Search

 

Cablegate: Timor-Leste's National Parliament: A Work in Progress

VZCZCXRO1069
PP RUEHCHI RUEHCN RUEHHM
DE RUEHDT #0017/01 0251043
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 251043Z JAN 08
FM AMEMBASSY DILI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 3819
INFO RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS
RUEHPB/AMEMBASSY PORT MORESBY PRIORITY 0023
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO PRIORITY 0811
RUEHBY/AMEMBASSY CANBERRA PRIORITY 1110
RUEHWL/AMEMBASSY WELLINGTON PRIORITY 0897
RUEHLI/AMEMBASSY LISBON PRIORITY 1001
RHMFIUU/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK PRIORITY 1019
RUEHDT/AMEMBASSY DILI 3236

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 DILI 000017

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/MTS AND H
PACOM FOR POLADS - AMB CHRISTY

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV TT
SUBJECT: TIMOR-LESTE'S NATIONAL PARLIAMENT: A WORK IN PROGRESS


DILI 00000017 001.2 OF 003


Summary
-----------
1. (SBU) Timor-Leste's National Parliament is still grappling
with language issues, low capacity, staffing shortages, and poor
communication with voters. It continues to rely heavily on
Portuguese-speaking foreign staff financed by the UNDP. Despite
this, the four-party government coalition has managed to pass
two budgets since its formation last August, and the opposition
FRETILIN caucus has participated constructively. Party
structures remain rudimentary, both as Parliamentary caucuses
and as national organizations. FRETILIN has by far the most
effective national structure, and Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao's
CNRT remains well financed. Smaller parties are looking forward
to the allocation of state funding approved as part of the 2008
budget. End summary.


Context: A New Parliamentary Dynamic
--------------------------------------------- -----
2. (U) The defeat of Frente Revolucionaria de Timor-Leste
Independente (FRETILIN) in June 2007 marked a historic turning
point in Timorese politics. Although FRETILIN received 29
percent of the vote (21 of 65 seats), President Ramos-Horta
invited a coalition of four smaller parties to form a
government. While FRETILIN was in power from 2002-05, its
majority in Parliament acted as a rubber-stamp for the
government. This dynamic has now changed. The government is
represented in the legislature by a new and potentially
fractious coalition of several parties, while FRETILIN operates
as unified and seasoned opposition bloc. Though FRETILIN still
claims the Alliance of the Parliamentary Majority (AMP)
coalition government is unconstitutional, it engages in
constructive debate on daily matters. Since last August, the
Parliament has passed a transitional budget for the final
quarter of 2007 and a full budget for the calendar year 2008.
The Parliament has nine commissions (committees). The concept
of constituent services is developing, but to date the only
option for a constituent wishing to reach out to an MP is to
call the parliamentarian's mobile phone.


A Parliamentary Babel
----------------------------
3. (U) One of the most serious difficulties facing the
parliament is language. The constitution requires laws to be
enacted in both Tetum and Portuguese, but the structure and
vocabulary of Tetum make it significantly less precise than
Portuguese. As a result, all laws are drafted in Portuguese,
and the constitutional requirement for Tetum translations is
rarely observed in practice.


4. (SBU) Few MPs and less than five percent of the population
speak Portuguese. Plenary sessions are conducted in Tetum with
a minority speaking in Portuguese or Bahasa Indonesia. After
each session, the minutes are transcribed into Portuguese, which
most MPs cannot read. This gives rise to misunderstandings
about events in previous sessions, laws under consideration,
laws already enacted, and questions of constitutional law. MPs
told PolOff that legislators who have language deficiencies rely
on their colleagues to interpret and explain. Unscrupulous
politicians are not above manipulating these dependencies to
their own advantage.


5. (SBU) Portuguese is not the only language problem. The
Minister of Finance and her close circle were trained in
Australia, and they prefer to use the English terms learned
during their education. The Government submitted its two-inch
thick 2008 budget proposal to the Parliament in English only. As
it was already two weeks late, MPs were given until the
following morning to read it before debate began.


6. (SBU) While MPs acknowledge language is a problem, there is
little agreement on a solution. Older parliamentarians and
those who were educated outside Timor insist that Portuguese is
grammatically superior and is an important aspect of national
identity. A more widespread view is that the Tetum language
should be "strengthened" to allow it fill the role of
Portuguese, but PolOff spoke to no one who knew how this could

DILI 00000017 002.2 OF 003


be accomplished in practice.


Scant resources
------------------
7. (U) The National Parliament continues to grapple with
shortages of staff, materiel, and financial resources. The 65
MPs currently share six Timorese staffers, who devote of their
time to supporting serving the nine parliamentary committees.
None of these staffers have legal training. A foreign
advisory staff consists of ten Portuguese-speaking UNDP
advisors, and one bilateral advisor from Portugal.


