East Timorese socialists set out campaign platform

The Socialist Party of Timor (PST) is fielding 65 candidates in the June 30 parliamentary elections, and also has 25 candidates on the supplementary list (which comes into operation if candidates withdraw or die, or vacate their position after the election). Fourteen parties are contesting the elections. Topping the PST's list of candidates is party secretary-general Avelino Coelho da Silva. PST president Nelson Correia is second on the list; two well-known women activists, Angela Fraga and Maria de Carvalho, are the third and fourth candidates.

I spoke to Coelho over the phone while he was campaigning in the area of Ossu. "First, we call on the solidarity movement to send their protests to the East Timorese prime minister and the president about the [June 3] shooting deaths of two political activists in Viqueque, both shot by police", he said. [See article this page.] "This must be met by protest now; we cannot let this practice become a precedent — the state apparatus shooting the people."

"We actually need a new kind of government", Coelho explained, "a popular worker-farmer government, which will mean that the people solve their problems through their own power. We have had a government of the bourgeoisie, the petty bourgeoisie, now for five years and it has failed to meet the people's needs. There can be no lesser goal than 100% independence and 100% achievement of justice and prosperity.

"Apart from the two parties campaigning for a return to the system of hereditary rule, of royalty, the other 11 parties are all parties of the bourgeoisie, including [CNRT, the National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction — a new party launched by former president Xanana Gusmao] and Fretilin. Among other things it is reflected in the abstract character of the platforms they have announced. We are not interested in abstract policies, but concrete measures, and measures that help the people solve their problems."

The PST's platform has 26 points. "We are emphasising the need for all of these policies, they all must be implemented." Coelho said that "job creation is crucial ... This means we have to stop importing our basic consumer goods and establish factories to process what we can produce here in East Timor. The government will need also to provide transportation to get farm produce and other products to the markets and to processing centres." East Timor needs a "people's bank" to provide cheap and accessible credit, he said.

Coelho explained that a Marxist analysis was crucial to working out the policies that are needed. "Everybody is talking about the need to end unemployment. This is crucial but it will be meaningless in the end if it just delivers workers into a system of exploitation. We also need policies that can encourage processes whereby the workers themselves start to own and, most importantly, control their enterprises. This can guarantee they benefit properly from their work and also ensure no arbitrary sackings.

"We are campaigning for legislation that will facilitate workers buying shares and exercising control in the enterprises where they work, either through any cooperatives they set up, or through unions or even in their individual capacity. The legislation must be guided by the cooperative ideal; it must ensure participation of the workers in controlling the enterprises. This should be facilitated on both Timorese as well as foreign companies."

The PST's platform also contains a number points on improving welfare, such as the provision of free water and electricity, and making available cheap credit for the purchase of housing. The platform also includes the demand for a 100% increase in the salaries of lower-ranked civil servants, police and soldiers.

"We are also campaigning for a series of direct benefit payments", he said. "This includes a US$100 per month benefit for household heads who have no employment while the government finds work for them. Also we want a $100 per month benefit for three months for new mothers and similar amount for an old age pension and a $200 a month pension for former guerrilla fighters. Very important too is $50 a month [benefit] for students studying overseas, especially in Indonesia. They should also be free of visa fees, coming in and out of Timor."

Coelho emphasised the need for building up the people's organisation at the village level. "The government must build community centres in all villages. At the national level, the people must have their own languages. Tetum must be the official national language [it is currently Portuguese] and Indonesian the official working language. We should throw Portuguese back into the sea and let it float back to Portugal."

"There must be a regeneration of national political leadership", he said. "We can start with repealing the law giving the current parliamentarians a pension for life. The labour laws should also be repealed. All the corruptors must be brought to court and real investigation into who was responsible for the military/political crisis last year. Exploiting racial, primordial and fascist tendencies must be criminalised. The army and police have to be restructured."

"We need new laws on political parties too", he said. "we have to bring to an end this situation where business can put money into a political party as an investment, making it their instrument. Parties must belong to and be instruments of the people, not capital."

There was more to talk about, especially on agriculture, but the phone line was weakening. We switched quickly to get an idea of the PST's campaigning. "At the moment we have four teams operating in different regions ... we are concentrating on community meetings at the village level, consolidating our support. If we can, in the next phase we will try to organise rallies or other events at the district level. We are aiming to increase our vote by a third up to 3%, which will guarantee us representation in parliament, and a better base for the next stage of our struggle. Although the PST is not campaigning at all for CNRT — we are focusing on our own campaign — we also have five members on the CNRT list. If the PST wins 3% of the vote, and CNRT also gets a big vote, it means we will have around eight MPs in the next parliament. We are Marxists, and Marxists never accept defeat, never tire of the struggle; we are preparing for the next stage."