In November 2007, Timor’s newly-elected government released its roadmap for the rebuilding of the nation in the wake of the 2006 crisis which displaced 15 per cent of the population and transformed Timor’s political landscape in the most significant manner since independence. The current Alliance of Parliamentary Majority (AMP) government, led by resistance leader Kay Rala Xanana Gusmao and comprising of a coalition of political bedfellows, were elected under a constitutional shadow and inherited a country marked by political and civil unrest.
Having ended the former Fretilin government’s monopoly on power under circumstances in which the Constitution was interpreted by President Jose Ramos-Horta in favour of Gusmao, the AMP Government is looking for quick runs on the board. Rumours abound that Fretilin will mount a challenge to the legitimacy of the Government and attempt to force fresh elections in early 2008. The National Recovery Strategy, Hamutuk Hari’i Futuru, (“Building a Future Together”) is therefore a bid for political legitimacy and moral authority. But it is an ambitious agenda and does not differ greatly from previous initiatives under the Fretilin Government – many of which failed. What will make this initiative more successful?
The objectives of the National Recovery Strategy rely heavily on the state framework but notably border on quasi nation-building. The document identifies five convergent areas as integral for recovery: (1) the return and resettlement of the internally displaced population; (2) social welfare support (including food security, health and education) for vulnerable groups; (3) stabilisation of the security situation, including the resolution of the Petitioner ‘561’ and Major Alfredo Reinado (who has recently adopted the Petitioners’ cause) crises; (4) economic development; and (5) building trust between the people and the government and strengthening communities at conflict.
Central to the success of the National Recovery Strategy – and its greatest weakness – is the whole-of-government approach. Government ministries are allocated one or more of the objectives with the Office of the Vice Prime Minister responsible for overall coordination. On paper it makes sense but as the former Fretilin Government and former Prime Minister and current President Ramos-Horta know only too well, without political will, it could very easily verge on the insurmountable. Garnering political will amongst a coalition of agendas could prove impossible rendering the National Recovery Strategy, like so many previous initiatives, moot.
Implementation of the roadmap is vital to the future stability of Timor-Leste but the National Recovery Strategy gives no indication of addressing two vital components for long-term peace building. Land and property rights are omitted despite being critical elements of a sustainable and fair return and resettlement programme for internally displaced and the wider community; and the inclusion of traditional reconciliation methods such as Nahe Biti (‘stretching the mat’) within the broader efforts to resolve the 2006 political crisis. What Timor-Leste desperately needs from its political leadership is the galvanisation of a national identity built on more solid foundations than the state apparatus.
With some of the crisis protagonists currently in government, the question of political will again rears its increasingly ugly head. At best, the National Recovery Strategy is an ambitious agenda which will keep humanitarian issues at the fore and the international community content. At its unintended worst, it is pure political rhetoric that will further frustrate an already disenfranchised populace.
WATCHPOINT: Can the Gusmao Government maintain cohesion and post-election political will sufficiently to implement the National Recovery Strategy and affect actual change?
Editor, Asian Analysis
Australian National University