East Timor’s latest Challenge – James Dunn

Wednesday 08 August, 2007 – 17:49

The violence that followed the announcement that
President Horta had chosen Xanana as prime
minister was, unfortunately, to be expected, and
let us hope that it is short-lived. Fretilin
supporters regarded their party as the victor in
the election because it emerged as the largest
party – despite the fact that it won well short
of a majority of seats in the National Assembly.
The problem is more psychological than
constitutional at this early point in East
Timor’s history. We in Australia have long
accepted rule by coalitions, but that is a new experience in East Timor.

The problem could perhaps have been averted if a
different procedure had been followed in the
formation of the government. Mari Alkatiri, the
Fretilin leader could have been given first
opportunity to win the confidence of the NA, and
with his failure to win that confidence the baton
could then have been passed to Xanana. A somewhat
complicated procedure, but at least it would have
been a democratic nicety that might have
satisfied the electorate, heading off the
violence. Now the government has the task of
simmering down the angry reaction from Fretilin
supporters, and that could take time.

The Timorese are hungering for a united inspired
leadership, and that is a challenge facing the
new government. It must meet that challenge if
the lawlessness and violence undermining the
developing of the new nation is to be brought to
an end, bring in a new dawn of stability and
social cohesion. It would be a great help if the
Fretilin leadership could be persuaded to accept
and participate in the new government. It would
be of significant benefit to East Timor if a
government of national inclusion could lead the
new nation for at least two years.

Meanwhile we need to be a bit more understanding
than some commentators, who now present East
Timor as a basket case. The Timorese are not by
nature violent and difficult to govern. The last
three decades has been a tortured experience for
the Timorese people, and it is hardly surprising
that divisions of one kind or another have
surfaced in their community, undermining their
confidence in the new nation. I wonder what our
Australian scene would be like today, if we had
suffered two catastrophic invasions in the past
seventy years, claiming the lives of some 7
million people, and resulting in the almost total
destruction of our towns and villages?

The big challenge facing the new government is to
provide the kind of leadership that is inspiring
to all, including the many East Timorese who did
not vote for it. East Timor continues to need –
and deserve – our generous help and
understanding. May all the political parties now
reflect on their herioic past roles and now act
on the basis of understanding and tolerance to
shape constructively and cooperatively Timor Leste’s future.

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