The importance of Timor Leste’s 2017 elections

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Source: Facebook.

Timor-Leste’s 15 years of independence have been marked by a mixed performance of progress and crisis. Having emerged from war and internal conflict in the late 1990s, Timor-Leste has a challenging path to get on par with other countries, in particular on issues related to development.

After 15 years of independence, it is time to take stock of how far things have come. The country’s presidential election will be held on March 20, with a potential second round of voting in April before the parliamentary election in July, the first such election to be held since the United Nations (UN) Mission departed in 2012.

Eight candidates, including one female candidate, will be contesting the March 20 presidential elections after fulfilling the criteria, including securing enough supporters. The eight candidates are Amorim Vieira, Angela Freitas, Antonio da Conceição, Antonio Maher, Francisco Guterres Lu-Olo, Jose Luis Guterres, Luis Alves Tilman, and Jose Antonio Neves. All eight candidates are scheduled to carry out their political campaigns from March 3-17. Voting is scheduled to take place simultaneously on March 20 both inside the country and overseas for Timorese abroad.

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Manufactured fear

It was a sombre September 16 as I spent my time following the Himpunan Rakyat Bersatu or “red shirt” rally via online news portals and the sharing of photos and videos on social media. There was one specific video that struck me, a lady in her very angry tone saying, “Enough is enough. Babi is babi!” Some said I should not be too shocked with the racist hate speeches and all the hatred messages. Well, I am all for the right to peaceful assembly, but racist hate speech has absolutely no place in our society. Some sincerely believe that skin color no longer matters. But there are also some believing the other extreme, that racism is at the root of nearly every problem.

Is racism really alive in this country? I am not sure if I should understand the September 16 event as a sign that frustration has reached its peak and was boiling over, because the boiling point could also be “manufactured”. It could simply be our perception. Having said that, I am going to discuss the “Bersih 4 vs ‘red shirt’” issue from a social movement perspective.

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Don’t hate me because I am beautiful

How does it feel to be one of the beautiful people? Very often, physical attractiveness is associated with advantages. But how much is it true?

Early in my career, I came to know a friend. She is by all accounts gorgeous, clever and capable. She has had several jobs in the past and is currently struggling at one. The reason is simple yet idiotic: Female colleagues envy her while male colleagues lust after her. Then, I realised that being beautiful comes with its own set of issues. She had become the target of jealousy among her colleagues.

Some sincere colleagues told her that a woman like her is in “danger” because she is too beautiful, and many speculate that she has had scandals with bosses to get to where she is now. In the past, I have also met some young female professionals who grumble that male colleagues, particularly the older ones, don’t always take them seriously.

In order to earn respect, many young female professionals tend to tone down their physical attractiveness by dressing more plainly and using less make-up with the intention of looking more “matured” and of course, well, older.

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A year of dissent and repression

It is that time of the year again. Ask any Malaysian on their reflections in 2015, you would probably get some similar answers. They would possibly tell you that life is getting tougher with everything becoming unaffordable. Some would probably tell you about the mess that our country is getting into, politically.

I was in a shop yesterday, and overheard the worker telling a customer that the price of goods could cost more next year. The customer sarcastically replied, “We must thank Najib for that.” Price hikes undoubtedly affect everything we use in daily life. With trust deficit in our leadership, Malaysians are frustrated by an unaccountable government, demands were dismissed, while dissenters were slammed under various laws. Look at the various draconian laws that the government has introduced and amended, for instance, Prevention of Terrorism Act, Sedition Act and the latest, National Security Council Bill. These laws share one common characteristic: repression on our fundamental liberties.

I was in Jakarta last week for a conference. Most of the international participants that I met asked me the same question: what is going on in Malaysia? It is like the hardest logic puzzles ever created and from time to time, the puzzle seems to get more challenging with some missing pieces. Now, it seems to reach a stage where it is just difficult to comprehend. The controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement left us in limbo, as there are still many vague areas to be explained.

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Putrajaya suffers from human rights allergy

It is that time of the year again, when various human rights annual reports are launched all over the world. Malaysia, too, will be scrutinised on its human rights report cards. Last week, Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram) launched its annual report 2014. The report highlighted Putrajaya’s inconsistency in dealing with the rise of racial and religious hate speech and with dissenting opinions. Similarly in the just-released 2014 human rights report by the US State Department, it has underscored Putrajaya’s restrictions on freedom of speech and expression as among the worrying trends in the country.

Suaram recorded a total of 14 cases of deaths in police custody in 2014 alone. Up to June this year, it recorded nine such cases. Looking at the numbers, one can only predict there does not appear to be any sign of decreasing. Last Friday, the Faculty of Law in the University of Malaya (UM) hosted a human rights event. A joint campaign for Malaysia’s accession to the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) by the Human Rights Council of Malaysia (Suhakam), Amnesty International Malaysia (AIM), Bar Council Malaysia, Suaram and Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) was launched. What is laudable is that, for the very first time, various stakeholders from diverse backgrounds partnered up under this collective effort for a common goal.

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Seek ‘permission’ before penning your thoughts

No matter how much you love writing, there will be times when you are desperate for inspiration. And sometimes, the inspiration could come from the most unlikely of sources. Last week, I received a call from a friend in Sarawak. He suggested that maybe it was timely to write about the role of an academic and also academic freedom. But I told him that I had highlighted issues related to academic freedom numerous times in the past. Hence, I am not sure if this would be a good idea, as the readers might get bored. A few days passed and here I am. I changed my mind and I decided to take stock and consider what an academic really is. I visualised that the academic of the future would be known as more of a thought leader or professional thinker, rather than someone who is tied to an institution. A career that is built along these lines could actually open up more space for freedom of thought. At the same time, it would allow for more opportunities to initiate work that would eventually contribute to society. More importantly, it would allow for a much deeper understanding of actual problems in practice.

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Civil Society Commitment to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

This is the CSO statement that was delivered to the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department in charge of Economic Planning, Dato’ Seri Wahid Omar at the SDGs Symposium on 23 February 2016. 

Following the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as the global development agenda at the 70th session of the UN General Assembly, more than 20 civil society organisations (CSOs) in Malaysia met on three occasions since October 2015 to reflect on the relevance of SDGs to the country.

We recognise that under the principle of leaving no one behind, the SDGs integrate human rights and development in a balanced, inclusive and ecologically sustainable way.

We note that the 11th Malaysia Plan (2016-2020) and the SDGs share some common policy and program focus. With that, the 17 goals, 169 targets and the many indicators identified will guide a clear direction for both policy and delivery in Malaysia’s development program.

We recognise the gaps and shortcomings in the Government’s development planning, priorities and implementation. However, many of these gaps could be addressed through the SDGs over the next 15 years between 2016 -2030.

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