A wacko week

I have been struggling to find anything really positive over the last week.  The international press have been here and been reporting more than I can keep up with.  With a lot of the trouble out east, there is little I can add from Dili … except no yogurt for over a week !!

A week ago, we had Rogerio Lobato leaving by Lear Jet.  99.99% of Timorese couldn’t afford to pay to taxi one of these to the runway.  However, it seems that Mr. Lobato was handed US$30,000 from the government coffers and given the green light to skip town for Malaysia.  Nice one.

Then Fretilin seemed to go troppo and threaten to boycott parliament.  On top of that, they encouraged supporters to voice their opinion and complain about the election result.  Even “Jack Hill the blind miner” could see that this was going to lead to trouble.  It did.  The UN called a few meetings and (finally) read the riot act and things calmed down here in Dili.  And now Fretilin are not going to boycott parliament and are now encouraging supporters not to resort to violence.

Meanwhile out east, Fretilin supporters went feral and as far as I can tell from UN reports, scorched many homes (mostly small huts by western standards) and eventually culminating in an ambush of a UN vehicle and (quite separately) the rape of a young girl at an orphanage.  I understand the President was due to go out to the same general area last week but cancelled his visit.

The streets in Dili after dark have been pretty quiet over the last week.  Today was Assumption Day so a number of locals were on holidays.  There were advisories recommending caution today as demonstrations were planned.  I think nothing much happened as the demos were cancelled and re-scheduled for next week.

The new ferry, the Nakroma was parked offshore today which is the preferred position when trouble is on the cards.

I think this is why beer was invented.

Wait – there’s more !

If you thought the appointment of the PM was exciting, what about the Dili Court giving permission for convicted criminal  and ex-Minister of the Interior (and controller of the police) Rogerio Lobato permission to leave the country for medical treatment – just one day before the appointment of the new PM … and the new government.

The timing of that seems interesting enough but within hours of the swearing in ceremony, the new government rescinds the permission.  And to keep the excitement level right up there, the privately chartered plane is stopped from leaving while the Lobato family is on board.  Racy stuff.  That was yesterday.  Rogerio spent the night on the plane parked on the tarmac while lawyers were tackling the issue.

Late today, I understand the plane did leave – with legal permission and with no requirement to return.  And with threats of contempt of court against the new government.  I watch the ABC news and it feels like the new government were in error.  Better re-visit this in a month,eh ?

Who’d bother reading novels.

Mr. X is now PM

The official appointment of Xanana Kay Rala Gusmao as PM occured yesterday morning plus the appointment of a bevy of ministers.

All went fine it seems and the last 2 nights appeared relatively quiet. Of course, try telling that to those who have lost a windscreen (ie windshield for North Americans) lately to a rock. UNPol reported damage to 25 vehicles yesterday alone.

Perhaps one of the worst areas for this is Comorro Road in the bit between the airport and the OZ embassy. The Fretilin HQ area has been particularly bad.

I guess I should point out that rock throwing here is at the highest level of sophistication. The lads are pretty accurate but they also have some fairly advanced rubberised gear designed for hurling brick-like objects at very fast speeds. Some of these contraptions use car tyre inner tubes and require more than one person to arm them and let them go.

At the moment, it seems that the rougher stuff is occuring in Baucau and Viqueque which are electorally, Fretilin strongholds. I am not sure what burning down the offices of CARITAS and Catholic Relief Services is going to achieve.

A list of ministerial appointments is shown below.  There are still a few other secretary of state positions to fill.  The 2 things I noticed were the absence of Mario Carrascalao and the inclusion of the head of the Socialist Party (Avelino Coelho da Silva).  No doubt others will pick up things I don’t.  By the way, Xanana also has the Defence ministry and whatever the police are in now (ie he looks after both military and police).

