Socialist Party of Timor holds first congress
By Jon Land
DILI — The Socialist Party of Timor (PST) held its first national congress here on February 10-11. The event marked an important stage in the development of the PST and the socialist movement in East Timor. Some 250 delegates from across East Timor discussed and debated the way forward for the party.
The congress was organised under extremely difficult circumstances. The limited finances and resources of the PST made it impossible to transport another 300 to 400 delegates who wanted to attend (transport costs have risen by at least 300% in the past six months). Despite this, the delegates who did attend — from Liquica, Dili, Lakabou, Manatuto, Baucau, Ossu, Viqueque, Same, Suai and Ermera — represented a wide cross-section of the party's membership.
Opening remarks to the congress were made by the party president, Pedro da Costa. Because he had operated underground during the years of the Indonesian occupation, da Costa's identity was unknown to most members until the congress.
PST secretary-general Avelino da Silva also spoke. Greetings were presented by the PST representative in Portugal, Azancot De Menezes, and from a representative of Australia's Democratic Socialist Party.
The rest of the first day was devoted to discussion of the party's constitution, manifesto and the resolution on the current period. Drafts of each were circulated amongst the delegates, who divided into three commissions. Each commission was charged with discussing one of the three drafts. A report-back from each commission was then presented, followed by an all-delegates discussion of modifications.
The resolution on the transitional period reaffirmed the PST's commitment to struggling for the greatest amount of "democratic freedom" and rights for all Timorese. The party considers this vital to ensure an increased political awareness amongst the Timorese people before the elections at the end of the transitional period.
Reconciliation and justice
A point of debate was what should be the PST's position on the reconciliation process with pro-integration supporters, militia members and collaborators with the Indonesian dictatorship.
Some delegates argued for immediate and harsh penalties for all who collaborated with the Indonesian state. Others pointed out that it was a complex issue which divided families, towns and villages. For example, there are many families which may have a father or brother in Falintil and another family member in a militia group. Then there are the many Timorese who collaborated with the Indonesian occupation, but also secretly provided support and assistance to the resistance.
Most delegates supported the view that there needs to be a thorough process of rebuilding East Timorese society which requires not just "forgiveness" but also justice. The congress decided that this requires a detailed "analytical approach rather than a purely emotional reaction" in order to bring all those responsible for killing and human rights abuses to account.
The second day of the congress was devoted primarily to the election of a new leadership. Delegates elected 62 members to an expanded central committee and a 15-member political bureau was also approved. The central committee was increased in size as a result of the growth of the party in recent months and to involve new PST members who are playing leading roles in regional committees.
Issues such as how to further consolidate the party and others raised formally and informally, but for which there was not enough time for discussion, were addressed at two special central committee meetings held after the congress.
A key issue identified at these meetings was the need to send party cadre to the regional committees to strengthen the PST's work there and improve the level of understanding of socialism and Marxist theory amongst all members, especially new party members. PST regional conferences are now being planned.
The PST office in Dili receives 10 to 20 applications for membership each day. A similar situation develops wherever PST regional committees are established. Integrating and educating new members is, therefore, a big challenge for the party.
Another challenge is the increasingly hostile reaction from conservative Timorese political figures to the growth and influence of the PST. In Liquica district, for example, there has been harassment and intimidation of PST members by local members of the National Council of Timorese Resistance (CNRT). In one instance, a PST member in Liquica was detained and removed from the district by CNRT activists. United Nations Civilian Police were also called because the PST members were accused of being militia members.
The conflict is being resolved in Liquica, but it is not an isolated incident. As the PST continues to establish itself as a key political force in East Timor, those who fear socialist and progressive ideas will continue to attempt to undermine the party's influence.
A political battle is unfolding in East Timor, at the village and sub-district level, which will heighten in the lead up to the election (or appointment) of new representative bodies at these levels. This is expected to take place within a year.