- Hooray for the state Liberals, who continue to find new ways to implode. I see no hope for them whatsoever at the next election. And hooray for Colin Barnett, who’s mumbling randomly now that he’s leaving. (Does he seriously want to see the state dump preferential voting, the one great innovation in Australian politics?)
- Egad, Thaksin is back in Bangkok! (This after being kicked out by force.) I do hope that this doesn’t jeopardise the country’s stability; I don’t like the prospects for Thailand returning to a proper model of democracy any time soon. Thaksin’s no saint and the corruption charges may well be true, but it’s a stretch to claim the moral high ground if you were part of a coup!
- Speaking of stability, Timor-Leste has done surprisingly well after the violence of a fortnight ago, with security forces now getting stuck into investigative work. Along with the extension of the UN presence, this pretty much puts things back to normal, which is good from a yay-the-country-isn’t-imploding point of view but mightn’t be the best thing long-term.
There was a time a few days ago when I honestly thought that Timor-Leste’s election this week (to replace Xanana Gusmao) would be straightforward, just because it’s for a symbolic position with limited real power.
I’ve seen a few reports claiming that voters were rebuking Fretilin, the party formed from the revolutionary group that fought Indonesia for decades. More reliable sources, though, are saying the result is a show of support for the now-independent José Ramos-Horta in Dili, and for Lu’Olu (Fretilin’s man) everywhere else in the country. Since no one has a 50% majority, there’ll be a run-off election in May.
Although there’s street-level calm, the election has turned somewhat scandalous, with various accusations of unfairness being flung in pretty much every direction. The electoral officials, though, seem to think that any resulting error is insignificant.
If supporters of the five presidential candidates who dropped out go for Lu’Olu rather than Ramos-Horta, I wonder what effects that’ll have for Timor-Leste’s relations with other Asian nations (specifically Indonesia)? If the opposite happens, I wonder what prospects remain for cooperation in government, given that Fretilin members (notably the ex-PM, Mari Alkatiri) have accused Gusmao and Ramos-Horta of spreading misinformation?
Either way, I sincerely hope that the lessons learned this time around will be applied to the parliamentary elections in June, by which time Gusmao will be leading a new party …
Update 13/4: There’s confirmation of problems in the count, albeit not as severe as has been alleged.
I haven’t written about Timor-Leste in ages, even though it remains the biggest item in my (still-in-alpha) tag cloud.
To be truthful, I’ve not been following the situation very closely of late, but it worries me that there are reports of anti-Australian sentiment on the streets of Dili, allegedly because Australian soldiers are taking sides. After speaking to an ex-Army man in seminars this year, I have a new respect for how difficult life is when you’re stuck in the middle of a conflict, but I wonder if there’s more that could be done to clarify the troops’ role, ensure their impartiality, and deal with the deep-seated rivalries that seem to be at the heart of the ongoing conflicts.
And it just so happens that the recommendations from the International Crisis Group report of a few weeks ago say exactly that, among other things. More recently, the UNHCHR also laid down its report, the one that was supposed to be all shock-and-horror, name-and-shame (but wasn’t really all that surprising). As nice as it is to be reading the work of people who actually understand what’s going on, I wonder if the sound recommendations in these reports will actually get followed, given the quality of Timor’s governance and the bickering that so often seems to slow its development …
At least the situation isn’t the violent chaos that some news services are claiming. Dili-gence reports from the ground that the trouble is confined to Dili and then only in pockets, even though some of those pockets are getting pretty hairy at times.
Considering how little I can find in (the shiny and new!) Technorati, I suspect few people are interested by this. So I’ll comment about it, particularly because I’m fascinated
(hey, it brings together something I’ve been blogging about with something I’m studying!)
First up, it should be noted that this isn’t really a sign of improved stability in Timor-Leste; the old government had been in negotiations to get down with the ASEAN kids for months before the current unrest. Mr Ramos-Horta was at last year’s ASEAN Regional Forum, and there was even talk of him attending the next East Asia Summit.
The announcement does, however, cast some doubt over the old hopes of ASEAN leaders for a nicely rounded clique of ten (which they finally got in 1999). When Timor-Leste first won its independence, some folk in the region said it was more Melanesian than Southeast Asian, and thus didn’t belong in ASEAN. That sentiment has since been overridden by the more widespread belief (particularly strong among the Singaporeans) that ASEAN and its spawn should be inclusive and welcoming to anyone who’s entitled to join.