Primeiro-ministro: Kay Rala Xanana Gusmão
Vice-primeiro-ministro: José Luís Guterres
Ministra da Justiça: Lúcia Lobato
Ministro dos Negócios Estrangeiros: Zacarias da Costa
Ministro da Economia e Desenvolvimento: João Gonçalves
Ministra das Finanças: Emília Pires
Ministro da Administração Estatal e Ordenamento do Território: Arcângelo Leite
Ministro da Educação: João Câncio
Ministro da Saúde: Nelson Martins
Ministro das Infra-estruturas: Pedro Lay
Ministro do Turismo, Comércio e Indústria: Gil Alves
Vice-ministro da Educação: Paulo Assis Belo
Vice-ministro da Economia e Desenvolvimento: Rui Manuel Hanjam
Secretário de Estado do Conselho de Ministros: Hermenegildo Pereira
Secretário de Estado da Defesa: Júlio Tomás Pinto
Secretário de Estado dos Recursos Naturais: Alfredo Pires
Secretário de Estado da Cultura: Virgílio Simith
Secretário de Estado da Segurança: Francisco Guterres
Secretário de Estado da Segurança Social: Vítor da Costa
Secretário de Estado da Reforma Administrativa: Florindo Pereira
Secretário de Estado da Formação Profissional e Emprego: Benedito Freitas
Secretário de Estado da Região Autónoma de Oécussi: Jorge Teme
Secretário de Estado da Electricidade, Água e Urbanização: Januário Pereira
Secretário de Estado da Agricultura e Arboricultura: Marcos da Cruz
Secretário de Estado para a Política Energética: Avelino Coelho da Silva

More caution required

During my media scan this morning, “Time” magazine’s correspondent reported that Tiger Fuels had received a threat against Australian businesses.

When I combine that with an admission by senior Fretilin man Arsenio Bano that they had lost control of Fretilin supporters, I have now ratcheted up the squatter warning system and dragged out the heavyweight underwear with super-absorbent gusset.

These anti-OZ campaigns are switched on and off in a planned fashion and as I recall, this is the 3rd such campaign over the last 12 months.  What it means is the difference between being a watcher and being watched.  It fits in with recent reports of more car windscreen breakages and definitely puts the bicycle into cotton wool for a while.

The average Timorese is not part of these campaigns.

The best publishable description I can come up with about all this is “cynical”.

PM announced, action starts

There has been a slight increase in disorder on the streets over the last 10 or so days and also a few false starts regarding the appointment of a new PM. But on the weekend, I think everyone was finally convinced that an announcement would be made yesterday – and so it was. And the associated increase in disorder.

At lunchtime yesterday, I noticed shops starting to close and there was a definite desire to be tucked up at home before 5pm. I believe most shops had closed by then.

From dusk, car traffic dropped away to next to nothing and it was eerily quiet. I heard that Xanana had indeed been named as the new PM and I also heard that Fretilin were going into severe disagreement mode. A sure sign (for me) that trouble was on the cards.

I knew there was a large fire in the vicinity of the Hotel Timor but did not try to find out after dark. There were also reports of tyre burning and general disturbances near the IDP camp near to the World Bank premises. But I heard little more than that last night, particularly once the 10:30pm power cut brought to life the many stand-by generators used around Dili.

At around 7am this morning, I saw huge plumes of dark smoke coming from the direction of the Hotel Timor, although the wind made it seem a lot closer than it was. It was later that I heard (and saw) that the Customs building (located on the west side of Hotel Timor) had gone up in flames – twice. Once last evening at around 7-8pm and again at around 7am this morning (to finish off the bit that failed to burn last night). There were also reports of bad stuff going down near the airport (and presumably the airport IDP camp).

This morning’s UNPol security report for the 24 hours to midnight was far from illuminating. No mention of the fire at all.

Many expats (and locals) are not at work today – particularly those who work in government buildings. The streets are deserted again and most shops (all of them in Colmera) are closed today.

Most people expected something would go wrong but the Customs building one is the most interesting. I have heard 2 stories (there’s probably more !) but one has it that people broke in to get food and decided to burn it (???) and the other that the fire was an inside job with the aim of destroying documentation. Who knows ?

The inauguration of the new PM Xanana will be on tomorrow morning and somehow I think the streets will be deserted until lunchtime tomorrow at the earliest.

I think most people are getting fed up with the inability to come to a stable political situation. Fretilin seem determined not to play ball and have boycotted parliament.

Unfortunately, stay tuned.

On the positive side, at least FOS doesn’t have to change the name of his blog – xananarepublic.blogspot.com

Government – a work in progress

A few deadlines seem to have come and gone and a new government is slowly emerging. The new parliament sat on Monday and a new president of parliament (think speaker in the Westminster system) was elected by the new parliament.

