Amidst the rubble of government offices which the jungle is starting to reclaim stands a flagpole flying, not the Indonesian red and white, but the red flag, the flag of the Socialist Party of Timor.
This is the PST’s newest office, a former forestry department building in the shape of a Swiss chalet, just outside of Liquica town, a ghost town of disused government offices.
Liquica was the scene of some of the worst activities of the Besi Merah Putih militia during the violence preceding and following the country’s independence referendum.
“I would say that 295 people were killed in this district in 1999”, said Manuel da Silva, PST head in the area, “and no, there has been no justice for them”.
Da Silva is one of his party’s candidates for the August 30 election to the Constituent Assembly, whose 88 members will draft and then adopt the nation’s new constitution. He estimates that the PST totals some 895 people in the district.
When I was there, some of these members were busy crafting bamboo chairs for the empty, destroyed office. A set of bamboo furniture already brightens up the front living room, which looks out on the mountains to the west.
In this room, two young men were macheted to death by the Besi Merah Putih in broad daylight on April 5, 1999. Their blood still stains the floor tiles and their families still live nearby.
A group of women busy themselves outside cooking food for the men and chasing chickens away from the food. Cooking is done painstakingly, using firewood and rocks.
There is still no electricity to the building, which has no doors or windows, just gaping spaces which are being filled in with bamboo bars. Water has to be carried from a neighbour’s house.
In the district, there are two cooperative ventures run by the PST: a coffee and subsistence cooperative in Lisa Dila, and a newly established subsistence cooperative in Tibar.
In Tibar, around 25 families are involved. The land faces directly onto the sea. Good fresh water is a problem here, with bores needing to be sunk more than 20 metres deep. If the cooperative is to succeed, an assured supply of fresh water would be needed to irrigate the land.
In the lead-up to the elections, the PST has launched a new political manual designed to give a basic introduction to the party for new members. The 15-page publication sets out, and answers, “frequently asked questions” about the PST: its structure, its program on social, political and economic issues.
The PST has put forward 75 candidates for the Constituent Assembly election, 19 of whom, including its top candidate, are women. In a surprise move, the list does not include its high-profile general secretary, Avelino Coelho da Silva. Coelho said he would be focusing his attention on other areas of the party’s activities.
The party faces immense difficulties in finding funds to campaign. As a new and radical party, the PST has little access to large donor funds, whether from East Timor or internationally.
The United Nations administration, UNTAET,
has promised “some” assistance:
photocopying, printing, airtime on radio and TV and shuttle bus transport into district centres.
Under Indonesian rule, parties received funds to campaign and run in elections. The political parties are unanimous in their discontent at the UN’s decision not to follow in its predecessor’s footsteps.
The PST asked UNTAET to give the party US$25,000 a month and several motor vehicles to allow it to campaign. UNTAET has refused, arguing that the UN has never engaged in such practices in other missions.
Sixteen parties have filed for registration with the Independent Electoral Commission, a UN body that will oversee the elections.
The CNRT, the National Council for Timorese Resistance, long the umbrella of East Timor’s pro-independence political parties, was officially disbanded on June 9. A veterans’ association has been set up in its place.
CNRT’s disbanding has been the subject of some discontent among rank and file members, who felt that the leadership had avoided accountability for its work at the CNRT’s final conference and hadn’t sought, or gained, their agreement to the closure.
The PST will campaign in support of the November 28, 1975 proclamation of independence by Fretilin, which formed the RDTL, the East Timor Democratic Republic and for the restoration of the national anthem, flag and constitution of the old Republic.
It is unclear however, how the party intends to fight for the restoration of this 1975 constitution, however, given the Constituent Assembly is charged with writing a new constitution.
There are a number of other parties campaigning for the restoration of the RDTL, including the newly formed Asociacao Social Democrata de Timor (ASDT) led by East Timor’s first president, Francisco Xavier do Amaral. ASDT was the original name for Fretilin in the early 1970s, a historic link the party is deliberately seeking to make.
Another political force, the CPD-RDTL, the Popular Committee in Defence of the Democratic Republic of East Timor, has decided not to contest the election as a party but seems strong enough to influence the vote.
In late April, the committee held a five-day-long camp in Dili, bringing together several hundred people from around East Timor to demand recognition of the Republic and the CPD-RDIL.
UN representatives here have often made public comments on certain “forces” out to wreak havoc and use violence to derail the political transition process: the CPD-RDTL seems to be one target of their claims.
