J. Ramos-Horta President of the Republic
Today I have decided to set the date for the 2023 elections for the National Parliament. I think it is clear that the Timorese people expect the elections to take place according the the Constitution and their regular scheduling. Clearly, it is in the best interests of the nation and our future that the elections take place as soon as possible. It is now time for the people to be given the opportunity to express their democratic will and shape the next five years and beyond of our national and social development.
In respect of any past political instability I wish only to make one comment. Good constitutional practice and legality depend upon not simply relying upon legal interpretations that shift and change according the particular interests of those that may hold power at one time or another. Good faith, integrity and ethics equally form an important part of any constitutional system. Sometimes people might have the idea that political parties and their leaders are prepared to do anything to remain in power, are prepared to adopt legal interpretations contrary to those they held at other times and in other circumstances the people’s faith in our legal and constitutional system is undermined. I think it is fair to say that it is a rare politician can hold their head up and say that over the past five years they have always put the country’s interests before their party or personal interests.
All I can do as President is hope that over the coming election period and during the next term of Government and Parliament politicians of all parties begin to learn to distinguish between party and national interest. It is now without doubt the time for our national politicians and political parties to act with the integrity and ethical maturity that the people deserve. The coming five years mark a crucial period for the future of our nation. How our actions and policies proceed may in the end make or break the future of the nation. It is in this respect that today I want to devote some time to speaking and thinking about political parties and the debate of public policy. I want to conclude speaking today about concerns I have regarding the state of law the various law enforcement and intelligence agencies and the dangers that flow from this for our country.
Politics and polices
The model of adversarial, party based, liberal democracy that Timor has inherited from the West is said to be based upon a competition between an elected government and an opposition. This competitive system of government is meant to provide, what we can call, a competition of ideas concerning, to one degree or another, the policies and options best suited for the government of a nation. This competition is judged on the basis of periodic competitive elections. But, it is not the only model and it may be that in coming years we might begin to question its efficacy.
One really has to ask to what extent ideas and policies are really discussed in our political debate. How much is really just about the personalities of our various leaders?
Today I wanted to raise some questions and ideas. This is not a fixed program on my part, but an attempt to get us all to start to think about the current state of our democracy, our political parties and the best interests of the nation. In the coming 5 years, Timor-Leste needs to develop a vision of what kind of politics it wants for the future. We need to create the policies required in order to both develop and to hold the nation together, with a common, inclusive and sustainable vision.
There are many questions to be asked about the current state of our political system and the future of our nation. For my part what is important is that we achieve the best outcomes for our people, in a reasoned and informed manner, and that we preserve our core principles – a commitment to human rights, the rule of law, a commitment to social and economic inclusion and a commitment to our independent foreign policy.
What policies do political parties promote in Timor today?
There is a perception amongst many of our people, which contains an element of the truth, that political parties in Timor are simply vehicles for party members to get jobs and obtain positions of power. Beyond that many parties do not have any real developed objectives or policies, nor do they always, when they gain power implement their own policies.
Party objectives are often what they call in English “motherhood statements”. They are statements that are so broad that nobody can really disagree with them. An example might be the doctrine of the one party which is ‘peace, a good life and justice’ (Domin, Moris Diak no Justisa). This particular party states that it respects the heroes of the resistance, contributes to peace, respects Timorese culture, human rights, and the security of the people and nation. Other parties simply state that they support, for example, democracy and free markets. But the detail of what all this means, and how it can be implemented or achieved is often missing.
The Strategic Development Plan 2015-2030 is to a large extent a motherhood statement. It is a set of goals that we can all easily agree upon. But what is absent or lacking from the SDP and discussions about it is the detailed policy of how we can achieve these goals and how policy can be implemented.
