Whose crize?

The Timorese political elite continues to measure its words in the public sphere. With the exception of a couple of statements, the two sides have refrained from severe ad-hominem attacks.

Instead I was surprised to see that the crize is to blame for the lack of government in East Timor. (Quoting Lasama: “Our country is still in a crisis that has not yet ended, so to all political leaders: let us settle everything through mutual dialogue, through the law and the constitution.”)

And yet it is not the constitution that is the concern of most of the decision makers. Instead it is the threat or fear of some unbridled power of the streets or civil conflict. The letter of the law, in this atmosphere, is entirely manipulable. And in the end, the law seems to leave the key decision up to one person, the President. I would argue it’s not merely the inadequacy of the Timorese political system, or the backdrop civil instability, that is extenuating the stalemate.

I believe the crize is the Timorese word for Agamben’s definition of the “state of exception” — a pretext for elected officials to disrespect citizens’ most basic rights and begin to wipe away the rule of law. In the US it’s the “War on Terror.” In Timor, it’s the crize.

I can appreciate that the conflict between police and armed forces of 2006 constituted a national security crisis. And that the fugitive Alfredo made the situation more dire. But these two elements have been calmed. (True, law and order in Dili is still a big problem. But does that alone signify a continuation of last year’s national security crisis?)

In fact, if there is any crisis for the people of Timor, it’s that key politicians do not have the vision to compromise and instead blame some undefined, extended “crisis” for the nation’s problems. Any commitment decision-makers had formed over the past 5 years to laws, structures and institutions seems to be in the balance.

Without getting too post-structuralist here, I think it’s fair to say that the word “crisis” has taken on a life of its own in Timor. I noticed this during my visit in 2006.

I’m not going to take sides here because I do not find that at all helpful or called for.

But what I do think is clear, even from far away, is that there are two groups of leaders (Fretilin old-guard/Maputo crew vs. Xanana and Mário Carrascalão) who are trying to hold on. Both sides have maintained in public that there is little room for face-saving.

It’s either us or total boycott.

Fretilin has said it openly, repeatedly. The only thing stopping AMP from saying this more openly is that they actually do fear reprisals from Fretilin supporters and from the international community.

It’s either us or total boycott.

It sent chills when I was recently reminded of what happened in Ethiopia in 2005 when the opposition began a similar boycott…

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