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Subject: The Democratization In Indonesia And The Solution For The East Timor Conflict
Date: Mon, 7 Dec 1998 10:01:38 +0930

The Democratization In Indonesia And The Solution For The East Timor Conflict

07/12/98 By: Lucas da Costa

Catatan Redaksi: Makalah ini dipresentasikan dalam seminar internasional mengenai demokratisasi di Indonesia dan masalah Timor Timur yang diselenggarakan atas kerja sama Solidamor dan Universitas ParamadinaMulya. Mengingat isinya penting untuk redaksi menyajikannya secara lengkap pada para pembaca. Dr Lucas da Costa adalah dosen tetap fakultas ekonomi Universitas Wijaya Kusuma Surabaya. Ia juga mengajar di beberapa Perguruan tinggi Suasta di Jawa Timur, antara lain Universitas Widya Mandala, Universitas Katolik Dharma Cendika, Universitas Surabaya.


Since the invasion over East Timor in 1975 and its annexation into Indonesian Republic in the following year by Jacarta (which made indonesian authorities embarassed during 23 years) this is the first forum in Indonesia where Indonesians, East Timorese and International experts, can talk openly about the morfology, the process and the probable prognostics of the situation to be faced by all interested parties in their efforts to search the most acceptable solution to the East Timor protracted conflict.

This historical event is attributed only to the success of the students movement in demolishing the Soeharto authocracy and marking the beginning of the process of democratization in Indonesia.

However, although this process has had a successful starting point with clearly identified actors, its continuity becomes something enigmatic given the various and many forces engaged in its course, making it more turbulent and more complex.

One of the attentively follows the evolution of the politcal change in Indonesia, with no difficulties could identify, at least, two different - and even diverging - groups, the dessidents and the revindicators, each one claiming itself as the most prominent protagonist of that change.

The dessidents, most students along with other academic people and a few number of genuine politicians, demand pertinently for a profound transformation of the system. They have already made bloody investments and for that reason, they are determined to always stand up on the vanguard of the process, whatever the more personal costs to pay for. The abdication and idealism which their commitment lay on are the guarantees of the continuity of the process. If, at last, their demands triumph over the old guard of the status quo, then Indonesian People will enter into another phase of its existence, where the construction of a strong and cohesive civil society will be the primary task. And, according to the conviction of those dessidents, the construction of a free, dignified, strong, and cohesive civil society has to begin necessarily with the punishment over the delinquents, the rehabilitations of the innocents and the preservations of good citizens. But as things are going on, it is not excessive to say that the road to that triumph is still long and rocky.

The revindicators, on the other side, are not compromised with the construction of any new society. They all are likely busy either in defending positions or acquiring change -which they pretensiously call "reformasi" - present large opportunities where they can gain some previleges not found or not provided by Soehartoo regime. Worse off, some of them who belongged to Soeharto regime, but had never had large chances to satisfy ambitions and concrete obssessions, come out as reformists.

Still being in power or arround it, the revindicators of course constitute the potential threats for the process of democratization because they are not in position to punish delinquents, rehabilitate innocents and preserve good citizens. If, at last, they become the winners of the marathon, the Indonesian People will be engaged again in a frustrating game for an undefinite time. It is on this nuance that the problem of East Timor enters into a new phase.


When for the first time, Indonesian and East Timorese students met in a coordinating action against Soeharto, the prime issue they put ahead to be defined clearly was: the process of democratization in Indonesia and the right of self-determination of East Timor were ttwo distinct problems that would be solved separately, or at best, in a sequencial order. The logic under that attitude was that the success of the democratization struggle in Indonesia might not necessarily produce a condusive climate for the effective exercise of the right of self-determination by East Timorese and, inversely, the exercise of that right might not automatically be the synonimous of the success of the democratization struggle. It was to say that those two struggles were pursuing different objectives.

However, even there were differences in objectives to be achieved, in a given point of time the target should be the same for both indonesians and timorese. That target was, no doubt, the demolition of the autocracy of Soeharto which always put great obstacles toward the process of democratization for Indonesians and denied the exercise of the right of self-determination for East Timorese. So, the cooperation between Indonesians and East Timorese in targeting Soeharto were important and indispensable because the coexistence of the indonesians struggle for democratization and the resistance of East Timorese could be made reciprocally conditioning.

Nowadays, following the fall of Soeharto (but not his clique), it seems that the distinction of these two struggle is still relevant.

Facts demonstrate flagrantly that as the "reform" process goes on, the search of solution for the East Timor conflict only experiences an insignificant progress with the concession of "an enlarged autonomy" by Habibie government. For the majority of East Timorese, this autonomy is a mere decentralization of Jacarta administrative powers over East Timor where the East Timorese will never have the opportunities to make decisions on their own behalf and for their own interests. The reason of the poor concession is the necessity to preserve the sacrossant relic of Negara Kesatuan which East Timor has never been a part of.

