Bloku Unidade Popular Associação Popular Monarquia Timorense Kmanek Haburas Unidade Nasional Timor Oan Partido Esperança da Pátria Partido Socialista de Timor Partido Desenvolvimento Popular Congresso Nacional para a Reconstrução de Timor-Leste Partido Republicano União Democrática Timorense Partido Democrata Cristão Partidu Movimento Libertasaun Povu Maubere Partidu Libertasaun Popular Partido Democratico União Nacional Democrática de Resistência Timorense Partido Unidade Desenvolvimento Democrático Partido Timorense Democratico Frenti-Mudança Partido Social Democrata Centro Ação Social Democrata Timorense Partido do Desenvolvimento Nacional Frente Revolucionaria de Timor-Leste Independente
Securing our maritime rights will the end of Timor Leste’s long struggle for sovereignty. We will then finaly be able to enjoy, in peace and dignity, the rich and beautiful seas that are rightfully ours.

Just as we fought so hard and suffered so much for our independence, Timor-Leste will not rest until we have our sovereign rights over both land and sea.

Xanana Gusmao
29 August 2016

Interview with
Fernando Lasama de Araujo: On the road to democracy, where the streets have no name


terça-feira, 27 de dezembro de 2016

Getting Representation Right – A food for thought as we are heading to the 2017 parliamentary election

Getting Representation Right – A food for thought as we are heading to the 2017 parliamentary election

By; Menukai Pinheiro
As 2017 draws closer, many in Timor-Leste have set their minds to both presidential and parliamentary elections. Timor-Leste has made quite a stride in the past 15 years since reclaiming independence from Indonesia in 1999. It has held 3 presidential and parliamentary elections respectively in fair and free environment. The Economist Intelligence Unit ranks Timor-Leste higher than all ASEAN members in its 2015 Democracy Index.  

The freedom that the Timorese enjoy in their political exercise particularly in general election however, should not be seen as an end in itself. The question of representativeness of those elected through political parties has popped up recently as a theme worth considering and merits further scrutiny. This comes as voters are becoming increasingly disenchanted with the performances of members of parliament (MPs) and with the current electoral system. The following is a translation of a community member’s dissatisfaction in a discussion held by a local NGO Judicial System Monitoring Program (JSMP);

“we are really not happy with the performances of member of parliament which are not representing the people in law making, oversight and decision making after general election. We urged the government and the parliament to improve the electoral law for national parliament, particularly on setting rigorous criteria to ensure that quality member of national parliament are elected”.[1]

The existing electoral system is a closed list, proportional representation model, and the whole of the country is treated as a single national constituency. Apart from the president of the republic, all members of both the executive and the legislative bodies are not elected directly by the people. Members of the legislative body are drawn from closed-list figures of political parties winning seats in the national parliament – meaning candidates to the parliament are selected by the party leadership.

The nature of representation is therefore, broad-based as the national character of the closed list system does not guarantee representation for each and every one of the municipalities in Timor-Leste. The quality of representation is hence, questionable. Arguably, legislations or policies in this context, might be enacted on the basis of one-size-fits-all kind in nature – meaning legislations or policies from both the parliament and the government, while may appear as inclusive in general, they may not reach or cover some groups of people in specific areas.

