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Primordial Leadership

Peacebuilding and National Ownership in Timor-Leste

By Sukehiro Hasegawa

After decades under the authoritarian rule of Indonesia, the new nation of Timor-Leste was wracked by conflict early in the twenty-first century. This book reveals how primordial leadership proved to be the key to building sustainable peace in this young Southeast Asian country.

Rather than relying solely on governmental rules and regulations to bring order to the country, its leaders appealed to the citizens’ strong emotional ties to the homeland and their sense of national unity. This primordial leadership in post-conflict Timor-Leste facilitated a widespread feeling of ownership and accountability, helping the country’s leaders successfully turn security crises in 2006 and 2008 into opportunities for fostering respect for democratic governance. This change in mindset and the ensuing spirit of national unity were instrumental in achieving peace and stability—more than the externally induced, exclusive efforts in building institutional frameworks for the rule of law and democratic governance.

While the application of democratic principles is necessary in the long term, it alone is not sufficient for building sustainable peace in an immediate post-conflict period. The leadership of Timor-Leste was committed to national interest, identity, and unity; it was able to harmonize the universal ideals and principles of governance with local community values and customs. It had the passion and courage to empower others, the willingness to pursue the future rather than the past, and the capability to transform the mind-set and mentality of people. Without those characteristics, success would have been very much in doubt.

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