Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Lessons from Dili

Restoring order … an Australian soldier stands atop a troop carrier to control crowds queuing for rice at a warehouse in Dili. Photo: AP

AUSTRALIAN forces have detained and disarmed more than 130 rebel police and military personnel after negotiations that involved Australian military leaders and East Timor's President, Xanana Gusmao.

The breakthrough was the first positive news after days of bloodshed and anarchy in Dili, especially as it was accompanied by an agreement from military and police loyal to East Timor's embattled Prime Minister, Mari Alkatiri, to stay in barracks.

There was also relative calm on the streets, although there were wild scenes at food stores, were hungry citizens lined up for food, much of which was handed out by Australian soldiers.

The fledgling East Timor has fallen into the same traps and distortions of democracy plaguing the institution around the world. The problem, at the heart of much unrest, is that a vote is not seen so much as a commission to represent the aspirations of the people as a personal ‘winner takes all’ prize.

The Problem for East Timor, for a Prime Minister who holds doggedly to office despite the unrest that stubbornness generates, is that they do not have a sufficiently mature infrastructure to enforce acquiescence.

Even for a very young nation, East Timor boasts two leaders of International stature, but President Xanana Gusmao and Foreign Minister, Hose Ramos Horta, were left isolated to guide the inexperienced nation when the UN withdrew their support last year.

Peter Galbraith, director for political, constitutional, and electoral affairs for the UN transitional administration in East Timor in 2001, has said; “I had grave misgivings about the departure of UN peacekeepers.

“The truth is, by the end, the peacekeeping mission was very small, it was inexpensive, it was providing stability to a country in which Australia and other members of the international community had invested heavily.

"And it seemed to be really pennywise and pound foolish to terminate the mission early. It's a very small price to pay as compared to what happens if the country deteriorates and you have to send in large numbers of troops.”

The trigger for the current violence revolved around an intransigent Prime Minister, Mari Alkatiri. A significant number of East Timorese have lost confidence in his leadership, but rather than respond he has simply dug his heels in. Well, he has plenty examples of how democracy really works, that it devolves down to power above all else.

Once elements of the military and police voted with their feet and took to the hills, quite literally, the way was left open for undisciplined and unfocused gangs to run wild. So much for nurturing and guiding democracy, the world community has been left wanting yet again.

There are many lessons, for the world community, to be drawn from the East Timor experience. First of all is the obvious, don’t start what you are unwilling or unable to finish. East Timor was not a complex issue to manage, nor as we have seen, an expensive one.

Assuming everyone shares the same definition of democracy is a problematic notion. In a relatively small community like East Timor, loss of public confidence in a leader can be swift and certain. Clinging to the paradigm; ‘I was elected, I can’t be unelected!’ is a folly.

There can be no justification for one person or one political grouping to claim a mandate and hold it doggedly in the face of disintegrating civil order. ‘By the people, for the people’ must be the only acceptable standard and no one is expendable when it comes to the greater good.

Democracy depends not on rules and conventions, but in the end, on men and women, on leaders who will put the interests of the nation before their own.

Sound, balanced policing, as opposed to military intervention, is essentially in a society at any level of development. Military simply have no role in maintaining the internal structures of a country.

The most immediate and obvious lessons from East Timor will relate to the far more complex Iraqi situation. But they are also lessons which can be and should be applied to our developed nations.

Democracy, as currently practiced, is a sham. It is not about winning the privilege of leading and fulfilling the aspirations of the people. It has become a greedy path to self enrichment at the cost of those, forced by lack of alternative choices, to elect self serving crooks.

Perhaps, as is often claimed, we elect the governments we deserve. Despite a seeming willingness to accept the unethical behavior of our leaders, I don’t think that is a fair claim any longer.

Democracy has been degraded to such an extent by those chosen to uphold it, the people really have little choice over who is ‘elected’, or more commonly, put in positions of power.

There is simply too much personal gain to be had from ‘democratic’ power to leave the choices to the voter.


Anonymous said...

Amazing. You aren't very smart. Not a peep mention that the biggest problem in East Timor is called Islam. that's because you kow-tow to the media, and refuse to identify the biggest problem there, because the media doesn't want to piss off the Islamists.

Cartledge said...

I expect that you are referring to the fact that Prime Minister Alkatiri is a Moslem. Do you really believe that is the key issue in a predominately Catholic country? I am assuming you did some investigation before you posted this objectionable comment.
Do you really believe predominantly catholic gangs of youths are destroying the homes of other Catholics because the PM is Moslem?
Yours is the kind of shallow bigotry that makes it increasingly difficult for people with different beliefs to coexist.

Anonymous said...

the East Timor massacre of thousands of Christians occurred at the hands of Muslims. Are you denying this fact?

Blaming me as being a bigot is showing your readers that you are nothing but a liberal smokescreen and it also proves that you can't take criticism without tossing up the smokescreen act and admitting that you know less about East Timor than you make out to know.

Cartledge said...

Oh dear, you are a glutton for punishment. The so called fact you quote is arse backwards.
The actual slaying was of East Timorese by the predominantly Muslin Indonesian and West Timorese.
If you are going to insult people get your facts straight. I don’t mind honest debate; I abhor the slander of decent people.
Now some more facts for you to consider;
Be mindful on this Memorial Day that the East Timorese people fought bravely beside the allies during the Second World War.
True, like me, they were Australians the ET’s fought with, but also remember how closely our countries were linked in that struggle. Australian and American veterans still come together annually in remembrance of those battles.
Men who fought and die for you in that war would be truly ashamed of your slanders against a brave islands people.

anti hebe said...

As an Australian, I think that John Howard himself is pretty culpable here. He seems to be deliberately manipulating this instability in order to increase his influence in the region. (All that attention from Bush - it's going to his head...)

Of course policing is more needed here than the military! That would be why police were asked for, wouldn't it? The international community needs to maintain solid, respectful interest in this area; as opposed to throwing the military at it when it erupts.

Cartledge said...

As an Australian I am certain Howard os bloody culpable!
In my view the police and military have two very different roles.
It was the withdrawal of the UN led policing which allowed the political blowout.