East Timor: Socialists work to consolidate party

Max Lane spoke to the Socialist Party of Timor's (PST) secretary-general, Avelino da Silva Coelho, in the wake of East Timor's June 30 parliamentary elections, in which the PST received 0.96% of the vote.

No party or figure from the national liberation movement achieved more than 29% in the parliamentary elections. How do you explain that?

The people are not yet making their choices based on ideology or political line. They react emotionally, which also explains the volatility of the way they vote. In this sense, democracy is developing only slowly. The decline in the vote also reflects a crisis in leadership, as well as the emergence of a greater number of parties. Along with this is a great deal of pork barrel politicking. In the search for alternatives, these factors still weigh most strongly. Political consciousness is weak. Primordial and emotional, including family and friendship linkages, factors are still strong.

So what were the ideological or policy differences between the National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction, Fretilin and Democratic Party?

There were absolutely no differences. They all campaigned for a free market economy. They all argued for same policies; there were no significant differences. We will be able to see later, the character of the economy they develop.

And the main differences with the PST?

We campaigned on a clear program and with a cleqar ideological basis. We openly explained Marxist-Leninist principles. Although we did not get many votes this ime, we are convinced this served a useful purpose, starting to get people used to discussing these ideas. The important thing for us now is to intensify our ideological work in building the party.

The PST's votes were down on the Presidential elections?

In the Presidential elections people also decided on the basis of which figure they supported or had some sympathy for. In the parliamentary elections, they chose a party. That may have made a difference. Actually if we are realistic, we must note that the PST's votes this time were less than in the parliamentary elections in 2001, when we achieved 6483 votes, This may have been a result of the mushrooming of more parties and the still very volatile attitude towards parties. The capital we have now of 4000 votes gives us good prospects for building to the future, whether through a front of some kind or not.

So what are the PST's plans now?

We will be consolidating the internal structures of the party. Up until now party members have not had to pay dues. They join [and] get a membership card but the ties are very loose. We are going to make dues compulsory. This way we will be able to see the real number of our militants. If you do not pay dues, you will not be a member of the party. Only a sympathiser. There will be a stricter provision for party branches to keep good membership records and report monthly on their activities to the political bureau. We will intensify the political membership for those dues paying members. There will be more concrete division of labour and allocation of party tasks to members. We need amore structured and disciplined party. The party must be ready for the coming regional elections.

How do you think the proposed unity government will fair?

It will not work. The political climate is very unstable. There may have to be early elections.

Would the PST join such a coalition?

The PST is too small. The important thing is to prepare the PST for the next elections.

What will happen with the PST members who were elected on he CNRT list?

Only one was elected. The PST hopes that they will be able to campaign on a range of different legislation.

Is it time for the foreign military forces to exit from Timor Leste?

The internal conflicts have not yet been resolved here.