Subject: 'Failed State' and the Rise of the Timor-Leste Burgeois by Rahung Nasution

'Failed State' and the Rise of the Timor-Leste Burgeois

Rahung Nasution*

On Wednesday 24 of April 2006, in front of the Palacio das Cinzas (Palace of the Ashes), when two representatives from the protesting petitionary soldiers sacked by the Falintil-Força de Defesa de Timor-Leste (F-FDTL) led by First Lieutenant Gastão Salsinha met with president Xanana Gusmão to present their demands, Eric Campbell reported to Radio Australia: "The march began peacefully but soon turned into a violent ethnic clash as protestors attacked a market run by stallholders from the country's eastern regions. 591 soldiers form the western regions were dismissed last month after they went AWOL (Absent Without Leave) claiming their commanders were favouring eastern soldiers."

A day later, Suara Timor Lorosa'e (STL) , a national paper published in Dili with a distribution of no more than 1000 copies, wrote two articles on the front page in Tetum and Indonesian, Demo Petisionariu Lao Ho Diak (The Petitioners' Demonstration Went Peacefully) and Keributan Warnai Aksi Demo F-FDTL 'Petisi' (F-FDTL 'Petitioner's' Action Marked by Unrest).

The framing of political messages presented by STL proved to be a fatal editorial blunder so that the two articles they produced are contradictive and cannot be trusted at all. One article reported that the Petitioner's Action Went Peacefully, where as on a separate column, another article reported F-FDTL 'Petitioner's' Action Marked by Unrest .

On Eric Campbell's report, the Australian public is led to believe in a 'fabricated' political event that there is severe unrest in Dili, which Campbell reported as an all out ethnic clash.

On the first day of demonstration by the petitionary F-FDTL soldiers, I covered this event along with tens of local and international journalists. Indeed disturbances did occur around Mercado Lama. A group of people at the market hurled stones against the demonstrators. This incidence occurred as a spontaneous reaction against the calls made by the demonstrator's sympathisers which they rejected, as testified by many journalists on that location. Another possibility is that the stone throwing could have been a concoction to encourage ethnic clash. And if the second assumption is right, then the stone throwing incidence has become a covert political agenda which seeks to create confrontation between the grassroots community of Timor-Leste.

Towards mid April Dili was abound with rumours through words of mouth, through SMS or mobile phones with the objective of fragmenting the Timor-Leste community into two camps: lorosa'e (easterners) versus loromonu (westerners). According to the rumour, this fracture would result in civil war. Initiating in these rumours without any clear indication of their origins, the Dili residents began their exodus by taking refuge in places that are deemed safe or by returning to their own home districts.

In February, before president Xanana Gusmão made his trip to Portugal, petitionary F-FDTL soldiers organised a protest action at the Palacio das Cinzas demanding a resolution to the problems of discrimination which they raised. Other than the President and the National Parliament, they also addressed their demands to foreign diplomatic representations in Timor-Leste. President Xanana urged them to return to their headquarters and to resolve this problem from within the F-FDTL institution. In March, the Chief of Staff of F-FDTL, Brigadier General Taur Matan Ruak announced the sacking of the 591 members of the F-FDTL under the pretext of indisciplinary action for abandoning the headquarters. The sacking was announced prior to the return of President Xanana Gusmão to Timor-Leste.

Through his state address which was broadcast by Radio no Televisaun Timor-Leste (RTTL) , President Xanana viewed the decision taken by the F-FDTL headquarters as unjust; however as the head of the state, the president accepted that decision. In his address president Xanana also mentioned that the Chief of Staff of F-FDTL had said "If you want war, we'll make war." It is not clear when and under what circumstance were these words said. The president also mentioned the existence within F-FDTL that the loromonu were never involved in the struggle and that loromonu is composed of 10 districts, starting from Manatuto until Oecusse. It was from that moment that the issue of discrimination within the military institution raised by the petitionaries evolved to become rumours that there would be a civil war: the three districts from the east (Lospalos, Baucau and Viqueque) against the ten other districts. And different rumours also developed in the wider community. But no civil war erupted in Timor-Leste. The pro and contra with respect to the sacking of the members of F-FDTL continued to develop.

The petitionary soldiers, under the leadership of Gastão Salsinha, held demonstrations and general meetings starting from 24th of April demanding President Xanana to form a commission to investigate discriminatory practices within F-FDTL. On the fourth day, 28th of April, the action which started as a peaceful demonstration ended in violence. According to government's version, 4 civilians were killed; civilian houses were burnt, as well as a number of kiosks, in Taci Tolu and the Taibesi market. Furthermore, another action took place on the 8th of May in the Ermera where a member of the police force from the UIR (Rapid Intervention Unit) was killed. Other than demanding the government to settle the petitionary F-FDTL soldier's problems expeditiously, they also called for a general boycott of local government workplaces in 10 Timor-Leste districts. This call for boycott, launched with the objective of paralysing the government led by Mari Alkatiri never received any response from the public.

