Saturday, April 7, 2012

Three Days in the East Part One

The campaigning for the second round of the presidential ballot began on Friday, 30 March. I planned to begin my coverage of this campaigning on Monday, 2 April. With only two candidates on the road, I decided to divide my time between them in as many different locations as possible. At that stage, as I had already intimated previously, I was feeling the itch to get out of Dili. Examining both TMR and Lu Olo’s campaigns in different districts would provide greater depth and breadth to my research. How much would the language and style of their respective campaigns change in relation to the area they were in?

The location of the campaign would be important. The local history, identity, concerns etc would alter to some degree I felt what would come up. The candidates would want to speak more specifically to these localised matters. What issues would they address, how would they interact with them, how would they draw on them to their political benefit, how would they link it to their broader campaign etc. These were the kind of things I was considering.

On the Monday, TMR was scheduled to travel to Quelicai, in the district of Baucau. Tuesday was Los Palos and Iliomar in the district of Lautem, and Wednesday was Laclubar, district of Manatuto. All of these districts are in the East. The idea was to follow TMR to all of these locations. I would be traveling with a colleague of mine, Mana A. We were told that we could get a lift with one of the campaign cars early on Monday morning.

Monday, 2 April

We were told that we would need to be at the HQ in Taibessi around 5.30, to make sure we could leave by 6. I was very sceptical of this, I am getting used to Timor Time (see jam karet or rubber time) but I didn’t want to risk missing out on this trip. Nerves and packing before I went to bed ensured I got little sleep. Maybe four hours. 

Nobody seemed to know what was going on, or at least they all had a different idea of what was going on, which is essentially the same thing, when we arrived at Taibessi. I should say, there was nobody there till at least 6.15. Several phone calls later, and a clear out of the vehicle with all the sound equipment, myself and several others – a real rag tag group: two researchers, a security detail guy and a couple of supporter, hopped aboard and we were off.

This vehicle was a troopie. Benches in the back across the side, not facing the front. Not only this, but there was nothing to hold us down. This is bad enough when you are doing a normal trip on the roads here. It’s certainly a different kettle of fish when the driver breaks the land speed record from Dili to Baucau. He did it in 2.5 hours. It should take at least 3. He  gunned it the whole way, honking all the way there. I was nauseas the whole trip, but only threw up once. Felt terrible the entire time, all the way to Quelicai (4.5 hours in total). Not my idea of how to spend a Monday morning I can tell you.

It’s a miracle we didn’t end up like these poor guys:

This is another car that was on its way to Quelicai in support of the TMR campaign. I didn’t get the details of what happened but I can reassure everyone that nobody was hurt. Didn’t get to stop in Baucau, which looked like a beautiful town. (It is, got to spend some time there on Tuesday). 

Event #1

We raced through and arrived just in time for the start of the first event in Quelicai around 12pm. Quite a crowd turned up:

TMR got on top of the vehicle I had travelled in and gave his speech:

Quelicai is a beautiful little town. It has a lot of history, some of it very tragic and powerful. It is close to Mt. Matebian, which was the final base of resistance around 1978-79 when the Indonesians were driving FRETILIN and the local populace further East. The military history of the place and the role of veterans are very prominent here and as such a very sensitive issue. TMR touched on some of these themes in his speech. One thing that stood out to me was in his comparisons of himself to Lu Olo. 

The major two differences he enunciated were that: (1) while they were both military officers in FALINTIL, he (TMR) was Lu Olo’s superior. TMR was the older brother, Lu Olo the younger brother, in this relationship. This implies a specific form of hierarchy that renders TMR the natural and right choice between the two. This discounts other claims to legitimacy that Lu Olo can make, based on other experience and achievement. Meritocracy gives way to hierarchy. This worries me a bit, that TMR would draw on this older relationship, formed in the military during the resistance, and transpose it here in a democratic election. The application of this standard for people to judge and direct support for a popularly elected head of state is something that does speak to some here, particularly veterans, those who fought in FALINTIL or perhaps even now for those in the F-FDTL. This mindset in a military organisation is natural and makes sense, carrying it over to a civilian context troubles me. 

This paradigm perhaps indicates a way of thinking that TMR thinks is still okay in a democratic regime, if I understand his position properly. He has only just left his post as chief of the defence force (F-FDTL) and I am concerned he hasn’t spent enough time out of it. What experience does he have of civilian life and politics? His achievements during the 24 years of Indonesian occupation are incredible and I have huge respect for him. I wonder, however, if this experience, and his lack of experience outside of the military, mean that he is not ready. Trying to undermine your opponent, delegitimise their campaign while vindicating yours by saying you were his superior, the older brother, who is due this appointment, is not a healthy argument. Meritocracy should be encouraged. TMR’s achievements in the military are worthy of respect and praise but they do not grant one automatic promotion to public office because you were your opponents superior. Lu Olo’s achievements during the resistance and afterwards, once he entered civilian life, need to be respected on their own terms and not undermined a priori

This argument, however, was a major point for TMR and it seemed to have some resonance with the crowd. Some veterans were there and they feel a strong bond with TMR. They hold him in high esteem and the argument about hierarchical entitlement would probably appear natural and reasonable to them. I would like to understand better, about why these kind of arguments are used, why do they have such a strong impact and are received readily.

The second point raised was about FRETILN. TMR argued that FRETILIN as it is now composed is different from the FRETILIN that brought about independence, which fought and sacrificed for 24 years. FRETILN the party vs FRETLIN the resistance front. FRETLIN the front should be respected. The party should be treated differently. FRETILIN, as it is currently constituted, would argue to the contrary.
I’m gonna call it quits for tonight. I’m gonna continue onto Event #2 and what happened on Tuesday and Wednesday, tomorrow. Good night!

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