Subject: ACFOA: Briefing Notes on political parties and groupings

EAST TIMOR'S POLITICAL PARTIES AND GROUPINGS Briefing Notes by Pat Walsh of the Australian Council for Overseas Aid is available at (PDF format); (MS Word format)

Below is the introduction:


East Timor is now entering the last, crucial stage of the transition process to full independence. National elections for a Constituent Assembly to develop a Constitution for the new nation will be held on 30 August 2001. Over the months that follow, decision-making and power will be transferred from the United Nations Transitional Administration (UNTAET) to democratically elected East Timorese legislative and executive bodies.

In preparation for this historic moment, to be held 2 years to the day after East Timorese voted overwhelmingly in favour of independence from Indonesia on 30 August 1999, voter registration and education programs are underway and a regulation on the registration of political parties and independent candidates has been promulgated.

Until now, the CNRT independence umbrella body has occupied centre stage. This has had the effect of obscuring the parties who, like the FALINTIL guerillas in the run-up to the August 99 ballot, have endured a period of necessary political cantonment in the interests of national unity. The scene is now set, however, for the political parties to take their rightful place under the spotlight as key players in the democratic process. This is a healthy and positive development which excesses by some should not be permitted to undermine.

In November 1999, ACFOA published a backgrounder on CNRT called 'From Opposition to Proposition: the National Council of Timorese Resistance (CNRT) in Transition' [], to contribute to a more informed and positive reception for CNRT by the international community. It is hoped these notes will play a similar role in relation to the parties by answering the questions observers and others will have about these new players. How many parties will contest the election? Who are their leaders and how does one contact them? How have they changed from previous times? What ideas and policies do they have for East Timor's development, foreign policy and so on?

For some parties, it is a case of picking up where they left off 27 years ago, in some instances, with the same cast. Others are more recent creations. Whether old or new, however, their leaders have much in common. Their experience during the difficult years of the Indonesian occupation has matured them as politicians and as people and they have the advantage of working in a positive post-Cold War global environment in which there is extraordinary good will towards East Timor and many other nation-building experiences to learn from. They also share the same challenge, at once exciting and daunting, of determining the design and direction of the new East Timorese nation which, unlike 1974-5, is irrevocably set on the path to independence.

Some will greet their return to public life with cynicism; others will be fearful because of the regrettable re-emergence of political violence in East Timor in recent days. It is important to stress, however, that the advocates of violence are a minority and are out of step with the prevailing national mood. It is very clear from these notes that the overwhelming majority of parties and political leaders in East Timor are not only very conscious of their historic calling but are strongly committed to building a new political culture of tolerance and respect for human rights, including those of political opponents. Every effort must be made to assist them in this critical endeavour and to see that they are rewarded at the polls for their stance. This support should include assistance with capacity-building and policy development.

These 'Notes' are not complete. A full picture will only be possible when the parties have successfully registered with UNTAET and developed more detailed policies than exist at the moment.

The document focuses on the present and the future, rather than the past. Where possible, however, historical background has been included. This is an essential part of any transparent curriculum vitae and is not intended in any way to compromise any party or politician. East Timor is in the process of re-inventing itself as a society and nation. Its political leaders and parties should be permitted the same option.

As far as possible, the information in the pages which follow has been based on interviews with party leaders or officials and on official party documents where these exist or could be obtained. I have also benefited from the assistance of the following observers: Dionisio Babo Soares, Jenny Grant, Kirsty Sword Gusmao, Florence Martin, Lynn Hastings, Paula Pinto, Fr Peter Puthenkandam, Helen Hill and David Scott. For pre-referendum history I have drawn on the following works: Timor, A People Betrayed by James Dunn (1996), East Timor: Nationalism and Colonialism by Jill Jolliffe (1978), Funu, the Unfinished Saga of East Timor, by Jose Ramos Horta (1987), Fretilin: the Origins, Ideologies and Strategies of a Nationalist Movement in East Timor, by Helen Hill (1978), and A Long Journey of Resistance: the Origins and Story of the CNRT, by Sarah Niner (Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars, 2000).

Any mistakes are entirely my own work and I would appreciate receiving corrections. I would also appreciate receiving news of policy initiatives and other developments so that the report can be up dated from time to time. The document is also available on the ACFOA website: www.acfoa.asn

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