Over the years we have seen that once a political party achieves power it might then merely take its lead from elsewhere and implement policies developed by others. An example of this might be the recent Law on Intellectual property (Lei de Autor). The law contains no articles protecting our cultural heritage, including the producers of tais and other cultural works. As I understand it deputies were incorrectly advised that these issues could not be included in the law. Other nation’s legal systems have managed to include and deal with similar issues successfully. Surely the protection of things such as tais is one of the principal intellectual property issues that our people face and as such our laws should deal with these problems. It appears however the purpose of the law’s drafting has only been to satisfy Timor’s WTO obligations, and not to take into account our own domestic concerns. I make no criticism of the Parliament in respect of this, but it is an example of how our law and policy making sometimes operates in a way that does not account for the realities of our nation and its people.
In other cases, International organisations and NGOs and our governments might spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on consultants and reports. But once written, even if they are adopted, these reports, policies, MOUs and laws are often left in the cupboard, and only brought out for the purpose of monitoring and evaluation, or to show that the holder of power has satisfied international donors or obligations. The situation might be said to be like the ancient colonial flags kept in an Uma Lulik, only brought out to show power and prestige. Whether the policy or law is actually implemented or effective might be something else entirely. Part of the problem here might be that we do not always have the capacity to understand, develop and debate the finer and necessarily innovative detail of policy. Or that people are too lazy or just not interested in such things. It might be that this is one of the reasons our political debates, in the absence of distinct and developed programs rather than dealing with policy, tend to descend into debates about individuals, their historical legacies, or accusations of, for example, corruption.
The Singaporean model of technocratic government.
Since independence many people have pointed to Singapore as a model for Timor’s development.They point to the large buildings, roads and shopping centres, but they often forget the particular historic, geographic and trade reasons why Singapore developed in the way it did. One thing that Timor might learn from Singapore as we try to develop our future is the Singaporean model of government. The People’s Action Party (PAP), that has ruled Singapore since 1959 carries out what is described as a technocratic practical form of governance and policy making. Simply put, what works is kept. What does not work is discarded. Singapore has played with the strict parliamentary model of democracy and in turn invented mechanisms where, for example, people are brought into Parliament even if they have not been elected. The “best losers” in a technocratic sense, as well as people nominated by various sectoral interest groups, are brought into Government and provide alternative expertise and voices. One of the characteristics of the People’s Action Party is that it is continually preoccupied with finding people of high calibre – including those who might have serious differences with the Party – and bringing them into its ranks.
Another characteristic, often overlooked, is what has been described as responsiveness to the views of the people and their day to day concerns. The PAP has always emphasised being attuned to the needs, desires, and aspirations of the people. The views of the people on the ground must always be passed upwards, and be heard and discussed by the leadership. PAP places great emphasis on building rapport with the people, making sure they are available to them and hearing their concerns. Periodic national consultation exercises or “conversations” are held every few years. PAP has tried to attempts to be inclusive, and indeed accepting of dissenting views. In the eyes of some of its top leaders, the PAP is not just a political party; it is the only national institution capable of taking Singapore into a challenging future. Government leaders have referred to a “reservoir of trust” between government and people.
The point is that party politics in Singapore the emphasis is not on competition, but on bringing the best and most capable people into the ranks of Parliament and the Government. Pragmatism, is the key defining concept, where policies are justified based on whether they produce concrete and tangible results. Public servants are expected to be technically minded, long-term thinkers and with a deep utilitarian streak. In Singapore, unlike Timor, key public servants at all levels are not appointed and removed each time a new Government takes power. In thinking about the Singaporean model and its relevance to Timor we need to ask ourselves: how could technocratic government be itself informed and governed by appropriate and relevant democratic principles and control so that it does not simply become bureaucratic dictatorship?
The challenge for Singapore might be how to remain responsive and to maintain effective mechanisms of inclusion with its citizens and at the same time maintaining its technocratic pragmatism. There is no doubt that we can learn a lot from Singapore’s results driven form of governance. Singapore’s success came from its focus on expert rule, meritocratic talent and long-term thinking.
In Timor we need to ask ourselves:
• How good are we in Timor at learning from our mistakes and our results?
• How often do we continue along the same policy path, despite unfavourable or socially or economically unprofitable results?
• How can we move the people beyond simply voting for symbols, slogans and flags?
• How can we involve the people in real and informed policy development?