The main argument produced and consumed by revindicators that the exercise of the right of self-determination by East Timorese will threat the unity of the great Indonesia is as too weak as the logical cosmos of Orde Baru.

The celebration of self-determination of a people has never been the cause of the fragmentation of a true country. Fragmentation has only occurred where stated existed due to the artificial arrangements imposed upon the people. Yugoslavia and URSS are good examples.

The denial of the right of self-deternimation for East Timorese can only be explained by the tendency of conservatism that still live up in the Indonesian Government circles and, unfortunately, became contagious to many Indonesians who lack informations about the beginning, the metamorphosis and the prognostic of the East Timor conflict.

It is legitim for Indonesia to preserve its national unity and territorial integrity. But East Timor did never make part of the Great Indonesia, so that the right of self-determination of East Timorese will never cause dismemberment of Indonesia. On the contrary, the exercise of self-determination by East Timorese might turn Indonesia into a respectable nation, because referendum also makes viable the probability of victory for the integration option.

On the other prespective, if the dessidents come out as winners, the search of solution for the East Timor conflict will be more easy to do, because for the dessidents the punishment of delinquents, the rehabilitation of innocents and the preservation of good citizens are the prime obligations to be accomplished. In this line of thought, the devolution of the right of self-determination to the East Timorese will be as natural as the preservation of Indonesian integrity. Furthermore, the dessidents believe that the independence ( if it will be product of referendum) will not produce a separation of East Timorese from their brothers in Indonesia, not only due to the coercive convene during more than two decades or because of the geographical proximity, but above all due to the warm coexistence in the past and the present fraternal solidarity.


In the beginning of his office, President Habibie tried to formulate a solution for East Timor problem by advancing a concession of "an enlarged autonomy". That concession aimed to prevent the celebration of referendum. That is, if East Timorese accept autonomy, then there is no need to celebrate referendum for knowing their aspirations and wishes.

There is nothing ingenue than to take autonomy and referendum as mutually exclusive because autonomy is a political status while referendum a political act.

A logical process must begin with the celebration of a referendum through which people can freely express their political options (independence or integration into Indonesia). If people choose integration into Indonesia, then like other provinces, East Timor has to enjoy autonomy. In this context, autonomy could not substitute referendum but a status to be enjoyed after that act.

However, considering some prevalent aspects of the current political and social ecology in East Timor where the whole society need a communitary recuperation, the immediate celebration of referendum can bring with many social disturbances that will sugment the suffering of the East Timorese.

Facing this situation, an interregnum period where East Timorese would prepare themselves before entering the referendum process is a imperious necessity. This interregnum can be denominated autonomy. In this sense, autonomy is not a final solution for East Timor, but a transisional status before East Tiomrese advance to the referendum to determine if they want independence or integration into Indonesia. In this context referendum does not substitute autonomy, but an act in the end of that period.

Therefore, there is no room for choice between autonomy and referendum because both are primary elements of the same process.


As a transisional status, autonomy for East Timor will not be an administrative decentralization, but a phase where East Timorese must be endowed with some political decisions capacity.

Because Portugal remains the administering power, while Indonesia acts as "de facto" sovereign over the territory, the implementation of that autonomy must be preceded by a preliminary phase of "confidence building measures".

In such preliminary phase that can be called "humanitarian phase", UN has to make its best to prevent embarassment for Jacarta and to facilitate the formal engagement of Lisbon into the territory so that, together and side by side they (Indonesia and Portugal) can create the necessary conditions for the communitary recuperation inside the timorese society. This phase should take up one or two years and be supervised by a resident Representative of the United Nations Secretary General. In this phase, the cessation of all armed activities is a basic assumption.

Following that preliminary stage it will be a period of genuine political autonomy. It is obvious that as a political autonomy, during this phase the political decisions capacity will belong to the East Timorese by which they can create a Territorial People's Assembly to formulate regulations and rules, to elect a Governor and to take care of other issues related to all aspects of the local life. The implementation of that autonomy still under the supervision of the UN with the assistance of Indonesian and Portuguese officials.

It is important to note that during the autonomy phase, the presence of a Peace Keeping Force of UN to guard and enforce the social order will be a necessity. Indonesian troops and Timorese guerrilla, in proportional numbers, could take part of that Peace Keeping Force where, if conditioned, they could forget past hostilities.

It is also important to point out that having enjoyed a period of peace and freedom without the coercive convene of Indonesian troops, the East Timorese might accept to continue to live under Indonesia Rule. Conversely, the political changes in Indonesia might produce new perceptions and attitudes on East Timor conflict and might also result in Indonesia accepting as natural independence of East Timor.

Finally, if all conditions be mature in direction of the celebration of referendum then the UN begins to prepare a referendum on self-determination to determine the final status of the territory.

Gentlemen, if there is no better scenario to solve the East Timor problem, this can be taken into consideration. However, whatever can be done has to be in favor of Indonesia's dignity, of Portugal's responsibility and on the Supreme Interests of East Timorese.*

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