As Timor-Leste went to the second round of the presidential elections, the peace that marked the first round appears to be holding. Apart from an incident in Viqueque District, there have been no notable outbreaks of violence, so far, to mar this electoral process. Many have congratulated Timor-Leste for this important achievement.
The peaceful environment that has greeted these elections was in part as a result of an agreement between the leaders of political parties to restrain their supporters from attacking each other. This stands in marked contrast to the 2007 elections, in which there were few if any such restraints and violence and destruction were widespread, both before and after the elections were held.
Many of Timor-Leste’s friends wondered at this time what the purpose was of achieving independence if this was to be its result. Many in Timor-Leste asked the same question, and have since rejected violence.
Following Timor-Leste’s presidential election last Saturday, the two leading candidates, Fretilin’s Francisco ‘Lu-Olo’ Guterres and Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao-backed Taur Matan Ruak, will now progress to a second round of voting in mid-April. Their success to date reflects perhaps more the relatively high level of party loyalty within Timor-Leste than support for the two as individuals.
At 28%, Lu-Olo’s vote was almost exactly the same as in the first round of the 2007 election. Ruak’s vote reflected support in 2007 from the main government party, CNRT, for outgoing president Jose Ramos-Horta, then at 22 per cent. At that time, CNRT was a new party and has since had time to consolidate in office, reflected in Ruak’s 25% vote.
Both Lu-Olo and Ruak are well known in Timor-Leste, but neither is especially well known outside the country. That will no doubt change for one of them after April.
Amongst Timor-Leste’s traditions, there is none more central to how Timorese understand themselves in relation to their world than that of lulic, or that which is ‘sacred’.
While a sense of lulic is not always visible, especially in life that is affected by elements of modernity, such as in a town or in Dili, it continues to lie under the surface for many, perhaps most, Timorese.
The idea of lulic can apply to place, to the relationship between things, such as the sun and the moon or the earth and the sky, to relationships between people, to life and death and social obligations and to symbols of authority and social organisation.
As traditions evolve and change to incorporate new elements, so too has lulic changed to incorporate such symbols.
Old Portuguese swords may be considered as lulic, as can flags that have a particular value or importance.
The current debate in Timor-Leste about whether to use a ‘mother tongue’ or home language for the first years of education or whether to focus on building Tetum as a national language has raised a number of important points. These include whether local languages are, in the long term, viable and whether they could promote disunity, or whether children already disadvantaged by communication in a multiplicity of languages will learn better if they start in a language they are most familiar with.
The literature on learning does clearly indicate that children are more engaged and do have better educational outcomes if they at least begin their education in a language they are most familiar with. A second, national language can be taught as part of the school curriculum and, at a point at which students are sufficiently advanced, they can switch to the national language.
In order for democracy to really take hold in the wake of the recent Arab Revolutions, the people of the region should be careful not to conform to Western ideas of democracy and instead develop their own model, one relevant to their own cultural norms and in tune with their own rich history of democracy.
The Arab Revolutions themselves give us insight into what this model might look like. Indeed, recent events are to be admired for the extent to which divergent voices have been heard, legitimate grievances have been aired, and women and minorities have been involved.
They are also to be admired because a balance has often been struck between the pragmatic and the ideal, between the secular and the religious, between the desire not just to oust failing tyrants but to replace them with something new, something that could respond to the varying needs of the citizens.
Although Australia has repeatedly expressed its solidarity and support with the Arab uprisings and has called for a no-fly zone to be imposed on Libya, what exactly Australia should learn from the popular democratic movements sweeping across the region has yet to be considered.
The dramatic sequence of pro-democracy movements that are emerging in the Middle East and North Africa serve as a unique opportunity for Australian politicians and policy-makers to learn three key lessons which have very specific consequences for Australia’s foreign policy, its trade and security, and its relationships with the Arab world.
Politics is a tricky business. Being in government is even trickier.
But it should be pretty simple. It’s like any other business, isn’t it? It’s all just marketing. You find out what they want, you tell them what you’re going to do, and then you give it to them.
So is it simply a case of “selling” yourself a bit better, as independent MP Andrew Wilkie posited last week on ABC Radio National?
If that is the case, what does the government need to do?
Ask any good salesperson the key to making a sale, and they will tell you that there are two parts to a successful sales pitch.
Speaking to the National Press Club on Tuesday, Queensland Senator Barnaby Joyce’s comments on Australia’s international aid program are startling. They not only reflect, as shadow finance spokesman, ignorance of the Opposition’s own policy and Australia’s international aid program, but imply a knuckle-dragging ‘survival of the fittest’ approach to international policy. Without any prompting, Senator Joyce appears to have wandered off into policy whacko-land.
Even among the developed world’s most conservative leaders, including those whose countries carry external debt, over the past 60 years none have suggested that aid to poor countries is an either/or proposition. Leaving aside the factual clangers in his remarks for which other politicians would be castigated, Senator Joyce’s comments on Australia’s international aid raise serious questions about his fitness for the front bench.