Consequently, for particular issues to get the attention of the national parliament or that of the government, they either have to be brought to the national parliament or be heard by MPs in their occasional visits to municipals, which may not be accessible by all people in some areas. So, question of access is also crucial. Those with access and more organized interests at least have some bearing in law and policy making while those without are at a huge disadvantage.
The absence of regional representation in the system actually reduces the national character of the parliament and may weaken the government’s effectiveness to implement appropriate policies in specific areas across the country.
Challenges remain even for those with access nonetheless. For example, even after an issue is heard, subsequent actions by the national parliament depends largely on to which MPs it was presented, how big the issue were and whether or not it shared national feeling – leading to issues confined to certain geographical areas or groups of society may not generate as much interest and consideration. 
While the internet and social media in particular, is providing a much-needed additional platform for people to voice their issues and concerns openly and directly to MPs and members of government for example through Facebook (FB), not everyone has access to the Internet and use Facebook. The Internet World Stats for Timor-Leste for 2016 shows that only slightly more than a quarter of the total population are internet users with users for FB having about the same penetration rate at 27% as a total share of the population[2], and it’s unclear how many out of this are actually using it for raising issues or discussions relevant to policy making. Also, the effectiveness of this sort of platform remains either understudied or uninvestigated.  
JSMP’s Parliament Watch Program Annual Report for 2015 reported on MPs performances which more or less echoes the above expressed discontent. They range from less than full house participation rate in plenary and other debates on average, unjustified absent from work, to basic disciplinary issues such as timekeeping and being orderly during plenaries and parliamentary debates[3]- adding fuel to public’s growing frustration. These behaviors lessen the national parliament’s productivity and have resulted in a backlog of important laws and legislation the report concluded.

On top of that, blatant disregard exhibited by successive parliamentarians to scrap the pension law for former MPs and member of government despite a nation-wide protest is further proof to how out of touch the national parliament is with the people and epitomizes the lack of representation in the system.

These sorts of challenges could be dealt with differently in a system where individual MPs accountability isn’t only upward, but more importantly, downward to the people who elected them. The current system allows underperformed MPs to hide behind the mask of political parties – shielding them from being held accountable by the public. The impersonal nature of the electoral system actually works against the competitive nature that comes with democratic election, which is to elect political parties with possibly better and more representative figures to the national parliament. It is also working against the spin-offs that competition breeds to enhance the workings of a system or an organization. 
MPs in a system where they are answerable to the people or whose constituency is divided by a fixed geographical line on the other hand, have both exogenous and endogenous drive to be representative. His/her constituents’ trust and not only that of the political party’s is the primary determinant in one remains elected or not. In such a system, the electorate have the freedom to elect potentially the best candidates at their own discretion, to represent them and contribute to an inclusive national legislation or policies.
At the same time, the system compels political parties to attract and draft the best people into their ranks if they wished to be seriously regarded as contenders in every election – contributing to increasing democratic efficiency and accountability. Democratic efficiency refers to the degree to which the results of democratic processes reflect the will of the people.[4] In this context, it refers to the ways in which the system encourages or compels depends how one views it, both political parties and the electorate to make the best choices under a given condition. For example, political parties come forward with the best possible candidates to represent an electorate, voters elect politicians they believe would serve their interests best in law and policy making, and elected candidates and their respective parties answer to the electorate – creating a mutually binding relationship between all actors and a much clearer expectations between the electorate and the elected politicians. 
The current system is less so. Given accountability is to political parties instead of the electorate, the incentive is somewhat unclear and MPs reelection aren’t necessarily reflective of their actual performances as far as representation and accountability are concerned. The system discourages efforts to exploit the potentials of representative democracy as a delegated system of government, and could undermine the core principle and values underpinning democracy most notably, government of the people, by the people and for the people the system meant to safeguard in the first place.  
Timor-Leste is becoming increasingly diverse in its demographic as it is maturing as a nation-state. This is reflected in the growing number of returning diaspora, groups of Timorese societies realizing their rights in post-independence era and new generations with their new needs and rights are becoming eligible to vote. Ideally, the electoral system should reflect these changes and their associated issues. It should serve not only as a mechanism to elect politicians, but also as a means to ensure that the values of representative democracy are exercised and maintained. 
The point is we can make the system works better for our democracy and that encompasses making selective changes to the current system or scrap the law altogether and introduce an alternative to improve the workings of our representative democracy.

[1] Relatóriu Anuál Programa Observasaun Parlamentár 2015, p. 31, Judicial System Monitoring Program
[3] For further details on this kindly refer to p. 6, 7, and 8, Relatóriu Anuál Programa Observasaun Parlamentár 2015, Judicial System Monitoring Program
[4] Sparrow A, Response at “Notes on a Theory” retrieved from

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