Politics and the public interest
Let me step back a little. The first quality of a politician is integrity. Integrity requires independence of judgement. Independence of judgement rejects dogmatism. Dogmatic thinking involves holding on to things that have been shown to not be working as if we had no other alternatives. Dogmatism involves never engaging in reflection or critique of what we have done and what we might do differently, despite our past failures or problems. Dogmatism involves simply repeating slogans and motherhood statements in the hope that one day we might be correct at some point. But, as it is said, even a broken clock can be correct twice a day.
For majority rule to be good, it must have some legitimate ground in justice and in the public interest. It must be grounded in the people’s informed and reasoned deliberation and choice. The public interest and a true democracy is not simply voting for a party flag or slogan. The public interest requires the people to be informed and to be able to make an informed choice between distinct and developed programs.
When politics becomes simply about parties, jobs, positions, cars and laptops, parliaments can turn into an unseemly and self-interested circus. I do not need to remind anyone about the circus we saw a few years ago on the floor of the National Parliament. We have also seen deputies, who before when working for an NGO always spoke of good governance and ethics, but, once they gained power seemed to become only passionate about their new car? The results is that the people become increasingly dissatisfied and dismayed. They grow to be cynical of all political parties and their promises. And as we have seen in many places around the world, when voters distrust and despise their representatives, democracy itself is imperilled.
The general will and political choice
The democratic republican ideal is based upon the notion of the ‘general will.’ We find references to this general will in our Constitutional structure. The point of a good democracy is to provide a mechanism to enable the people to achieve an environment where the people can come together to express the general will and to build a common future.
This general will cannot simply be an allegiance to a party, a symbol, a flag or a rhetoric about who won our independence, or who is or isn’t a founder of the nation. This kind of talk does not provide the basis for reasoned and informed thought and decision making. The people should express their will regarding the problems of policy and public life, and not merely choose among various individuals; or, worse, among various irresponsible organisations.
Simply winning power and worrying about policy later is not in the long-term interests of the nation. Nor does it display the necessary quality of integrity. The true expression of the general will only occurs when people are given information and can discuss in an informed way how their representatives intend to achieve the goals necessary for the development of the nation.
Political goals like those set out in the Strategic Development Plan (SDP) require policies and paths to achieve them. There might be different paths to achieve a given objective in the SDP. It is the task of political parties to set out and argue for these different paths. Political parties must do more than simply argue about the past or simply state, for example, that they are in favour of national sovereignty over our oil and gas resources. What the people require is information and options to be formulated by political parties so that they can make an informed choice about issues that affect their lives and future. If political parties cannot do this what then do we have them for?
Generational change and policy choice
This may be the decisive question of our nation’s future. We, the generation of 75, the generation of historical leaders of the resistance and independence, are to put it simply getting old. Generational change requires more than new leaders of political parties. To build our common future we require effective mechanisms for the people to express themselves on issues of policy and public life.
We have many smart young people coming through the ranks. But even they do not know everything. Despite their education they must remain humble. Many of the young educated people could form the basis of an educated technocratic public service. But to be effective they need to realise that the answers we need lay beyond their university text books and that innovation must always be combined with detailed policy and a reasoned, and informed expression of the general will concerning the relevant policy questions.
Any technocratic public service must not be constrained by the interests of their party and their personal benefits. They must always first and foremost owe their allegiance to the nation and the people. They must not be dogmatic. They must always be open to new solutions, not simply guided by what they have been told can work and which has, until now, here or elsewhere, failed to work.
Parties, representation and decentralisation
The words ‘democracy’ and ‘republic’ oblige us to examine certain problems.
• How to give the people the opportunity to effectively express their judgement on the main problems of public life?
• When questions are being put to the people, how best can they be considered without falling back into ego and passionate partisanship devoid of any reason and merit?
• How can the deliberation by the public be put into effect, interpreted and refined by those who have been entrusted with that task?
• Until we can move beyond name calling between party cadres, until we can develop informed policy discussion and consent, is it really possible to speak of a legitimate democratic republic?