On its Tuesday 9th of May 2006 edition, the daily Kompas, a media establishment which has a large following in Indonesia, carried an article about Timor-Leste and "Failed States" which was written by Baiq LSW Wardhani, a staff lecturer in Political Affairs at the University of Airlangga (UNAIR), Surabaya. Once again, STL carelessly re-published this article in its opinion column thanks to the 'magic' of internet download technology. This attitude of this opinion piece was intellectually biased and attempted to change the opinion in Indonesia that the current political atmosphere in Timor-Leste is heading towards a failed state/disrupted state. Regrettably, STL published a piece which was biased and inaccurate from a foreign country about its own country.

Wardhani used the political "turmoil" in Timor-Leste as an indicator by arguing that "if the political turmoil keeps occurring, it will result in the fragmentation of the political elite and bring about a state of powerlessness within the state itself to settle its own conflicts, attracting foreign intervention" [ "[J]ika kekacauan politik ini terjadi secara terus-menerus, maka akan terjadi fragmentasi elit politik yang menimbulkan ketidakmampuan satu negara untuk mengatasi konfliknya sehingga mengundang intervensi pihak asing." ]. In his analysis, Wardhani blamed the foreign countries, especially Australia for its double standards, which he described as an irresponsible "doctor" who has failed to assist the birth of this new nation. On the one side Australia tried to become god by helping, on the other side Australia tried to brutally dominate Timor-Leste's wealth in the Timor Gap, hence Wardhani's accusations.

This argument showed the author's ignorance of the actual political situation in Timor-Leste when it underwent the transition towards an independent nation and its aftermath. Or it can be that this argument relied on rumours and hearsays which spread throughout the mass media, be it in Timor-Leste or in foreign media, particularly in Australia and in Indonesia. I myself suspect that this argument came from the disillusionment of the 'nationalist' camp in Indonesia which regretted the "separation" of Timor-Leste from the Republic of Indonesia . Does STL also regret this separation?

If we look at the various factors in the East Timorese political events, there are no indications which could compel an examination into a failed or disrupted state. This discussion is irrelevant because the criteria of a failed state (a very market oriented theory) have not permeated the current Timor-Leste politics. Apart from political instability through permanent conflict between political, ethnic, religious and racial groups which occur in a state, the most important indicator which points towards a failed state is the process of systematic poverty. Of the various policies set out by the government of Timor-Leste in its development program, there are no indications to suggest that the state is powerless in its provision of public services. Evidently, Wardhani's analysis depended solely on the rumours which float around the mass media.

When the unrest took place on the 28th of April, with a number of vehicles set alight in front of the Palácio do Governo, there was an important event which nearly escaped media interest: President Xanana Gusmão and Prime Minister Alkatiri were at Hotel Timor to participate in a seminar organised by Forum Empresario Timor-Leste (Entrepreneur's Forum of Timor-Leste). It was an entrepreneur's forum supported by the US government's development body, USAID, through the Dezemvolve Setor Privada (Private Sector Development) program.

In the middle of the 'crisis' facing the Mari Alkatiri's government, on the 8th of May, the Minister for Development and Economy, Abel Ximenes (Larissina) resigned. Although there are sections which noticed the differences between Abel Larissina and Mari Alkatiri on the direction the nation is taking, Abel has denied it. Abel Larissina stated that he is concentrating on Fretilin to strengthen the party and as an entrepreneur, he will develop the strength of the private sector.

This week, 16-19th of May, Fretilin will hold its II National Congress. Abel Larissina and his group are an influential force in the congress which will elect and install a new president and a new general secretary of Fretilin, posts held currently by Lu Olo and Mari Alkatiri.

As a new nation, Timor-Leste was formed through the involvement of various countries and was left with a range of lingering issues which require swift resolutions. The political differences in the formation of various state institutions suffered "stagnation" and Timor-Leste was "forced" to accept different policies which later on resulted in problems. Meanwhile, the ongoing process of reconciliation was also not responding to the demands for justice, which various sections struggled for.

One of the UN legacies which are quite problematic is the establishment of the armed forces institution, the F-FDTL. The UN established the armed forces of Timor-Leste following a study prepared by the King's College (England) in May 2000 and through the United Nations' Transition Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) Regulation No. 1 year 2001 (UNTAET/REG/2001/1). The F-FDTL institution was established through an agreement from the National Council which at the time was headed by Xanana Gusmão.

