Subject: The new Timor: A Xanana republic?

The Jakarta Post December 16, 2000


The new Timor: A Xanana republic?

By Damien Kingsbury

MELBOURNE (JP): With the massive international aid effort that has poured into East Timor since the disastrous events after last year's ballot on independence, it has been widely assumed that the tiny new state would develop along liberal democratic lines. This assumption now looks like it might be poorly founded.

Since last year's ballot and his subsequent release from Indonesian goal, the head of east Timor's political umbrella group, the Council for Timorese National Resistance (CNRT), Jose Alexandre "Xanana" Gusmao, has reinforced the liberal democratic message in his performances on the world stage.

Yet in practice, Xanana seems to be less of a liberal democrat in any meaningful sense and more of a traditional chief, albeit one who has created a type of palace culture over which he and he alone presides. For an as yet unelected official, Xanana has assumed a level of authority that might be out of place even with an elected leader.

To illustrate this, as (recently resigned) speaker of the National Consultative Council, which is functioning as East Timor's unelected Cabinet, Xanana hand-picked three supporters to help draft a constitution to be promulgated after next year's elections.

UNTAET political insiders believe the draft constitution will formalize Xanana's highly centralized authority, while precluding the usual checks and balances expected in a plural political framework.

While this could be of concern enough if applied to Xanana, his successor might not be as generally benign with such powers.

Xanana has also exploited his close association with the head of the UN Transitional Authority in East Timor (UNTAET), Sergio Viera de Mello, for personal political gain.

A year away from East Timor's presidential election, Xanana has been using his friendship with de Mello to campaign across the territory. Xanana has requested helicopter flights to different provincial towns and de Mello has arranged them, at US$10,000 a day.

But Xanana has been choosing to stay with "his people" overnight, requiring two sets of flights per visit, at US$20,000. This is not a luxury afforded to any of Xanana's political competitors.

A key theme of Xanana's campaigning has been his idea of a government of national unity. This "national unity" could provide respite after the bitter events between August 1975 and September 1999. There is, it must be admitted, considerable public skepticism about an adversarial party process.

However, there is also the growing fear, within the parties and within sections of UNTAET, that competing parties, delegitimized, would lead to the creation of a one party state. The party of state would be the CNRT, or what is currently its functionally empty shell.

Any notion of a democratic state implies a separation of powers between the executive and the state's law institutions. Yet there has been widespread complaint that Xanana, de Mello and their representatives have directly intervened in East Timor's legal process, in particular by ordering the release of prisoners held over last year's events.

At least as disturbingly, there have also been first hand reports that smuggling goods across the border from West Timor, where a tax is otherwise payable, has been assisted by the very highest levels of CNRT and UNTAET.

Border officials who have intercepted illegal shipments of goods have been directly ordered from Dili to allow the shipments through without tax.

According to border officials, the goods were being smuggled by CNRT, providing the organization with a black income. One senior border official described this, in ironic terms, as de Mello's "soft border management policy".

Beyond this is CNRT's unofficial "tax" on some businesses operating in Dili and elsewhere, such as the "docking rights" for two floating hotels primarily housing UNTAET staff.

And then there is the control of Dili's private fuel market by East Timor Fuel, a company that is controlled by what used to be the clandestine branch, the Internal Political Front (FPI), of the CNRT's armed wing, Falintil.

One UNTAET official who reported this, and that about one-third of all UNTAET fuel was being stolen and sold privately, was threatened with death.

There has been an unresolved power struggle between Falintil and its formerly clandestine wing, the FPI, over issues of corruption.

One analyst described this development as coming from the days when the Indonesian army, the TNI, and Falintil, had reached a type of agreement that allowed each to survive and make money illegally without interfering in the business of the other.

With the removal of the TNI, the remaining "gang" has expanded its activities without competition, in racketeering and extortion, and has the protection of friends in high places.

Beyond these worrying developments, nepotism has burgeoned. Nepotism was a part of traditional Timorese society for families to look after their own.

But the growing tendency to appoint people to jobs because of family connections rather than on ability denies the value of competence, encourages unaccountability and breeds resentment, which is already at a high level in many parts of East Timor.

A recent World Bank statement that flagged the issue of corruption debilitating East Timor predicated its comments on 24 years of Indonesian misrule. There could be elements of Indonesian-style corruption and nepotism, bank officials warned, that had the potential to develop to the point of wrecking the emerging new state.

Yet according to a centrally placed source in UNTAET, de Mello does not accept negative reports on such issues, but only "good news" reports.

It now seems the World Bank report was a heavily veiled criticism of practices that have flourished under the benign gaze of the leadership of UNTAET and CNRT. Becoming a corrupt one party state is a certain recipe for domestic turmoil and conflict.

More positively, militia activity from across the West Timor border has effectively stopped, due in part to the high level of security imposed by the UNTAET Peace Keeping Force and in part due to growing disaffection with the militia by the Indonesian army (TNI).

In simple terms, the TNI is trading across the border with East Timor, including selling petrol to the New Zealand battalion in Cova Lima (Suai), and its generals are making lots of money. The militias have simply become bad for business.

However, in the wings, waits the pro-Indonesia integration lobby, represented in particular by the growing (and subversively named) Council for the Popular Defense of the Democratic Republic of Timor Leste, and its Indonesian sponsors.

CPD-RDTL has a direct link to former TNI commander Gen. Wiranto through his former translator and the party's head of international relations, Cristiano da Costa.

Further, according to a high level analyst, CPD-RDTL is organized from Indonesia by Maj. Gen. Zacky Anwar Makarim, who was appointed by Wiranto as chief Indonesian military liaison officer to UNAMET and, from that position, directed much of the violence and mayhem of 1999.

Zacky has been on the TNI's "unattached" list since the beginning of this year, allowing him to engage in clandestine activities.

Zacky organizes CPD-RDTL with Abilio de Araujo, who is formally head of the Nationalist Party of Timor. De Araujo, a former Fretilin president who switched sides, has been actively campaigned against the independence movement.

By way of illustration, during the 1999 independence ballot, de Araujo's nephew, Jonas Olivier de Araujo, was militia chief in Balibo, one of East Timor's most violent and strategically important towns.

Using CNRT corruption as the central plank in its political platform, CPD-RDTL has the capacity to destabilize a future, independent East Timor. So too does rampant corruption.

A "strong presidency", however, is not the answer to East Timor's emerging problems, and has the capacity to turn the emerging state into yet another despotic, under-developed one party state.

Dr Damien Kingsbury, who recently returned from a one month visit to East Timor, was a UN accredited observer to the 1999 Popular Consultation in the former Indonesian province.

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