Three CPD-RDTL activists were arrested by UN civilian police at a seminar earlier this year, accused of trying to assassinate Xanana Gusmao. So far the only evidence of this is Gusmao’s own assertions. Two of the three arrested were allegedly also wanted for car arson in a separate incident in Dili. [See: Mar 7 CNRT/CNP: A Threat on the life of the President Press Conference summary of events - BD]
Some community leaders in Baucau district, traditionally a stronghold of the resistance against Indonesia and of the CPD-RDTL, have boycotted voter registration and have directed the population in those areas to also boycott.
The CPD-RDTL has put forward Amaral as a leadership alternative to Xanana Gusmao, prompting Amaral to declare the founding of the ASDT.
Public hearings and consultations are happening around to country into the constitution, but many are still frightened that violence may again break out after this election and some are even considering escaping into the hills after voting.
2001 ACFOA: Walsh: East Timor's Political Party Profiles: PST
Complete text of report [150KB] added May 22
"Socialist Party of Timor is a Fretilin splinter party. Founded in the 1990’s in Indonesia it grew out of student and labour groups based in Jakarta and other Indonesian cities where East Timorese studied and worked. Its membership is predominantly youth but it includes a number of older FALINTIL and FRETILIN members from the left wing of FRETILIN. It is based on Marxist-Leninist principles of philosophy and organisation and, through peaceful educational means, is dedicated to the construction of a socialist, classless society in East Timor liberated from all forms of colonialism, imperialism, paternalism and exploitation. It is primarily concerned with the situation of workers and farmers. ... PST has international links with a range of political organisations including the Portuguese Communist Party, the Dutch Greens, the Democratic Socialist Party (DSP) in Australia and PRD in Indonesia." Pat Walsh, Human rights consultant, Australian Council for Overseas Aid
Maret 2001 ACFOA: Partai-Partai Dan Kelompok-Kelompok Politik Di Timor Timur: PST Téks [150KB] added June 29
"Partai Sosialis Timor adalah partai yang terpecah dari Fretilin. Didirikan pada tahun 1990an di Indonesia, partai ini bertumbuh dari mahasiswa dan kaum pekerja yang berpusat di Jakarta dan kota-kota lain di Indonesia di mana orang Timor Timur belajar dan bekerja. Keanggotaannya sebagian besar adalah pemuda, namun termasuk beberapa orang anggota Falintil dan Fretilin yang lebih tua dari sayap kiri Fretilin. Partai ini berdasar pada prinsip-prinsip filosofi dan organisasi Marx dan Lenin dan, melalui jalur-jalur pendidikan yang damai, partai ini diabdikan untuk pembentukan masyarakat Timor Timur yang sosialis dan tidak mengenal golongan kelas bebas dari kolonialisme, imperialisme, paternalisme dan eksploitasi. Partai ini terutama menaruh perhatian pada situasi para pekerja dan petani. ... PST memiliki hubungan dengan sejumlah organisasi politik internasional termasuk Partai Komunis Portugis, Partai Hijau Belanda, Partai Demokrasi Sosialis (DSP) di Australia dan PRD di Indonesia." Pat Walsh, Badan Bantuan Luar Negeri Australia
Mar 5 OTL: Partidos políticos e Forças pró-independência: PST Report
"PST: O Partido Socialista Timorense é mencionado sempre que há movimentações de carácter laboral; organizador de manifestações e reivindicações, negociador entre grevistas e empregadores ou para acalmar um protesto mais veemente. Usa o marxismo como ferramenta, diz Avelino Coelho da Silva. "Não aceitamos o argumento de que os partidos políticos dividem Timor Leste, antes o fará a falta de cultura democrática" (IPS, Darwin, 14-4)." Observatório Timor Leste
5 ETO: Political parties and Pro-Independence Forces: PST
Report updated Apr 27
"Socialist Party of Timor PST: The Timorese Socialist Party is always mentioned whenever an event is labour-related. It organises workers’ demonstrations and their employment-related claims, negotiates between strikers and employers, and intervenes if a protest becomes too rowdy. It uses Marxism as a tool, says Avelino Coelho da Silva. "We don´t accept the argument that political parties will divide East Timor – rather the lack of democratic culture will" (IPS, Darwin, 14-4)." East Timor Observatory
BD: Peoples' Participation - A collection of recent media releases, reports and articles [section on elections]