Solutions will not easily be found. The French philosopher Simone Weil wrote that the mere fact that political parties exist was not in itself a sufficient reason to preserve them. Now I am sure some or most of you will find this shocking, but for Simone Weil, the very first step, was the abolition of all political parties!
Today, we have to ask ourselves whether this is such a backward step? Some people might ask this question with the serious intention of actually abolishing political parties. Others might ask themselves the question simply as a way to start to think about how we can reform and improve our current system. Others might ask it simple to make a wakeup call to our current politicians. They for one must seriously and honestly reflect upon what they have achieved for the people over the past 21 years. They must consider whether they can be proud of their track record or whether they know in their hearts they can do more for the people and the nation.
Up until now our Parliament has been elected according to party lists. As a result the people have no real and direct say in who represents them in Parliament. That decision is left to those that ultimately control power in the political parties. Not all countries elect their parliaments in this way. There is nothing in our Constitution that says members of Parliament should be elected according to party lists. This is a practice we have inherited from others. But is it the best option for our small decentralised country?
For example, in some other countries, members of Parliament are elected based upon seats that directly represent an area or region and not distributed according to what parties decide. So for example, if such a system existed in Timor, we might have deputies representing different the postos of the country. We have 65 postos which if they formed the basis of our Parliament would give us the same number of deputies that we have today. A deputy representing a posto would create a direct connection to these places. Voters would expect their representatives to act both in the national interest and the interest of the relevant posto. It would also give people from outside of the party system an opportunity to become independents within Parliament. Do deputies elected according to party lists really represent the interests of the people, or do they actually only represent the interests of their parties?
This might be one way we can create stronger links between the people and their representatives and give greater meaning to an informed expression of the general will. It might also at the same time reinforce the process of decentralisation and local government and provide deputies with ways of communicating with and being responsible to the people that elect them in ways that simply do not exist now.
Asian experiments with deliberative democracy may also guide us in our thinking about the future. Deliberative democracy can be described as an approach that emphasises the role of deliberation among equals, that encourages reﬂection, and that results in binding and legitimate decisions. Decisions should be based on the “power of reason,” rather than passions, dogmatism, political, economic, or military power. A deliberative democracy is one where “deliberativeness” – that is discussion, rational reason giving and mutual reﬂection – is integral to the overall working of a democratic system.
Historically, constitutions have been fundamentally concerned with restricting the political power of sovereign organs. Liberal democracy has always been principally concerned with ensuring an individuals liberty from interference by government, cultural, social and other institutions. Deliberative democracy seeks to find ways to establish and expand the power of public discussion and power in the democratic process of a aldeia, a suko, a municipality and a nation. Deliberative democracy might provide us with ways to construct liberty, not from, but for a purpose, a moris diak, in achieving outcomes for the benefit of the people. The proponents of deliberative democracy argue that it can improve and deepen participatory democracy.
Deliberative democracy can improve the existing form of participatory democracy in that it can develop public reasoning, encourage in-depth deliberation, and cultivate public spirit. Deliberative democracy goes beyond simply involving citizens in periodic elections contested between political parties. Many countries in Asia have long traditions of public deliberation some of which continue today. In parts of China today villages discuss and deliberate on their annual budgets and their priorities as a result of the introduction of methods of deliberative democracy. Our proposed model of decentralisation contains the seeds of and could be used to create effective models of deliberative democracy.
Deliberative democracy is often considered as an alternative to party politics because party members are seen as sometimes lacking the willingness or ability to engage meaningful public deliberation as they are bound by party discipline, the party’s agenda and policy. On the other hand, the success of deliberative democracy in parts of Asia, has brought decision making closer to the people and created situations where informed choices are made without unnecessary restriction from vested interests.
Competition and legality in law enforcement
I have spoken of how competition operates between political parties in our country. And I have asked people to think about what are the actual benefits we gain from this situation. Voters and the members of political parties all have to ask themselves what do these parties actually contribute to the life of the people in a real and substantial sense? We all need to face the failures of the system to date and think in an open manner about how we can improve the situation. But, in conclusion today, I want to talk about another area in which competition occurs and is having detrimental effects on the rule of law and our democracy. I have spoken of this before, but the time has come for us to face this issue once and for all.