The recruitment process and the process of determining the military posts resulted in disappointment from various sections who viewed this process as unfair ( Buletin La'o Hamutuk, Vol. 6 No. 1-2 April 2005). The transformation of Falintil, a national liberation army, into a regular army destroyed the relationship which evolved along the struggle. The relationship between the armed guerrilla fighter and the people along the history of resistance can be compared to that between the fish and the water. The fundamental relationship such as this was never considered as important in the process of establishing the F-FDTL institution.

The recruitment disadvantaged many guerrilla fighters who had for many years participated in the armed struggle, but could not pass the entry test for F-FDTL because of health and height prerequisites. Another problem was to do with military posts. There are those who had been commanders in the armed resistance but were made ordinary soldiers inside F-FDTL, whereas the younger recruit who had been helping them working as estafeta was elevated to the post of a captain. It's not clear if this has to do with the level of education or because of other reasons which are not connected to the previous Falintil struggle.

In the initial stages of the recruitment, F-FDTL recruited 600 people from guerrilla units. The former Falintil guerrillas who were not successful were integrated into the community through a Reintegration Program which was run by the IOM (International Organisation of Migration) and funded by the World Bank.

The process of reintegration also caused problems which were becoming more and more delicate. Prior to returning to their communities, the former Falintil guerrillas were equipped with crash courses and were given financial assistance to set up a small business. Many of the small businesses failed because of the limited management capacity. It could also be argued that their daily life while resisting in the jungle consisted only of matters related to war strategies. Mari Alkatiri himself, on the program Visaun Governu on RTTL, at the start of this month, voiced his dissatisfaction towards the process carried out in that moment.

In the meantime, the training and the education programs in F-FDTL were handed to foreign countries, especially from Australia and Portugal, which agreed to provide funding and send in military instructors.

If we look at the problematic process of establishing the F-FDTL institution, the demands of the 591 petitionary F-FDTL soldiers, which took on the issues of discrimination, do have a basis. However the issue of discrimination based on regionalism that they raised, soldiers from eastern regions versus soldiers from western regions, seemed to have missed the point. In fact, in the process of establishing this institution, there were many former guerrillas who chose not to be involved and returned to the community as a civilian because of their dissatisfaction for the process or personal choice. These former Falintil guerrillas could have come a western or an eastern region, for example the former commander Samba 9, secretary Renan Selac, commander Ernesto Dudu, commander Eli Foho Rai Boot, and others.

There is no basis for dumping these UN legacies or other past unresolved issues on the government of Mari Alkatiri. It is this type of misinterpretation that is frequently published in the Timor-Leste and Australian mass media, which view Mari Alkatiri's government as a source of all of the problems. The mass media does not recognise that in fact Alkatiri does attempt to minimise or even remove the overseas' forces which dominated the decision making in Timor-Leste for sometime.

Among the critiques directed at Alkatiri's government so far, be it from his own comrades within Fretilin or from the opposition groups, we have not seen a vision or an 'alternative' model for the development of this new nation. The attacks aimed at Mari Alkatiri often come from the disappointments and the failure to accommodate the bourgeois class in Timor-Leste. Even worse, there are sections that chose instead to raise the issue of his nationality, his race and his religion, which is Islamic.

The liberal democracy promoted by default by the UN turned political parties into electoral machines. When a party becomes an electoral machine, in this case Fretilin, it can't escape the democratic model in which popular participation is removed.

In 1975 Fretilin integrated the struggle for national liberation with people's liberation through cooperative programs, eradication of illiteracy and development of a national culture. At that time Fretilin became a people's political force with a clear vision about the future of an independente Timor-Leste. Unfortunately, these popular ideas which flourished in the 1970s are considered by many sections within Fretilin as outdated ideas. There is but a small Fretilin elite who continue to defend them, one of them is Mari Alkatiri.

Amid Fretilin's various shortcomings and the crushing different foreign interests, Mari Alkatiri struggled to find an 'alternative' path to the development of Timor-Leste. Indeed there is no room politically to follow the paths of Venezuela, Brazil or Bolivia. Nevertheless, having learnt from other countries, including Indonesia, Mari Alkatiri did not direct Timor-Leste towards borrowing from the World Bank or the IMF. This policy was not only opposed by the pro-market opposition parties, but it was also opposed by his comrades in Fretilin. At the moment a large number of Fretilin elite hold important positions in Mari Alkatiri's cabinet, one of them is Abel Ximenes Larissina, who later resigned.

