Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Why do Australians want Mari Alkatiri out of the Prime Ministership of East Timor?

By Dr. Helen Hill
Victoria University, Australia
"Ever since the August 2001 elections for the Constituent Assembly in East Timor when the longest standing party of resistance, FRETILIN, won a convincing 54% of the vote against 14 other parties, the Australian embassy in Dili and most Australian journalists have never lost an opportunity to express a lack of confidence in the Prime Minister, Mari Alkatiri, FRETILIN's General Secretary.

Bulletin journalists Paul Toohey and Eric Ellis regularly recommend his overthrow whenever they write about Timor. The Australian regularly front-pages any anti-Alkatiri rumours they can pick up. But last Friday, Jim Middleton on the ABC's evening news topped this by wondering 'what would happen if Alkatiri decides to resist' calls for his resignation! His evidence that there was widespread hostility to wards Alkatiri in FRETILIN came from a highly dubious source, sacked Central Committee Vicente Ximenes. But over the weekend it escalated, Mark Vaile, Minister for Trade, on Laurie Oakes Channel 9 interview even made it look as if the warships were going to Dili for the FRETILIN Congress next week! To the Timorese, this begins to look like intimidation. Accusations against Alkatiri frequently accuse him of having 'sat out' the occupation in Mozambique whereas he was present with Jose Ramos Horta every year at the debate on East Timor at the United Nations. It was Alkatiri who did most of the thinking that led the multi-party National Council for Timorese Resistance to adopts its 'Magna Carta' in 1998 linking Timor's future policies with the best standards in international practice coming from the UN's conferences on human rights, environment, population, women and social development during the 1990s.
Detractors frequently allege that Mari Alkatiri's presence in Mozambique for 24 years means he is some sort of unreconstructed Marxist. In reality he is a strong economic nationalist and has spoken out against privatisation of electricity and managed to get a 'single-desk' pharmaceutical store despite opposition from the World Bank, but this is hardly radical policy. He hopes a state-owned petroleum company assisted by China, Malaysia and Brazil will enable Timor to benefit from some of its own in-shore oil and gas in addition to the revenue it will raise from the area jointly shared with Australia. Lessons from their time in Mozambique have helped several of the Ministers now running East Timor to avoid problems such as an international debt, currently plaguing most African countries. There is widespread support in Timor for Alkatiri's decision not to take loans from the World Bank under the Poverty Reduction Strategy Program despite the fact that it gave Timor a few years of extremely low salaries in the public service. In reality the World Bank has been much more forthcoming with grant money although it still sets aside money for loans in case the government of Timor-Leste should change its policy.
Former Representative of Timor-Leste at the UN, Jose-Luis Guterres has announced his intention to stand against Alkatiri at next week's Party Congress. While that is his right as a FRETILIN member, he is by no means assured of victory. His detractors accuse him of having 'sat out' the first difficult years of independence in New York and of being out of touch with the community. The young intellectuals at the national university and the leadership of many Timorese Non Governmental Organizations, who praise Alkatiri's economic knowledge and his ability to defend Timor's interests against the likes of the World Bank and the Australian government (over the Timor Sea issue) believe that Guterres would be so much weaker and less visionary and that he lacks administrative experience. Alkatiri's championing of the Petroleum Fund as a way of avoiding the 'resource curse', his ability to choose Ministers and sack them if they don't perform, and his strong support for the rights of women have given him a more broad appeal among FRETILIN supporters. Issues which have dogged him include a defamation law which has caused the ire of much of Timor's media and the issue of the sacking of the dissident soldiers, where he has supported army commander Tuar Matan Ruark. Another frequent accusation is that Alkatiri is 'arrogant' and while this might be the case he has increased massively the public consultations held over the last year. Under East Timor's Semi-Presidential Constitution it is the President who is popularly elected and must maintain a close relationship with the people, the Prime Minister is regarded as needing skills and abilities to get government departments running properly, appointing good ministers and proposing new development initiatives. In these matters Alkatiri has received wide praise, even from some of those who don't agree with all his policies such as the World Bank. Timor is much more in control of its own decision-making than many other small countries in the Pacific where Australian consultants have now been brought in to make those decisions.
There is, however still a huge skills shortage. Indonesia did not train graduates to think for themselves and address development problems; they were trained to take orders and rarely given responsibility for management. All political parties face the problem that there are scarcely enough skilled people to take on the role of ministers.
The FRETILIN Congress opens on Wednesday and the election will take place on Friday. Candidates will be nominated from the floor and all delegates can vote. It is highly likely that Dr Mari Alkatiri will be re-elected, and that FRETILIN will again be elected, but with a smaller majority, at the elections in 2007. What will the response of the Australian media and government be?"
Source: Timor Post (UNOTIL Daily Media Review, Public Information Office)
Category: Timor-Leste (East Timor)

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2 Comments:

thanks for this background info.

Gusmao seems to be trying to present himself as the center of the mainstream and national unity, but I'm mystified as to why anyone believes him when he is openly allied with Reinhado and the Australians, against Alkatiri.

You may be sympathetic with a note I wrote on a website here.

Is Gusmao even really a part of FRETILIN? his wikipedia article says he is, but I have read that he drifted away from FRETILIN way back in the 80's. Seems to me he is pretending to be friendly in order to prevent FRETILIN from having its own voice.

I can't even find FRETILIN's website anymore. If you have an url for that, could you post it?

thanks again,
kazu

By Anonymous kazu, at 6:23 am  

Portugal created this chaos in East Timor.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:58 am  

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