BY RAMANI DE SILVA
DILI — The Constituent Assembly elected in September had been in place for less than two weeks when on September 26 a demonstration of around 300 people demanded that its deliberations be opened to the people through public hearings.
The demonstration, initiated by the students and some non-government organisations, criticised leaders of the largest party in the assembly, Fretilin, for their opposition to the public hearing process.
Ana Pessoa, Fretilin's minister for justice, also came under fire, for not being able to speak Tetum, the language spoken by a majority of the Timorese people. Portuguese and English are considered to be the languages of the elite.
On October 1, Timorese Socialist Party (PST) president Pedro Costa, a member of the Constituent Assembly, put a motion to the assembly that it open its deliberations. The motion was passed with the support of the Democratic Party (PD), the Social Democratic Party (PSD) and some members of Fretilin. Public hearings have now started.
The PST's general secretary Avelino Coelho da Silva gave the following explanation to Green Left Weekly of how PST sees the new phase in the East Timorese struggle.
We don't want to just win elections. We want to build the movement. So we campaign openly for socialism. In October 1999 there was still a strong campaign against the left. The PST was attacked as communist.
Winning a seat was a big victory for us. It has legitimised the socialist party. Our office is open and people can come here everyday. Workers constantly come here to talk to us about their problems. Workers voted for Fretilin, but they seem to trust the PST.
Fretilin's traditional base and support goes back to 1975. It was transformed into a political party just before the elections. It was a revolutionary front that encompassed the whole anti-colonial, anti-imperialist movement.
Before the elections the PST's idea was a coalition of the left — Fretilin, the social democrats and other revolutionary groups. But this idea was rejected. People voted for Fretilin because they still connect Fretilin with the ideas and aspirations of 1975.
But why doesn't Fretilin restore the ideas of 1975? The constitution [of 1975] was anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist. If Fretilin is a socialist organisation (as some of its members claim) they would do this.
So we have to see what program, what policies they implement. They have a majority in the cabinet today. Are they going to get rid of the [vendors] from the public markets and replace them with supermarkets? Are they going to support big business?
This will become clear when they start to discuss the new constitution. Fretilin wants to transform the Constituent Assembly into a parliament. We argue against this. The Fretilin vote was split — 40 for the Fretilin proposal, 20 against and the rest abstained. So Fretilin's 64 votes in the assembly is not a solid bloc.
The PST argued that we will decide [on the transformation of the Constituent Assembly] only after a constitution has been decided on. To transform it into a parliament now will be manipulation. The Fretilin members who voted with us have some idea of proper procedures. The rest seem to understand very little.
Fretilin has no clear ideas [on] the sharing of power. The PST is very clear. But because we have only one seat at the assembly, tactically speaking we will be in favour of a semi-presidential parliamentary system.
However, the most important issues are that the president should only be a symbol or has only some limited powers that need to be defined clearly. Only then will we vote in favour of a semi-presidential system. The ultimate decision making power should lie in the parliament.
The PST will also push for a strong role for the workers and peasants in the process. The rights of workers and peasants must be guaranteed. If they don't we will push on with our mass mobilisations.
The other issue is that of public hearings. We say that there must be public hearings when they discuss the constitution. Some Fretilin members voted against this as well.
We tell Fretilin: Just because people voted for you this does not mean they delegated all powers to you. Only some powers were delegated to you. So workers and farmers must have a say in these public hearings.
So the PST's views on democracy are different. For Fretilin democracy starts and finishes with elections. For us, people participated in the elections, but they must continue to organise and control the government.
Fretilin wants the people to be passive so they can manipulate the people. We want the people to be active and participate in all the decisions. So workers can work in the morning, read the newspapers and listen to the radio in the afternoon about what has been happening in parliament, and if they don't like what parliament is doing they should be able to organise protests, send delegations to represent them and so on.
This means we need a constitution that guarantees the right to organise, the right to strike, against dismissals, so workers are not victimised when they take political action.
We have different perspectives on democracy. For the PST human beings are also political beings. They must be able to participate fully in the political process and must not be alienated from it in any way.
The people have high expectations. Now Fretilin has to prove that they will combat injustice, change [UN administration] policies on the economy, public service recruitment. Can Fretilin change these policies to provide space for the people? Many people don't have jobs. When UNTAET leaves, thousands of local staff will lose their jobs. If they try to solve the problems through foreign investment, this means the government will prioritise the interests of big companies.
The demonstration that took place was clearly a demonstration against Fretilin. Now they have increased security and closed the area [around the Constituent Assembly]. What does this mean? That they can't put up with demonstrations?
Fretilin has only two options: to become enemies of capital and stand for the people; or become friends of capital and enemies of the people. Only left or right.