Alkatiri's government's three priority sectors are education, agriculture and health which also became a target for other critics. Alkatiri's policy of bilateral cooperation with the governments of Cuba and China came frequently under scrutiny. Mari Alkatiri is accused wanting to tilt this new nation closer to China and Cuba which are 'communists'.

Through Timor-Leste's Departments of Health and Education, the government has sent hundreds of students to study medicine in Cuba; and Cuba has sent volunteer doctors to Timor-Leste to assist in the provision of health services in the clinics which are spread through out the thirteen districts.

In the non-formal sector of education, in response to an illiteracy rate of over 50% in the Timor-Leste community, the government is carrying out a program of illiteracy eradication. The Cuban government has sent mass education trainers who will be working alongside the local teachers at the community level.

Not surprisingly the negative voices coming from the opposition groups against Mari Alkatiri are reinforced through the political role played by the media. Even through the standards of a liberal media, the reporting by the Timor-Leste mass media on Mari Alkatiri and his policies are quite disturbing.

None of the criticism addressed to Mari Alkatiri—'who wants to tilt Timor-Leste closer to Cuba and China'—through mass media reports could be substantiated by the parties involved. For example in its reports about the Cuban medical services as having low standards, the newspaper never even interviewed the patients who received care from the Cuban doctors and nor interviewed the doctors themselves.

Other than bilateral cooperation with Cuba and China, actually the government of Timor-Leste also receives different types of assistance from other Western countries. In the justice and education sectors, the governments of Australia, the US and Portugal also provided financial assistance. Other Western government establishments also provide scholarships to Timor-Leste university students. If we make a comparison, the scholarships offered by these Western countries usually go to students who have finished their education in areas with little use to the community, and many of their graduates do not work for the people but work for international institutions operating in Timor-Leste.

A group of activists composed of university students and NGO workers in Dili, whom are known as the Farol Group, often 'labelled' as close to Mari Alkatiri because of their ideas and beliefs, recognises that the latest political contest is heading towards the consolidation of the bourgeois elite to remove Mari Alkatiri; be it an internal contest within Fretilin or at the upcoming 2007 general elections. This view was put forward at a discussion last Saturday 13 th of May, which took place at the Institutu Edukasauun Popular to discuss the latest political development in Timor-Leste.

Not all of Mari Alkatiri's policies are supported by the Farol Group. The immigration act and the defamation law have caused apprehension among this group of activists. However if we look at the policies for the exploration of Timor-Leste's resources through the petroleum revenue from the Timor Gap, this group of activists is of the opinion it has a strong basis for.

In the Petroleum Laws, the Alkatiri government has attempted to avoid the 'resource curse' which has affected many poverty stricken countries rich in resources and oil, by creating a Petroleum Fund, an institution, which will exploit the national resources, known as the "Norway Plus".

Through the Petroleum Fund, 90% of the national wealth obtained from oil and gas is required to be invested for use in the long term. This requirement is aimed at avoiding the various problems which generally affected countries rich in oil and gas that suffered from domestic inflation which weakened their competitiveness to improve their national revenue.

The revenue from the Petroleum Fund will be stored into a bank account controlled by the BPA (Banking and Payment Authority). A parliamentary decree and a declaration by an independent audit are required in order to use the fund.

Other than managing the oil and gas resources resulting from the cooperation between Australian and Timor-Leste governments, the Alkatiri government also plans to set up a state venture which will cooperate with China, Malaysia and Brazil. This venture will be set up so that Timor-Leste can gain a bigger share of the revenue from oil fields currently in dispute with Australia.

At the moment Timor-Leste is one of the only poorest countries in the world that has no debt. Ten percent of the revenue from the Petroleum Fund will be used to develop education, health and agricultural programs through public sector investment.

The health services in Timor-Leste are free, as well as the cost of education from primary to secondary levels. This education policy will be implemented from the coming month of June.

In order to implement these development programs, the Alkatiri government is preparing a new model for cooperation which will involve the community sectors (local governments, the church and the civil society) through a New Partnership Program.

On the other hand, the bourgeois class, which is undergoing political consolidation, which during the transition period benefited from the exploitation of donor funds through the World Bank via the distribution of tenders to the private sector, is yearning for something different. And of course, with policies as outlined above, their interests will be hampered. Truly, a very alarming contest!

*Rahung Nasution filmmaker and works for the Institutu Edukasaun Popular, resides in Dili, Timor-Leste

TRANSLATOR'S NOTE: This is an unofficial translation of the original article, which was written in Indonesian Malay. The translator is responsible for all errors made in the translation. Translator: Alex Tilman ( <>

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