Subject: ABC: Expert analyses East Timor political situation

ABC Transcripts (Australia)


June 26, 2006 Monday 6:18 PM AEST

Expert analyses East Timor political situation

Mark Colvin

MARK COLVIN: I'm joined now by Damien Kingsbury, Associate Professor at Deakin University's School of International and Political Studies, a close follower of East Timor's politics for many years.

We might start with that extraordinary claim about 20,000 people waiting outside Dili who could be there doing counter demonstrations but aren't only because Fretilin is good enough to hold them back. Is that bluster and wind do you think?

DAMIEN KINGSBURY: No, I think that it's probably quite right. You've got to keep in mind that Arsenio Bano is one of the more moderate members of Fretilin and he would be one of the people, I would think, that would be looking for a peaceful resolution to this political problem.

If Arsenio is saying that there is 20,000 people just outside of Dili, and I think I know where they would be, then that is probably quite right. If you listen carefully to what he was saying though, he was saying the Fretilin recognises that bringing them into town is not the way to resolve this problem or take it any further, and essentially is holding it back.

So I think that his, the comments he is making is actually an expression of moderation in these circumstances.

MARK COLVIN: So something quite serious has been, or is being adverted here?

DAMIEN KINGSBURY: Ah, possibly, possibly. I mean, there is always going to be a chance of a backlash against a resignation of somebody like Mari Alkatiri. He does have support, there's no question about that, but I think what is important to note is that his resignation, and it will be accepted, is entirely constitutional and I think that was always going to be the critical issue.

Fretilin will contain the control of the Parliament as the, overwhelmingly, the biggest party, and will almost certainly elect a new prime minister from within its ranks.

Now, if that happens, as we would expect, and that should be a conventional transition, it should be peaceful, and I think that Fretilin will still be seen to be in power, it will have had the opportunity to chose a new leader, and I think Fretilin supporters should be quite satisfied, and indeed quite happy with that.

MARK COLVIN: Will, let's, I know that Mari Alkatiri, Rogerio Lobato haven't been tried yet and they're entitled to the presumption of innocence, but it is equally clear that whatever happens in those trials, there has been, as it were, dirty work at the cross roads. Will the new cabinet be clean?

DAMIEN KINGSBURY: Look, I think there's a couple of options for the future. There's a group within Fretilin, known as the reformation group, which actually tried to vote Alkatiri out during May and there were claims that essentially these people were strong-armed in the central committee meeting which was meant to consider this matter and hence did not actually launch the vote of no confidence against Alkatiri.

MARK COLVIN: And there was an abortive attempt to run against him.

DAMIEN KINGSBURY: That's right, that's exactly what happened and these people were threatened and hence nothing happened. But I think what we need to understand is that there's a very significant group within Fretilin, and probably a majority, I think that would really be very happy to see Alkatiri go and would be very happy to see him replaced by a much more moderate, much more inclusive and participatory sort of prime minister.

I think that when this person is elected, that we will see the party coming together. It will cohere around this person, it will try to rebuild itself, I suspect that the new cabinet that will be appointed will be quite inclusive, so that there won't be necessarily a purge of Alkatiri supporters, although possibly one or two could go. But it will really be a case of Fretilin trying to ensure that it doesn't fragment as a consequence of this resignation.

MARK COLVIN: Will it fragment though, because there must be very considerable disillusion with the party after the revelations about hit squads and so forth?

DAMIEN KINGSBURY: I think, I think there's certainly a lot of disillusionment, but the overwhelming majority of the party is that which was in East Timor during the period of the Indonesian occupation.

I think that if you look at Alkatiri and his closest cohorts, they are the people who are not in East Timor, indeed they are the so called Mozambique clique, or some members of the Mozambique clique, who really were just not in touch with the East Timorese people. And I think that really, the party will continue on, regardless of whether this Mozambique clique has a prominent position within it.

MARK COLVIN: So is the right question to ask you then; will this now clean out the Mozambique clique? Is that what you are saying?

DAMIEN KINGSBURY: Well, I don't know if it will clean it out. Like I said, I think that there will be some attempt to try and bring the party back together, to make it sort of solid again and there would be some sort of reconciliation process.

So those members who have not sullied their reputations too badly would probably continue to have a future, but I think that certainly some of the harder line members, or some of those members who have sullied their reputations, including Alkatiri obviously, would not have much of a future in the party.

Alkatiri, I don't think is going to resign from Parliament but he might choose to reconsider his political options when the next elections come up.

MARK COLVIN: Also depending on what the Prosecutor General does. Anyway, thank you very much Damien Kingsbury.


MARK COLVIN: Damien Kingsbury is Associate Professor at Deakin University School of Political and International Studies.

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