Accepted Paper:

Debating leadership and legitimacy in Timor Leste  


Maj Nygaard-Christensen

Paper short abstract:

The paper examines issues of legitimacy among the national elite in newly independent Timor Leste. It will discuss, in particular, how renowned resistance leaders defend and maintain their positions in the current national elite.

Paper long abstract:

The current national elite of Timor is largely comprised of former resistance leaders who led the struggle for an independent Timor Leste. Today, these leaders occupy influential positions such as ministers and parliamentarians. Their change of position, however, has been challenged. Based on interviews with national and rural leaders and their electorate during national elections in 2007, the paper will examine issues of this new elite's legitimacy.

The paper will focus on what is popularly regarded as the transformation of leaders from being part of 'The People' to becoming part of 'the big people'. This upward move is problematic in terms of the popular rhetorics of legitimacy, characteristic of the resistance struggle, which celebrated the unity of local leaders and 'the people' and sought to eliminate notions of elite distinction. Current debates invoke these populist notions and criticise the increasing distinction between elites and their electorate.

The 2007 election campaigns provided a unique opportunity to investigate how elites attempted to maintain and legitimise their positions in post-independence Timor. I will examine the ways in which national leaders negotiate the balance between popular demands for 'closeness' between leaders and the people, and the exigencies of being representatives of the state commonly regarded as distant and aloof.

Panel W025
Elite strategies of distinction and mutuality