The militarisation of our civilian authorities and the illegal involvement of some in the military in civilian affairs is occuring all too often. At the same time what we are seeing is that different authorities involved in law enforcement and intelligence appear to be competing against each other in an unhealthy way. The question that needs to be asked first is why, in such a small country do we need so many different law enforcement, security and intelligence organisations? Why for example are we and donors spending vast amounts of money on building two, distinct and competing police forensic laboratories? One for the PNTL and one for PCIC. Do we have the human and financial resources to have them both operating at their full potential, or is this just another example of power consolidation?
Law enforcement, security and intelligence organisations seem to be trying to compete against the others for control or dominance. Why do we increasingly see PSIC, SNI, the different arms of the PNTL and even military police operating in ways that exceed their legal powers? We have had more and more cases of the courts, thankfully, stopping these authorities from undertaking illegal actions. But even when the Courts point out illegality there are some civilian elements who seek to carry on regardless. And at times they have enlisted elements of the military to assist them. Let me be clear the military has no place in civilian law enforcement. The role of the military intelligence components is to assess threats to national sovereignty – not to assist the civilian authorities in carrying out illegal operations against citizens. And furthermore, when the courts have decided certain actions are illegal it is not for elements in law enforcement or intelligence to more or less ignore those decisions and try to carry on regardless. Law enforcement must act within the bounds of the law and its organisation must be rationalised to enforce that.
I do not think that I am exaggerating when I say that the the proliferation of competition between law enforcement, security and intelligence institutions is simply out of control. As are the instances of these institutions acting outside of the law. Are we on the verge of a situation where we find that elements of these institutions are setting up secret and illegal detention and investigation centres where people are questioned and detained outside of the control of the courts? People detained in the ordinary course of the law already face difficulties in obtaining justice. What is the future of a country that allows security institutions to operate totally outside the law? This is a dangerous recipe for conflict and widespread abuse of power and it must stop. Politicians must not turn a blind eye to these issues or attempt use such practices for their own political advantage.
Related to this we need to really ask ourselves why police in Timor must always carry lethal weapons? How many times have we seen police or others attacked, injured or killed by people, including criminals with weapons? On the other hand how many times have we seen the people injured or killed by the police? A rationalised model of law enforcement centred on a professional PNTL must first and foremost focus on community relations and policing. Furthermore, a rationalised and professional PNTL must be above party politics. Police officers should not be swearing allegiance to political parties. Their only allegiance is to the people and the nation. The police, investigations and prosecutions must not be politically motivated or driven. All institutions, PNTL, the military and the public service as a whole, cannot be instruments of political control or influence. All of these issues I have mentioned are examples of power being exercised beyond its legal limits, out of the control of a democratic state and society. Isn’t this exactly what we we fought against in our struggle for independence? Any new government must confront these tendencies head on.
A small nation and a young democracy cannot afford so many agencies competing for power and in doing so flouting the law. If we as a nation take democracy, legality and human rights seriously urgent reform of how these authorities operate must take place.
The next five years are the make-or- break time for our nation. The way the next Parliament and Government goes about its business will lay the groundwork for the survival and development of our nation and society. We face difficult decisions in building our nation and democracy for the future. If we make the wrong decisions we risk losing everything.
I trust that political parties will go to these coming elections in a mature way. I hope that they will engage in debate about policies and not simply repeat tired slogans. I trust that they will provide the people with real information and choices and not just engage in endless debates about personalities, flags, founders and the like. The people deserve no less.
I will leave it here for today. As I said my intention was not to set out a political program, but, to plant some seeds for discussion and consideration by Parliament, Government and the people, as a catalyst to honestly face our future together. I believe it is time, for our nation, to seriously assess what we have gained over the past 21 years, what we have achieved and where we have failed. The next five years are crucial for the future of our nation. As Maun Boot, I and others move on, we need to think and discuss in innovative ways about our common future, so that the next generation can continue to build a democratic republic worthy of that name.