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Translating Political Change to Real Change

Guteriano Neves

Introduction

The resignation of Prime Minister, Xanana Gusmao, and the appointment of Rui Araujo to the Prime Ministership, once again, sends a positive signal about the maturity of Timor-Leste’s political institutions. This political stability though, needs to be translated into change in people’s real life.

Maturity of Political Institution

Timor-Leste, Dili particularly, has been in anxiety over the last two months over change in the Government. Initially, it was the restructuring that flowed to the public. This was culminated in the official resignation of Xanana Gusmao as Prime Minister. Then, on February 16th, the new Government was sworn in. This is a big move.

The resignation of a Prime Minister might just be a normal undertaking in a country where political system is well-established, and the political institutions are mature to stand tests.

In Timor however, where institutions are relatively young and somewhat untested, this is a big deal. It matters more when a person with strong personal cult like Xanana Gusmao, with all his credentials, decides to step aside. Even more so in a country where legacy of the past still plays hugely important roles in today’s political dynamic.

After all, the global trend is that experiences from many newly independent countries have seen generational leadership transition constantly poses serious threat to political stability. Even democratic elections sometimes resulted in civil war and political stalemate when disputes over elections outcome arise.

Timor-Leste, by its own experience, proves that democracy can exist in a country with the history of almost five centuries colonization, succeeded by almost a quarter of century brutal military occupation. Many testimonies of these recent dark past are still alive. Yet, the 2001, 2002, 2007 and 2012 parliamentary and Presidential elections have been relatively smooth and peaceful. These are indications that Timor-Leste can indeed move forward, and contributing to the international community perception of the country.

The dynamics surrounding the political change has been interesting. One such feature has been the extensive discussion on the constitutionality of the process, which I would rather let constitutional experts to define.

This was, nevertheless, a consensus among the political elites and forces of the country, which was then endorsed by the President. This is an indication that the current political system can accommodate and manage Timor-Leste’s political diversity and differences. This includes political parties in the Parliament, the Parliament, Presidency, and Civil Society.

The role of President Taur Matan Ruak in the process was pivotal, one which he executed with utmost care and achievement. Before the final decision was made, the President convened different consultation meetings with the Council of State, representatives of political parties and other political forces.

Needless to say, many still reserve doubts about the challenges lie ahead for the government, which are immense. Adding to that are high public expectations and the timeframe for this government to deliver. One cannot simply ignore it. However, at least for now, the process ought to deserve its due credits.

In this context, the President was right in stating that while a new government taking office in the middle of its-executive term elsewhere connotes crisis and instability, this very undertaking in Timor-Leste this year is a sign of mature leadership and a proof of institutional stability.

Translating into Real Change

Having mature political institution is one thing; translating it into real change is quite another. For the short term, the political consensus that gives birth to this new government is proved to be important.

But for the majority of people, what is more important is translating this political stability into real impacts on their real lives. After all, for majority of the people outside Dili, who struggle with their daily lives, institutional maturity is meaningless and irrelevant if it doesn’t bear any direct impact on their lives.

President Taur Matan Ruak has made a strong case stating that “the Government has to be an instrument to serve the nation.”

Both the President and Prime Minister Rui Araujo are well-versed on the challenges the country is facing, which were underlined in their speeches at the new government’s inauguration ceremony. The challenges are not new and those that ordinary Timorese are also aware of. In several community dialogues with the President, people talk about such challenges as access to road, dependency on Petroleum, Employment opportunity, quality of education, etc. Acknowledgement of these challenges by the country’s leaders showcases high level commitment, which is positive.

One thing for sure is that these challenges do not take one single solution to solve. Given they are a product of both our history and the current policy, they are solvable through neither a single policy nor a single Government. Rather, they would require multiple actions and long-term approach. State alone cannot solve it. It requires active participation of all actors in the society to address.

It is not an easy undertaking. One important factor, as a Timorese political observer Edio Guterres rightly states; is how to navigate through the elite level political landscape of Timor-Leste. Another equally important aspect is how to deliver what the people expect. The latter is critical because it relates to strengthening political legitimacy in the society. This, in turn, would construct the people’s awareness that the State is not a mere arena for political elites, but it is an agent of change for their lives too.

Conclusion

The resignation of Prime Minister and formation of new Government have taken place smoothly. It is a strong indication that political institution is growing and maturing. What is at stake now is to translate this into real change for people’s lives.

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