Sunday, February 26, 2012

Dr. Strangeblog (or how I learned to stop worrying and love mozzies)

Dengue. Well, I will find out soon I guess, but I have two friends here who have been unwell, possibly feverish, and of course my initial suspicion is Dengue. I’ve personally started to get less obsessed with it. Doing my best to protect myself and trying not to worry about it. I really hope that C. and A. aren’t seriously ill and that they recover quickly. It is quite a serious outbreak – it may be just the rainy season, though people are really making a big deal of it. What is clear is that politicians aren’t slow to pick up on such issues and politicize it. The current coalition government here, led by CNRT – Xanana’s party – has been targeted by one of the Presidential candidates over the Dengue outbreak. Accusations of incompetency and indifference have begun to fly. Now, I don’t know much about the details of mozzies, dengue fever and public health, so I won’t comment on whether this criticism is fair or not at this stage. I am not surprised this criticism has emerged, particularly given it’s an election year and anything will be used as a political weapon. What interests me is the narratives and arguments being developed and deployed during the campaign. Public health is a critical question in Timor-Leste and I will follow with interest how this debate develops, and whether there is anything of substance to the criticism or not.
Things will start kicking off officially for the campaigning of the first round of the presidential elections. On Wednesday. A matter of interest is the amount of energy and focus these polls have considering the fairly weak powers and role of the president. While the president has some powers that make them more than a symbol – which in and of itself is not to be ignored, symbols do matter – most of the power in the state resides in the executive. The parliament is pretty weak in relation to the executive as well. The executive, featuring a cabinet – unelected, appointed by the PM – is the dominate body of the state. Its ability to issue decrees through the council of minister is considerable. The council of ministers is a cross section of representatives from the parties who are in partnership or coalition with the government who is led by CNRT. That is by Xanana Gusmao. This guy is the real boss. The degree to which personalities dominate over parties is becoming a very consistent theme here.
I have mornings when I wake up unable to stop thinking about my research. I fear I am unprepared, that I won’t get anything, that this will be a waste of time. I don’t think there is any real substance to these fears. I am my own worst critic and I need to avoid putting pressure on myself. I will do interviews – I don’t know who I will access and speak to, but I will do my best. I am tracking the campaign in the media and I am on a regular basis cataloguing the articles in the print media. Anything beyond that will be a bonus. I feel that just living here, in Dili for most of the time, but also in some of the other districts as well, means that I am a participant observer here, I am living the campaign everyday. I cannot escape it. I hear stories, have informal conversations and I am becoming more attuned with what is going on. I don’t pretend I really know what’s going on, the complexity of the situation is well above my comprehension, particularly as this is my first trip here and it’s not even a month. But everyday I learn a little more about some aspects of something. Now, this may turn out to be a dead end but that is in itself a part of the journey here.
Final thoughts: Did I mention person unknown threw a Molotov cocktail at the electoral commission and a UN vehicle. All sorts of conspiracy theories abound presently. For some, it a plot to keep the UN here,  for financial reasons mainly. The withdrawal of the UN here would have repercussions for businesses in Dili. All those bars, clubs, restaurants, hotels etc are facing tough time next year if the UNMIT mission leaves. Tourism is key here I think in filling this gap. For others, the police themselves are involved in the attacks. They want t create a climate of fear, put people in a state of anxiety in order to access more resources and establish their role. Or it could be people unhappy about the removal of one of the candidates from the polls. Angela Freitas was declared ineligible to run, something to do with not fulfilling requirements for getting enough signatures of support. Her office was also sacked and sensitive documents removed according to her campaign. It’s an opaque situation, and I’m sure more will occur in the future that will astound and perplex people. Hopefully not involving violence but I am not confident. The leader of the PNTL has come out and said the police are prepared to shoot if people are causing trouble. He has been roundly criticised many in civil society. It is a worrying statement.
Okay, really, finally. Tango. Yes, I am learning to Tango. Thursday nights. Last week was my first lesson. Arrived early and saw the PM wandering around with his mates checking out the roads. Very casual. Unfortunately my camera phone decided to stop working. I swear.
Ate Amanha, Maun Evan

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