, but that this same person now publically decries Timor-Leste’s lack of development. That is, I suppose, how politics is played.
This negative appraisal does come around a time when there has been much public negativity about Timor-Leste’s development process. Much of this negative comment is either anecdotal or reflects a snap-shot of Timor-Leste now, without reference to where it has come from.
The Indonesian government’s attempt to initiate dialogue with West Papuan independence activists has declined into farce, following the shooting on 14 June of key West Papuan leader Mako Tabuni. Tabuni’s killing follows seven other recent shootings of West Papuans by Indonesian police and soldiers.
Despite eye witnesses saying that Tabuni was unarmed and trying to flee Indonesian police, Indonesian police spokesman, Senior Commissioner Johnannes Nugroho claimed that Tabuni was armed with a police pistol.
Last Thursday, however, Indonesian police chief General Timur Pradopo said Tabuni had been shot while trying to seize a pistol from police officers. ‘Prior to the capture, a conversation took place,’ Pradopo said in an official statement. ‘Then the gun of a police officer was seized, so other police members protected [the officer].’
A leading Australian human rights think-tank has expressed serious concern over the basis of investigations by Australia’s domestic intelligence organisation, ASIO, into Sri Lankan Tamil refugees. The Director of Deakin University’s Centre for Citizenship, Development and Human Rights, Professor Damien Kingsbury, has cast doubt on ASIO’s investigations. Professor Kingsbury said ASIO’s investigation bore the hallmarks of an anti-Tamil campaign being directed by the Sri Lanka government.
ASIO’s blacklisting of a pregnant ethnic Tamil mother, Ranjini, who had been granted Australian residency and married an Australian citizen, has led to her being detained without charge or trial.
It is believed that a further three ethnic Sri Lankan Tamils who had been granted refugee status have also since been detained as a result of ASIO’s blacklisting.
When Timor-Leste’s Anti-Corruption Commission (CAC) was established in 2009, many people wondered whether it was just a political sop to minimise concern about perceptions of growing corruption, or whether it would be serious in trying to tackle the growing problem. If the CAC was to be serious, they wondered, would it last? In many respects, the CAC was always going to face significant challenges in a small and relatively interconnected society such as Timor-Leste. If the CAC pursued senior figures in Timor-Leste’s small and relatively closed political society then the CAC and its senior figures would earn powerful enemies, come under attack and perhaps be professionally destroyed. If the CAC did not pursue high profile corruption cases it would then be labelled as ineffective; as a ‘toothless tiger’. There was concern, too, that after the establishment of the CAC it appeared to be inactive.
As a still young state trying to establish itself, within itself and in the world, Timor-Leste’s commitment to recognising and upholding human rights, in particular civil and political rights, has been widely welcomed. For a people who have suffered such egregious human rights abuses, it is consistent that they wish to never suffer such abuses again.
One of the criticisms of supporting civil and political rights is that people also have other needs and rights, including the need for material well-being and related economic, social and cultural rights. What needs to be remembered, however, that not only are these two sets of rights not mutually exclusive, they are also mutually interdependent.
To illustrate this point, it is difficult to advocate for political and civil rights when one is starving. Yet it is also not possible to advocate for economic rights if one does not enjoy civil and political rights.
As Timor-Leste heads into the 2012 parliamentary elections, and having just celebrated its first decade of independence, there is a sense that the country is at a critical juncture. Political competition is again heightened, as parties compete for public support and seats in parliament.
But there is also expectation around the state’s political consolidation.
Many believe this is make or break time for Timor-Leste. But is this the point at which Timor-Leste succeeds or fails?
The idea of a critical juncture is one in which historical forces arrive at more or less the same time to produce a significant change. In living memory, Timor-Leste has seen such significant change.
Timor-Leste has transitioned from being a largely neglected Portuguese colony, having a brief moment of independence and then suffering under 24 years of Indonesian occupation. During this period, there were moments when the resistance came close to annihilation, and when it divided within itself.
Papua-New Guinea’s chief justice, Sir Salamo Injia, faces court today charged with sedition by a government that he and two colleagues have ruled illegal. The arrest of Sir Salamo and the impending arrest of his two Supreme Court colleagues follows their ruling, for a second time, that PNG’s ousted prime minister, Sir Michael Somare, be reinstated.
The court’s ruling incensed the de facto government of Peter O’Neill, in particular Deputy PM Belden Namah, who led police and soldiers in the judge’s arrest. How the subsequent charge of sedition against Sir Salamo is addressed in court today will have profound consequences for PNG and, to a considerable extent, how it engages with the wider world.
On Sunday 20 May, East Timor will celebrate ten years of independence. As a nation born from the ashes of destruction, its first decade has been marked by problems and set-backs. Many in East Timor, not least its outgoing president, Jose Ramos-Horta, lament a lack of development since independence. Ramos-Horta notes that the international community has spent billions of dollars in East Timor, yet most East Timorese remain amongst the world’s poorest people. But a little over a year ago, Ramos-Horta said that the country had never been better. The question is, in part, whether the metaphorical glass is half empty or half full. It is also, in part, whether the speaker – in this case Ramos-Horta – had a political score to settle. In early 2011, Ramos-Horta was still firmly in Gusmao’s political tent. A year later, he is an ex-president outside that tent. Many East Timorese have also been disappointed with independence.
As Timor-Leste heads towards it parliamentary elections on 7 July, it is increasingly likely that no single party will receive sufficient votes to hold an absolute majority in parliament in its own right. Despite claims by some parties’ leaders about the extent of their impending victory, none is likely in the manner in which it is being touted. As a result, the next government can be expected to be formed through an alliance or coalition of parties. While the terminology is not the determining factor, within Timor-Leste, it is commonly assumed that a ‘coalition’ is a political agreement reached between two or more parties prior to an election. An ‘alliance’, on the other hand, is understood to be where two or more parties enter into a partnership following an election.
As Timor-Leste moves towards marking the 10th anniversary of its independence and completing the third round of its national elections, the question arises as to whether it has consolidated its democracy. The assumption is that consolidating democracy is a necessary step towards ending internal conflict and regularising the affairs of the state. But, the second question is, when one talks about consolidating democracy, what they mean by the term? Having three sets of elections at regular intervals is certainly a good sign of democratic consolidation in Timor-Leste. Yet elections alone do not comprise democracy. Indonesia had regular elections between 1977 and 1997 under its New Order government, yet it was very far from being a democratic state at that time. It is not enough to have the formal procedure of democracy; one also requires the substance, if the term is to have meaning.