The Pencil Guy: Hourann's illogical blog

Hardly a simple election for the Timorese

Thursday 12 April 2007 at 11:49 pm

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.

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‘Deputy sheriff’, all over again

Friday 30 June 2006 at 3:45 pm

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.

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More unrest in Timor

Wednesday 28 June 2006 at 11:44 pm

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

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Soccer in the headlines, while problems in Dili simmer

Friday 23 June 2006 at 11:14 pm

Aside from a ridiculous story in the Australian and some chatter about Defence procurements, today’s news was dominated by the soccer (see below …!). But there has been some mention of the political situation in Timor-Leste, which doesn’t show many signs of getting better and (I fear) might not be far from becoming much worse.

The momentary crisis caused by President Gusmao’s threat to resign has passed, with protestors begging him to stay, but the problems in the country’s leadership still seem to be simmering. In a stable democracy, ideological conflicts between a president and a prime minister are all good and well (I recall writing something along those lines in my exam last week …), but in a young country in the midst of civil unrest, that kind of conflict can’t be allowed to create a base for bigger conflict, the kind involving angry mobs. So far in Dili it hasn’t, and the foreign troops are a stabilising factor, but I’m fearful that this might not remain the case.

I wonder if the lack of attention from the Western world is making any difference? Aside from a crazy rant by John Pilger and various comments in response to it, the blogosphere is (again) quiet on this issue. The Technorati graph is telling …

Technorati graph of posts matching 'east timor' in May and June

Alas, I can’t resist a concluding paragraph on the soccer, and my shock that the Socceroos did actually draw with Croatia. After that first goal on the free kick I was afraid all was lost, but the Aussies seemed to finally find some form — not a huge amount, but some — by the end of the first half. I went to sleep at half-time confident that my original prediction of Australia not getting past the first round was wrong. The post-match hype shows just how much everyone’s embraced soccer, even to the point of mad-cap ideas. Meanwhile, the poor old Japanese team were walloped by Ronaldo himself in a game that their media are calling “miserable”.