Companion to East Timor - Political Inexperience

Political Inexperience

Australian intelligence assessed that Portuguese colonial policies had 'not been conducive to the development of an indigenous elite. Those who have developed a political consciousness and an ability to assume political and administrative responsibilities would probably number less than 3000, and less than 1/3rd of these would be indigenous Timorese.'

The Portuguese authorities allowed the various political parties to use the radio station in Dili to broadcast their views and educate the population. Both Fretilin and UDT supported an independent East Timor. At first, both wanted gradual independence, perhaps after at least ten years' preparation. After Portugal indicated its inability to support a long decolonization process, Fretilin began to advocate rapid independence. Its leaders often explained to foreign interviewers that it would have preferred a longer interim period, but that the option was unavailable to it.

The leaders' political inexperience was seen in their verbal and sometimes physical attacks on one another. Despite the inflammatory rhetoric, the leaders of the different parties knew each other very well. Many were related to one another. Leaders tended to come from the same circles: some were from liurai families, some were mestizos (people of mixed race), while others were wealthy landowners. Several UDT leaders held relatively senior positions in the civil service because they had been members of the Accao Nacional Popular (ANP), which was the only legal party during the dictatorship. By contrast, although the Fretilin leaders had similar backgrounds, many had had run-ins with the Portuguese colonial authorities, or had been denied advancement within the colonial service. Thus, the Fretilin leaders had no great love of the Portuguese colonial regime. Apodeti leaders came from areas that were near the Indonesian border or had other ties to Indonesia.