Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Brand Xanana Inc.

Tonight I want to talk about:

Brand Xanana. XG inc. is like a brand for a product. Put his name on it, and it is successful and popular. CNRT is XG. Without him, CNRT would not have existed in the first place, and its future depends on him and his reputation. There is a XG sports centre, a XG library. He is not popular with everyone it must be noted. He is a divisive figure for sure. As president he was a counterpoint to the FRETILIN government that ruled with a majority of parliamentary seats. His role as president had little direct effect on the practice of government, the president is formally very limited in what he or she can do according to the constitution. Symbolically, however, the president can make a lot of noise, discuss things that the government would want to keep silent. This is the major reason for the political falling out between XG and JRH during the last five years. XG and CNRT now support TMR's campaign for presidency:

JRH’s criticism of the AMP, CNRT led, government created a lot of tension between the president and prime minister.XG’s role in the first government was important because FRETILN did have a monopoly on the executive and parliament. Some balance between these state institutions was crucial in this context. Setting himself in opposition to FRETILIN during that period set him on course to form a viable party political alternative in the 2007 elections. Having two strong parties was a good development in the development of a stable and health multiparty system. His personality, and everything that goes with it, his historical role in the resistance – which is absolutely amazing and worthy of the highest praise – carried a lot of support, particularly for people who wanted to open up the political space in Timor-Leste. 

He represented a continuation of the legacy of the resistance, both in himself and the party that took on the name of the organisation that – established in 1998 - was responsible for the successful struggle for independence. The CNRT was an umbrella organisation that included all the forces in Timor striving for independence. FRETILIN was a major player in it, but not the only one. The disjunction between XG and FRETILIN goes back to the early 1980’s. XG, as the leader of FRETILN politically and military wanted to broaden the resistance movement and include all the national forces who wanted to be involved. This was resisted by some and an ultimately unsuccessful coup was attempted. This issue has never completely disappeared, it has tainted relations between XG and FRETILN ever since. And then in 1987, the forerunner to CNRT was created, the CNRM. It was an inclusive nationalist movement that fitted with XG’s vision for the future. He also split the military wing from FRETILIN and turned it into an inclusive and non-partisan force – FALINTIL. These events have shaped relations and the structures of the political forces operating in Timor up until this day. FRETILN envisioned itself as the sole legitimate organisation that should run Timor-Leste. XG saw it very differently. Opening the political space up in 2007 was a healthy move and he was able to harness part of the support that saw its loyalties with the legacy of the resistance but either saw their support belonging to him and/or with an alternative party to FRETILIN.

The constituency that supports CNRT is not that different from that of FRETILN. The vote for FRETILIN in 2001 was just under 60%. The combined vote for FRETILN and CNRT in 2007 came suspiciously close to that figure as well. Part of this broader constituency shifted its support to XG. Without XG, CNRT would not have existed and he carries it. He is the face of it. Many people seem to be loyal to XG and he is their figurehead. One obvious danger, which I’ve already identified previously, related to the institutional strength of parties. Parties that rely on charismatic leaders to attract and maintain support have a tendency to be weaker in their structural strength. If the appropriate organisation and structure internal to the party are not built, and they do not have strong roots in society, they put themselves at risk of fragmentation when the leader leaves the leadership position eventually. A cult of personality may also make it difficult for a party to develop a clear ideological and policy position on issue. If the leader makes all the decision based on his preferences, and not on the needs and input of its base, it will lack an identity after the leader leaves.

The resources and support of the party could well break up into fiefdoms of underlings who scrap for the remaining pieces. Much like Alexander’s empire when he died, party officials may go their own way and cause the dissolution of the organisation. This has occurred with ASDT, which I mentioned in a previous blog. I would like to really find out more about CNRT and see if it has what it takes to be a real party. Brand XG may see it through the next five years, it may win government, and his endorsement of TMR for president may also be successful, but the long term viability of the party is far from certain. I have a huge respect for XG for everything he did and went through during the occupation. And the role he played in the first government, while not perfect, was critical in attempting to keep FRETILIN in check. I do have serious reservations on his ability to be an effective PM, I worry that he does not have the requisite skills, knowledge and experience to be in that role and face the challenges in TL. The stories that float around about the role of his advisors and the plans he has for the country, particularly for development and the expenditure of the petroleum money concerns me greatly. Another topic for another night. Good night!

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