Since last July, Timor-Leste has endured political gridlock that has kept attention on political parties and sidelined the development of policies that could benefit the people of Timor-Leste. Instability in politics creates uncertainty, undermining the credibility of state institutions, harming the economy, and perpetuating ongoing fears of insecurity. The lack of clarity about education policy, compounded by the Government’s decision to change the policy right before entering caretaker mode, exemplifies the way in which Timor-Leste’s political dysfunction undermines the other aspects of national life. As the new elections approach, FM urges the politicians to focus on cooperation and on developing new leaders.
The results of the 2017 elections signaled that the people do not want to invest power in a single party. Instead, they want all the political leadership to work together and focus on policies that improve the lives of ordinary people. Therefore, politicians must stop acting as if they are part of a one-man show. Too often, Timor-Leste’s leaders talk about their own accomplishments. Instead of this self-promoting rhetoric, Timor-Leste’s leaders should emphasize the collective sacrifice of the Timorese people. While leaders played a crucial role in achieving independence, the tenacity of ordinary Timorese people kept the resistance movement alive during the dark decades of the occupation. Adopting a more inclusive and constructive political tone will also make cooperation easier. Therefore, when the results of the new elections have been announced, the politicians must find unity by prioritizing the national interest.
Once the new Government is formed, Timorese politicians must promote the new generation. True leaders invest in creating new leaders, who can lead the country once the 1975 Generation is gone. But Timor-Leste seems to be stuck in the past. Furthermore, the dominance of a small clique of leaders has encouraged the growth of cronyism, especially at the district level. Frequently, local political positions are dominated by those with connections to leaders at the national level. These well-connected local bigwigs than fill up the other positions in local Government with their relatives. This nepotistic system excludes talented people who lack family connections, ensuring both corrupt and low-quality local governance while suffocating the careers of individuals who could otherwise become promising leaders.
Political party leaders also given encouragement to party militants who do not understand the rule of law and frequently violate the Constitution and other legislation. This attitude of mindless devotion to political parties goes a long way towards explaining Timor-Leste’s political deadlock. Developing leaders—not followers—among the younger generation provides the best way to change the mentality around politics. As long as leadership in Timor-Leste remains monopolized by a small clique, Timor-Leste will not develop into the future. While the leaders of the past succeeded in guiding the independence struggle, they have largely failed to develop the country’s economy, health care, or education system. The old leaders must mentor the new generation and prepare to retire from the political scene.