In a country in which there are no public opinion surveys and in which the still developing media could not be said to reflect, much less shape, the views of most people, trying to understand why the people of Timor-Leste vote as they do was not an exact science. Such judgments that could be made were only on the basis of anecdotal evidence set against what is known about Timor-Leste’s history and some conventional theories about politics.
Australia’s rebuilding of diplomatic ties with Fiji has taken some observers by surprise, given the strength of opposition to Fiji’s 2006 military coup. Australia has been torn between principle and real politik since its high commissioner, James, Battley, was ordered out of Fiji in 2009, followed by acting high commissioner Sarah Roberts in 2010. The question now is whether Australia has moved too quickly to still have any influence in Fiji’s proposed return to democratisation.
After cancelling the country’s 2009 elections, Fiji has recently established a voter roll, which indicates that the country could be preparing for elections, nominally scheduled for 2014. Fiji has not enjoyed freedom of speech or a free media since the 2006 coup nor does it allow freedom of assembly. Ousted prime minister Laisenia Qarase, whom Bainimarana installed after the 2000 coup, has just been convicted of abuse of office in a long-running corruption case.
On Sunday evening, 15 July 2012, a congress of CNRT party members in Dili voted to go into an alliance with the Democratic Party and Frenti Mudanca to form a new alliance to make up Timor-Leste’s Fifth Constitutional Government. In response, members of Fretilin rioted, burning more than 50 cars and stoning UN police sent to quell the trouble. While it seemed as though Timor-Leste was again reverting to its violent past, this was less a return to politics by fire and more the last gasp of an out of touch political leadership on the verge of become irrelevant.
It had always been expected that, should CNRT not achieve an absolute majority in its own right, that the Democratic Party would enter an alliance with it to form a majority. With Mudanca’s two seats, CNRT only needed one more seat to form a majority and PD’s eight seats took the new alliance well over the threshold 33 seats to a compelling 40 in the 65 seat parliament.
The results of the parliamentary elections in Timor-Leste on Saturday have resulted in two outcomes, the first of which is a major boost in the vote for CNRT, the party of prime minister Xanana Gusmao, from 24 per cent to 36 per cent of the total vote. The second and more important outcome has been the consolidation of the democratic process in Timor-Leste just ten years after achieving independence.
After changing government in 2007, the people of Timor-Leste have again voted strategically, to focus their vote on the major parties, with CNRT taking much of the vote away from the many smaller parties which tended to reflect personalities rather than policies or party positions.
CNRT will probably form government with one or possible two coalition partners. Of the 21 parties that contested the poll, 17 now appear to have missed the cut-off threshold of three per cent, leaving just four, possibly five, represented in the parliament.
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.