It’s time the Australian media started
calling the events in East Timor what they are – a coup
d’etat by Xanana Gusmao. The symbolic moment was not when Alkatiri resigned. It
was on the weekend, when front page local press showed that the anti-Alkatiri
demonstrators – who had been given the run of Dili by the international troops
– gave Gusmao the keys to the Parliament and government buildings. Now today’s
Australian media say, uncritically, that Gusmao has extended the state of
emergency and is discussing a new Parliamentary-minority Government, or
dissolving Parliament altogether, with his Council of State.

Go check the Constitution, which is on the
web. Gusmao doesn’t have the power to declare a state of emergency unless
Parliament authorises it. He doesn’t have the power to dissolve Parliament
except in defined circumstances that don’t apply. Council of State doesn’t have
any power to put forward Prime Ministerial candidates (this is Parliament’s
job). Gusmao is certainly not meant to choose between multiple candidates for
PM, any more than the UK’s Queen gets to choose
between Blair and Brown. Gusmao doesn’t have the power to sack the Prime
Minister unless Parliament authorises it – so even threatening to sack him when
he has Parliament’s support, and using this threat to mobilise crowds, is a
serious illegal business. He certainly doesn’t have the power to ignore the
dominant party in Parliament just because he is holding a grudge against them
for being Marxist-Leninist in the 1970s.

Ask anyone who has looked at Fretilin’s policies
and practice how Marxist they think the party is now. The answer is surely
“not at all”. Fretilin are not even “economic nationalists” as
some people have called them. They are straight down the line World Bank / IMF
neo-liberals. If Alkatiri or his Ministers have broken the law on the guns
issue or anything else, let them pay the price in a court; and if they are
aloof and arrogant, let them pay the price in elections. But don’t pretend they
are Marxists.

Gusmao has taken over all power in the
country and illegally vested it in himself in and his Council of State, because
he prefers this body (which includes his appointees) over the elected
Parliament. And all this happened while Australia had more than 1,500 troops
on the ground, with the Australian media cheering it on and the Government
hardly pretending to do otherwise.

Horta talks well on TV and Gusmao has a
pretty and well-meaning Australian wife.
Is it as simple as that to get Australia to back you?

How did this happen? What have Australian
troops and diplomats done to stop it? – or encourage it? And who is responsible
for this unconstitutional mess that both Australia and Timor will have to live with for

Peter Fray

Get your first 12 weeks of Crikey for $12.

Without subscribers, Crikey can’t do what it does. Fortunately, our support base is growing.

Every day, Crikey aims to bring new and challenging insights into politics, business, national affairs, media and society. We lift up the rocks that other news media largely ignore. Without your support, more of those rocks – and the secrets beneath them — will remain lodged in the dirt.

Join today and get your first 12 weeks of Crikey for just $12.


Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey