23 March 2012

Get to Know Taur Matan Ruak’s View on Democracy and Security

By: Fidelis Magalhaes, T
Unofficial translation from Tetum

I. Democracy
Taur Matan Ruak wishes that Timor-Leste in the future becomes a country that is filled with prosperity and liberty. The people of this land would be able to have access to health services, food and education. Like what Amilcar Cabral said some forty years ago to the people of Guiné, Matan Ruak also belives that the people do not fight for independence in its abstract concepts such as liberty or self determination, but what they want is their children´s future can be lived with dignity, where they can have access to food, to education. More importantly they want a life of no fear. This is what should be the pillar of our nation´s future. However, to achieve this we need a governance system that can guarantee our nation achieving those mentioned above.

To have a good life we should have a government system that is responsive to people´s needs in ways where the people can feel that they are the main focus of the development process.

For this country, Taur Matan Ruak wants the people to have trust in the democratic process and in democracy as a system. According to what we see Taur Matan Ruak views democracy both as a means for the betterment of life and at the same time as an objective of the state and nation building process. What do we mean by this? As a means, Taur Matan Ruak believes that without democracy we cannot guarantee governance that can take the people’s aspiration and open ways to dictatorships. He thinks that only through a democratic system that the citizens can participate in the making of decision related to their lives and wellbeing.
As an objective, he believes that democracy is more than just a political discourse; more than just an electoral system. Democracy has to be part of our civic culture and also our governance. In the future we will have a society where its citizens consider democratic values as an integral part of not only of the polity but also in the private sphere.
However, there are some who say that Timor-Leste is at a state in which a “benign dictatorship” is needed. Many think of this argument because they believe that democracy is an end of economic development. For the reason that countries can only be democratic when their economic development is already strong. In regards to this, Taur Matan Ruak believes in the contrary. He wants Timor-Leste show once more a lesson to the world. “Timor-Leste embarks with trust in the democratic system”. Democracy is a prerequisite for economic development. This view contradicts many, some of whom come from academia, who use Singapore as an example. Those who claim truth to what some refer as the Yew thesis. For Matan Ruak the thesis has a logical problem because Singapore´s experience, however successful it may be, only represents one or two countries in the world. If we compare strictly in terms of numbers, it shows that that most dictatorships, even those their initial characters can be said to be “noble”, nevertheless at the end it only results in oppression and total failure.

In our context, what sort of leadership has a democratic fiber? From our point of view, former Commander of the Defense Force, Taur Matan Ruak, have already showed his conviction in democracy through action, and now he wants to give more contribution to the democratic process. He has shown his conviction in democracy in ways such as:

1. As a key member of FALINTIL he followed direction given by the Commander in Chief of FAILINTIL to construct the armed forces to be neutral from all political parties during the fight for independence. This action not only earned us support from the church but also from various national and international organizations. It also serves as the basis for the multi-party democratic system in our country.

2. As the Commander of the Defense Force, he has always respected the civilian supremacy. He never violated this supremacy. He has always respected the civilian leadership through the Minister of Defense and Security and the Secretary of State (Although younger in age and political experience. Taur Matan Ruak is the only historical leader that does it).

3. Even during the krize, where it serves as a test for our democracy, he never violated the constitution. He has always respected the constitution and did not take an advantage of the chaotic situation to set up military control. In his actions to the all the challenges that arise he has always taken action in accordance to the civilian leadership.

If he becomes the President we believe that he has strong commitment in carrying out his duty in accordance with the constitution. As he has said many times, his first step in the democratic leadership is to abide by the constitution, specially a constitution such as ours that strongly upholds democratic principles. As he has shown in the past that his trust in democracy is not a “mere political discourse”, he will continue to put into practice. Whatever the position he takes, it is because the constitutions allows him to do it. Because the people´s mandate are defined by the constitution. In regards to this he stated that “if we consider constitution to be valid when convenient, than other people will also respect the president´s legitimacy when it’s convenient as well”.

Furthermore, if he is elected, how would Taur Matan Ruak strengthen democracy even more so that it could have a strong root? According to what we have observed from his talks and our discussions all these time, we can summarize it as follows:

1. He wants to continue motivate the people in their participation in the democratic process. He believes that the time has arrived for the people to use their vote well as well as their national identity should not be second to the party identity. What does this means? People should not be blindly loyal to party or political leaders. They should take advantage of their votes well so that political parties or the aspiring leaders for Presidency can be held accountable to the people. If the party does not deliver what they have promised, the people should use their conscience in voting for others. To vote for other leadership does not mean betrayal! Those times where we portrayed people as traitors is over. Now that we are independent there are no traitors. If the political parties cannot deliver what they have promised, they should vote others who will.
2. He wants to strengthen even more the civil society and youth participation. The civil society participation is indispensable in strengthening democracy anywhere. As in the 1980´s the civil society carried out a crucial task in revolution in countries such as Poland (through solidarity), Chezckoslovakia (Velvet revolution) in their resistance against the Soviet Union. In Timor-Leste was also the same. The civil society role is also very important during our resistance period and the protection of human rights and our self-determination. During our independence time, the role of the civil society becomes even more vital. Their important roles are not just in food distribution or social assistance but also in flourishing and strengthening democracy. What is meant by civil society, is not just the NGO´s. The definition of the civil society here also embraces all free associations of people within the society based on political and other ideas. His thoughts are that we should motivate the civil society to facilitate participation in the democratic process. He concedes that in defending our civic values, we cannot depend only on the government. Civil society should the defense line of our social and political values. Our society should assure peoples freedom and protect rights.

II. Security
Taur Matan Ruak has said many times: “I am not worried about security. However, I am concerned about poverty and unemployment. There is no country on earth that imposes peace with weapon. For a nation to be secure, first of all, people should live well”.

He affirms that to guarantee true peace in our country it cannot be done with guns and knives. Not only that we have to look at the investments in the military sector, but he also wanted to ensure human security. Here, human security according to the former UN Secretary General says, “we should forget our definition of peace and security. Peace means the absence of war. We should look more through human security than military definition. However, we should include economical development, social justice, and protection of the environment, democratization, disarmament and respect for human rights and rule of law”.

His visions for the future is to create a safe condition for our children and create conditions for our people to live free from fear and free from daily fight to get their basic necessity. In this context, Taur Matan Ruak pushes us to pay more attention on the nexus between security and development. There will no development without security, but at the same time there will be no security without development. Therefore, when we can conform to cases of insecurity, we should look at the root of the problem from the social and economical point of view. We should answer to problems of insecurity in our country not through the eyes of militarization. He believes that many of the problems that occur in our country have the root in human security.

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