Report: People’s Peacemaking Perspectives Timor Leste (2012)

February 22, 2012

People’s Peacemaking Perspectives Timor-Leste 2012

timor-leste will go to the Polls in sPring this year for presidential and parliamentary elections, the third national elections since the country gained independence in 2002. The elections will be a significant test for this young country, which has made notable progress in statebuilding over the past ten years; the political situation is fragile but stable. However, there are fears that the elections may ignite instability or violence based on recent history and a number of underlying weaknesses and tensions within Timor-Leste. These include capacity challenges in the security and justice sectors and limited local conflict transformation capacities, within a context of high levels of poverty, unemployment (particularly among young people), limited basic service provision, regular displacement and the potential for propagation of misinformation and rumour.

Efforts to prevent electoral violence are complicated by many Timorese having multiple affiliations and identities. Groups formed during the Indonesian occupation to oppose or support it have since morphed into other political affiliations and martial art groups (MAGs), who can play positive roles in the community but can also be involved in violence. Political divisions between key political players developed during the resistance movement (1975 – 1999) endure and have been instrumental in triggering and exacerbating episodes of violence over the last decade. Moreover, there is a tendency to respond with violence rather than dialogue when resolving conflict, particularly among the youth.

This Policy Brief is based on consultations with a wide range of local actors in Timor-Leste and desk research. Communities desire peace, a sentiment echoed, at least in rhetoric, by the political elite. Of prime concern is whether levels of political manipulation, as seen in recent years, will happen and whether youths, MAGs and other groups are mobilised around the elections. If this occurs, the prevention of an escalation from localised to nationwide violence will be contingent on the response of the police, the conduct of national political leaders and the capacity of established mechanisms for conflict resolution.

The European Union (EU) and its Member States have a key role to play in supporting and influencing the conduct of peaceful elections and wider democratic processes in Timor-Leste. Through sensitive political dialogue and financial instruments the EU can help promote the political maturity in democratic processes that Timorese citizens expressed as lacking. The EU can also work to engage and build the capacity of youth as agents of peace and encourage an environment conducive to the completion of peaceful elections.>