Voting went according to party lines. That is, pretty much Fretilin/Kota v. the rest. The rest won as expected with the presidency going to the Democratic party’s Fernanda “LaSama” de Araujo. That leaves CNRT and ASDT/PSD to take up the other senior positions if everything goes along similar lines.

So maybe this Friday, we might have a new PM. I presume that there will be the decision then the official appointment then a bit more negotiating while Ministerial positions are sorted.  So it could still be weeks before a settled government is in place and then there are appointments of civil service department heads to be sorted.

I have been sunk low for a few days with giardia where the porcelain has sustained a savage beating. I once thought I had iron guts but I have my doubts.  My hobby of licking Dili restaurant toilet seats is over.

Today’s talks failed

Associated Press report that the talks setup today to agree on a government of national unity have failed.  From where I sit, they were bound to.  The opposing groups do not like each other.  JRH (Jose Ramos-Horta) has given it until Wednesday to come up with something but says a decision will be made by the end of the month no matter what.

As Charlie Brown would say, “Good grief”.  Personally, I feel another election coming on because any other option seems bound to severely cheese off one of the opposing political groupings.

Tonight, there were security warnings but very little action … so far.  So why would there suddenly be a big increase in security incidents ?  Wouldn’t be related to the attempts to form an agreement over a new government ?  Nothing like this level of activity for 3 or 4 months.

These days, the international security forces are pretty well drilled in how to handle the gang-related violence and more importantly, how to contain it so that life goes on for the vast majority.  Setup a roadblock with an armoured personnel carrier and a couple of UN police vehicles with lots of flashing lights and send a group of heavily armed, night-vision goggles wearing troops to assert a visible presence and “Bobs your uncle”, she’s contained and not worth writing about.

I am a little perplexed why the OZ ABC have gone extremely quiet in their reporting after being very active in past events.  Don’t you just love politics ?  There’s plenty of fodder here for the likes of the OZ political cartoonists.

Get to it lads … just have a look at the way the OZ cartoon boys tear strips off Little Johnny and TinTin.

And the winner is …

What a strange week or so.  Tons of international election observer teams praising the election process (with a few minor gripes), then leaving town.  But we still don’t have a result.

And the UN pledging to support the new government – whatever it is.

And a parliamentary minority claiming victory against a majority coalition of opposing parties who (publically) say they will not vote with the aforementioned minority.

And for the last 2 nights, an increase in night-time security incidents involving rock throwing and tyre burning.  The boys are restless.

Constitutional lawyers … come on down.  Maybe there is a clause about settling election results by an arm wrestle.

An apology to Jeb

Dear Jeb,

A few weeks back, I praised the progress in the Timorese electoral process and cast excrement on your part in the Florida fiasco.  I would like to apologise unreservedly.

Clearly, I should have retained some excrement and I obviously threw way too early.

I am not sure if you sent out the rednecks at midnight to do some re-education through the knuckle, but you should take note of the possibilities for next time.  As the boss’s brother, you play a very important part in influencing public opinion.  Yeah, I know its hard when he’s the ugly one.

yours feyfully

A new government – could still take a few weeks

It looks like that a coalition of CNRT, ASDT/PSD and PD may have been successfully formed.  This coalition has more than 50% of the seats in parliament and therefore can pass legislation.

Fretilin have claimed that as the party with the most votes, they are entitled to receive the first invitation from the president to form a government.  They have said they have 60 days (or was it 90 ?) to act on this.  It is unclear if a signed agreement from the coalition takes precedence over the 60 days.

Jose Teixeira from Fretilin (via Radio OZ) has said that the constitution permits Fretilin to form a minority government.  He makes a clear distinction between a pre-election coalition and post-election coalition, basically asserting that a post-election coalition has no other additional rights apart from the ability to vote on a majority basis.  I am not sure just how a minority government can get any legislation passed.  I understand that if the budget is rejected twice, then the president has grounds to dissolve parliament and call for fresh elections.

So on the one hand, it is possible that once the final elections results have been released within the next week, that a coalition could be invited to form a government.  On the other hand, it could take 2 months before Fretilin finally concede that they can not form a majority government.  They could go for the minority government option which may eventually lead to a fresh election.

Take your pick or anything in between.