8. (SBU) The national government does not provide office space
or staff for individual MPs. Likewise, parties do not currently
receive state funding, either for their parliamentary caucuses
or national organizations. Only the National Congress for the
Reconstruction of East Timor (CNRT), FRETILIN and National Unity
Party (PUN) have offices and staff paid by dues and donations
from party members. This will change soon, however. The 2008
budget authorized $1 million for parties. 30 percent of this
will be spread evenly and 70% by proportion to each party in
parliament. All parties except the well-funded CNRT want to
triple or quadruple this amount next year.


Constituent outreach challenges
--------------------------------
9. (SBU) As Timor-Leste lacks electricity and phones in many
areas, communication with the electorate is a serious problem.
MPs rely on the traditional Timorese networks of interpersonal
relationships among family, friends, church, and former
resistance units. Though citizens in the districts receive
information about events taking place in Dili, the distorted
version they receive is more akin to the result of playing the
telephone game in primary school.


10. (SBU) Although MPs are elected from party lists and do not
represent electoral districts per se, they suffer from the lack
of information and feedback from constituents. MPs are entitled
to a $50 stipend for travel on committee business and use of one
of parliament's four automobiles, but must plan and coordinate
the trip themselves. MPs' travel programs rarely involve
organized encounters with constituents, and usually consist of
ad hoc meetings with personal and political contacts in the
area. After completing the travel, MPs are required to deliver
a report during the plenary session. The leaders of each party
told PolOff that these reports typically contain no substance,
instead focusing on road conditions, delays, and vehicle
breakdowns.


Party machines developing
--------------------------------
11. (SBU) The June 2007 elections were a political upheaval.
Unexpected losses by FRETILIN and the CNRT in regions where they
assumed victory caused alarm and hope across many parties.
These unexpected results opened the door for recent training
campaigns by NGOs such as International Republican Institute
(IRI) and National Democratic Institute (NDI) to encourage broad
party structures. These NGOs are helping parties to establish
or redesign their party machines. However, with the 2007
elections over, these organizations are approaching the end of
their party development projects, and it is not clear that they
have enough time to effect an improvement in the areas of
constituent relations and the legislative process.


12. (SBU) The opposition parties FRETILIN and PUN have national
party structures. Both of these parties have representatives in
each of Timor-Leste's twelve districts, and will soon have a
representative in each village. FRETILIN and PUN hold biannual
congresses and use their district representatives to get out
their messages. Both are counting on the new legislation to
provide them the funds to pay a nominal salary to district
representatives and hire permanent staff in Dili to communicate
with them. With this money, FRETILIN hopes to add more
programming to its intermittent radio station, and PUN hopes to
increase its news pamphlets.

DILI 00000017 003.2 OF 003


13. (SBU) The governing AMP coalition is more varied. The
party of the Prime Minister, CNRT, is well-funded and is able to
provide each district representative with a motorcycle, security
guard and a cell phone. CNRT led the effort to lower the amount
provided to parties from $3 million to $1 million. While this
party may have the best resources, the various personalities
that coalesced around Xanana Gusmao, former guerilla leader and
president, are finding it difficult to send a unified message to
their districts. Party leadership confided to PolOff that
outside of election season, this structure is rarely utilized.


14. (SBU) The remaining members of the AMP coalition, Democratic
Party (PD) and Social Democratic Party/Social Democratic
Association of Timor (PSD/ASDT), have very few resources. PD
has organization at the district level but confided to PolOff
that while it has volunteer district leaders, their
effectiveness is questionable. PSD and ASDT have little to no
structure at the national or local level. These small parties
are waiting for the party-funding manna that the party leaders
hope will be disbursed by late-February. All three told PolOff
that opening a permanent office in Dili with two or more
staffers is their first priority, and that while they know
district level staff is important, that must come later.


15. (U) This report was prepared by TDY political officer Chip
Gamble.
RECTOR

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
World Headlines

 

Werewolf: Gordon Campbell On North Korea, Neo-Nazism, And Milo

With a bit of luck the planet won’t be devastated by nuclear war in the next few days. US President Donald Trump will have begun to fixate on some other way to gratify his self-esteem – maybe by invading Venezuela or starting a war with Iran. More>>

Victory Declared: New Stabilisation Funding From NZ As Mosul Is Retaken

New Zealand has congratulated the Iraqi government on the successful liberation of Mosul from ISIS after a long and hard-fought campaign. More>>

Gordon Campbell: On The Current US Moves Against North Korea

If Martians visited early last week, they’d probably be scratching their heads as to why North Korea was being treated as a potential trigger for global conflict... More>>

ALSO:

Gordon Campbell: On The Lessons From Corbyn’s Campaign

Leaving partisan politics aside – and ignoring Jeremy Corbyn’s sensational election campaign for a moment – it has to be said that Britain is now really up shit creek... More>>

ALSO:

Another US Court: Fourth Circuit Rules Muslim Ban Discriminatory

ACLU: Step by step, point by point, the court laid out what has been clear from the start: The president promised to ban Muslims from the United States, and his executive orders are an attempt to do just that. More>>

ALSO:

 
 
 
 
 
 
  • Pacific.Scoop
  • Cafe Pacific
  • PMC