I doubt that joining ASEAN (if and when it happens, since this announcement is just a statement of intent) will have much impact on the Timorese themselves, except perhaps to help legitimate their government overseas. Whether that’s a good thing is unclear — the last person to have been in the region whom I’ve spoken to was convinced the new leadership is far from clean.
I am vaguely concerned about the effect of continued expansion on ASEAN. Then again, the late-90s naysayers were wrong to claim that picking up Burma and Cambodia would ruin the group, so maybe there’s nothing to be worried about. Actually, it’s quite likely ASEAN will just keep plodding along like it always has, talking lots while making steady (but glacially slow!) progress towards integration.
Timor-Leste, meanwhile, will plod along in poverty, still short of stability or much-needed economic growth …
Today I shall rant about an article I read in the Sydney Morning Herald.
Peter Hartcher reckons poor old Australia, strong, brave, dependable Australia, has inherited a new empire of failed states who need our paternalism.
I acknowledge the concerns of some about an ‘arc of instability’ to our north; although this isn’t the best term, and it’s a bit condescending to say to our neighbours “we expect you to fail”, it is true that there are lots of governments in trouble on the islands around us. But that’s a far cry from going all nationalist and painting Australia as the shining knight, coming to the rescue of the poor, uncivilised Pacific island barbarians who need to be saved from themselves. (And yet, Hartcher reckons he’s describing a “contrast to … traditional colonialism”!)
Better yet, he claims:
No one else is interested. Not the 10-member Association of South-East Asian Nations, which has spent 30 years perfecting the art of talk while cultivating abject uselessness in the science of action.
Having spent the last week reading and writing about ASEAN, I can see this for the ridiculous falsehood that it is. First up, repeating the decades-old claim that ASEAN is a useless talk-fest doesn’t help it to become true (as my thesis will argue … but that’s forthcoming). ASEAN has been glacially slow, sure, but it has also mitigated conflicts, promoted free trade, and is showing real signs of developing strong regional institutions. Second, ASEAN nations have a hard enough time dealing with poverty and political stability problems in their own region, so they tend to overlook countries close to them but outside their grasp — places like Bhutan and Nepal as well as the Solomons and PNG.
(That said, I do agree that ASEAN should be more outward-looking than it is; they’ve failed even to officially acknowledge the problems of Pacific island states.)
Hartcher’s article even implies that Australia can claim credit for leading the bail-out of Asian economies during the 1997 financial crisis (newsflash, mate: that belongs to the IMF, stubborn local ministries, and later the Chiang Mai Initiative).
The only redeeming grace is that towards the end, his article hits the nail on the head: it is indeed “a viable economy and effective governance” that are sorely lacking in Timor and the Solomons. Long-term planning is exactly what is needed. But pointing to Australia as a militaristic saviour (or scaremongering about Northeast Asia, as the end of his article does) is not the answer at all.
Also in today’s news: the US Supreme Court finally sees the obvious but our PM continues to show indifference to looking after the interests of Aussie citizens overseas, and Mari Alkatiri wangles his way out of testifying today for what seem to be selfish reasons, but by stalling I suspect he might also give Dili’s angry protestors a chance to calm down.
I’ve little to add to the interesting comments being made about Warren Buffet’s big donation, so I’ll talk about the other big news item to have been pushed aside by the soccer: Mari Alkatiri’s resignation over in Timor-Leste.
It’s been two days now, and the ABC reports that protestors are clearing out of Dili, but in many areas the protests seem to have degenerated into mob violence, fuelled by the ex-PM’s remarks (Tumbleweed even asks if that makes a good case for censorship; normally I’d say no, but I do wonder …).
So my earlier fears have not been appeased. Mari Alkatiri probably did the right thing by stepping down; I don’t know if the accusations against him are true, but he seemed like a destabilising force while still in power. Problem is, his resignation hasn’t helped defuse the situation, and could just leave things in a horribly fragile state unless he is replaced by a competent and popularly respected leader.
As a closing note, elsewhere in SE Asia: if Anwar Ibrahim does run for UN secretary-general later this year, I wonder what the reaction in Malaysia will be like? Somehow I doubt any of the ASEAN states would want to vote for him in the General Assembly, for fear of offending his former party UMNO …