22 July 2012

Timor turning the corner on poll violence

East Timor Legal News Source: The Australian 21 July 2012 by: Peter Alford, Jakarta Correspondent - POLITICAL normalisation is finally at hand in East Timor, despite last weekend's sudden outbreak of rioting that marred at the last moment the young nation's third elections.

"It was an unfortunate end to what had been an almost exemplary election process," said Deakin University's Damien Kingsbury, who led an Australian observers group to the presidential and parliamentary elections.

Otherwise, this year's experience has been in bright contrast to the chaos and menace permeating the 2007 elections.

The events that provoked Sunday night's clashes are likely to worsen the bad spirit between Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao's CNRT and Fretilin, the main political parties.

But they have not disrupted formation of the second Gusmao government, nor preparations for the UN special mission's departure by year-end and ending the Australian-led military stabilisation mission soon after.
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East Timor's capacity to properly manage elections is vindicated and party leaders honoured their joint undertaking to restrain their hotheads during the two campaigns.

The police force, rebuilt under international guidance following the breakdown of civil authority in 2006, effectively restored order by early Monday, although Fretilin complains of unnecessary force against its supporters.

CNRT secretary general Deonisio Barbo conceded that some of his members' language on Sunday had provoked Fretilin supporters angry at their party being excluded from the new government.

Mr Deonisio "extremely regretted" harsh words spoken against Fretilin at a CNRT special conference that endorsed Mr Gusmao's recommendation for a new coalition instead with the Democratic Party (PD) and Frenti-Mudanca.

CNRT won 30 seats in the election, Fretilin 25, PD eight and Frenti-Mudanca two. In a political consolidation that favoured CNRT best, the other four parties and alliances elected to the 2007 parliament were wiped out.

Fretilin, the strongest political force in the East Timorese struggle for independence and in the first five years of the new nation, lost government when its vote halved in 2007. Its leaders, former prime minister Mari Alkatiri and Francisco Guterres "Lu Olo" had campaigned on returning Fretilin to government by negotiating the party into a coalition.

That proposal, according to Professor Kingsbury, was "ill-advised and created unrealistic expectations" among Fretilin supporters, contributing to the frustration and anger that erupted on Sunday evening.

The other inflammatory factor was that the CNRT conference was televised live, so that members intensely proud of Fretilin's role in bringing free East Timor into being, watched as it was rudely ejected from coalition considerations.

The Timor Leste Journalists Association this week joined complaints about the telecast.

"We cannot accept the live report that opened an opportunity for one party's members to say words of hatred against another party - that contributed to the conflict," said association president Tito Belo.

On the other hand, given the bad blood between the two leaderships and Fretilin's robust criticisms of CNRT and the first Gusmao government, it would have been na adive not to expect some heated reaction to its efforts to join a new coalition.

Further, while Fretilin was arguing for a coalition "government of best talents", there was an obvious concern for the risk to accountable government of the two big parties sitting together on the government benches with 55 of the parliament's 65 seats. Mr Gusmao, who played on that concern, is discussing details of a coalition agreement with the junior partners and is expected to finalise a new ministry by August 5.

He returns from the election with his authority and CNRT's control of the government significantly strengthened.

But he also confronts an array of huge difficulties, some of which have been held in abeyance until the election was safely out of the way.

The largest and most immediate of those include spreading development more evenly from Dili, the booming capital, to the outlying districts where little has happened since independence to improve education, health care, sanitation, roads and farming.

There is government and civil service corruption, which is growing faster than the new Anti-Corruption Commission's capacity to contain it.

Then there is the challenge of returning the $US12 billion ($11.5bn) Petroleum Fund, East Timor's only substantial income source, to a sustainable basis while somehow meeting the first Gusmao government's development blueprint, precariously dependent on tapping the fund.

The fund's survivability, in turn, depends on East Timor reaching agreement with Australia's Woodside Petroleum and its partners on the Greater Sunrise liquefied natural gas project.

The development is stalled by a long-running dispute between Woodside and Dili about where the gas is to be refined into LNG.

"This requires tough decisions from the government, not about what sounds good to punters ahead of an election, but what realistically the country needs to do to sustain its future in the medium- to long-term," says Professor Kingsbury.


Unknown said...

Professor Kingsbury , while respecting your superior knowledge of recent events in TL I question some of your suppositions. For example How did police "effectively restore order when it seems at least one Fretilin supporter was bashed to death by police? Also how was Fretilin "ill-advised" in caimpaigning for a "negotiated coalition" with CNRT? You do not explain this. What we have now is more of the same with if anything increased CNRT influence - 30 seats against 10. Surely Fretilin might have better held CNRT to account with a more evenly balanced number of seat (30-25)? Corruption and nepotism were rife under the previous government - the composition of the present government is almost identical it seems to me. Finally if the CNRT were truly capable of responsible government surely it would not have made or allowed the stupid hot-headed unnecessary insulting remarks about Fretilin. Say what you will about Fretilin but its position in TL is historic and validated by its 25 seats. I have not been able to uncover improper financial dealings by it or its leadership which is more than i can say about the previous CNRT coalition government. How can it be wise to exclude such a large proportion of the electorate and leave them without options effectively for 11 years (barring an unforeseen outcome.) Rhonda Charmaine Palmer

Anonymous said...

Sorry Rhonda; democratic elections are about winners and (hopefully restrained)losers.

A so-called 'grand coalition' between CNRT,Fretilin and other political parties would have been a recipe for another crisis in Timor-Leste. It was a damn stupid and dangerous idea.

Kingsbury is perfectly correct "...given the bad blood between the two leaderships and Fretilin's robust criticisms of CNRT and the first Gusmao government, it would have been naive not to expect some heated reaction to its efforts to join a new coalition."

Alkatiri - will you resign with dignity (like NOW!), or will the necessary renewal of Fretilin be an ugly, bloody affair?

Unknown said...

Sorry Anon. but you like Prof Kingsbury Have not explained in any way why a so-called "Grand Co-alition" was a "damn stupid and dangerous idea'. Democracy, is NOT simply about winners and losers (that surely is a damn stupid and dangerous idea!)but about rule by the people, for the people...check your dictionary..surely in that case robust criticism and diverse opinions are not only to be expected but encouraged s a sign - of healthy and INCLUSIVE debate.

Unknown said...

Worse than naive is cynical - knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing. Naivety at least allows for hope ..and where would TL be today if hope had been denied in those dark years? Why criticise Mr Alkatiri - what118vershn is his sin exactly? Corruption was common under the previous Gusmao Govt. The mark of a Statesman is to unite his people.

Anonymous said...

Read my lips Rhonda: "Alkatiri is a loser. He will never lead Fretilin to power".

Now you (finally) understand.

Unknown said...

Anon - no actually all you say are your subjective and I would guess VERY personal views - which are meaningful only to you. Fortunately 4 me I have just spent some time in TL and speaking with locals heard only a deep wish for UNITY,Progress and Peace. Your views and your sense of being "understood" are all yours - they belong to no-one else - please do not assume. PEACE LOVE BEAUTY ..Hau hadomi Timor-Leste