This paper examines the ongoing tensions between traditional and modern forms of political authority in Timor-Leste. These evolving relationships remain a key challenge for nation builders, and the new East Timorese government elected in 2007 is reviewing local governance. For example, there are widespread reports on the disruptive nature of competitive political party elections at the suco (village) and aldeia (sub-village) local government levels. It is also clear that local communities in Timor-Leste retain greater faith in traditional dispute resolution mechanisms than in the modern legal system. Drawing on the author's recent interviews with traditional (Liurais, Datos, Lia Na'in), and modern authorities (District Administrators, Sub-district administrators, Chefes de Suco, Chefes de Aldeia, Suco Council members), the paper reports on preliminary findings to suggest that a range of hybridised modern/ traditional systems have emerged at district and local government level. Candidates with traditional or ritual heritage are more effective in modern local governance roles, and possess greater 'speaking power' than those from modern political parties without traditional local legitimacy. In particular, the paper focuses on the conceptual translation of notions of legitimacy from the spiritual and traditional in ways that confer status upon the temporal and modern.
Seminar, speech or other presentation
Paper presented at the 42nd Annual Conference of Asian Studies on the Pacific Coast: Crossing Boundaries in the Asia-Pacific: Regional and Disciplinary Intersections (ASPAC 2008), Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, 13-15 June 2008