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Democracy Old and New: The Interaction of Modern and Traditional Authority in East Timorese Local Government

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Abstract

This article examines the evolving relationship between traditional and modern forms of political authority in local government in Timor-Leste. The “clash of paradigms” between traditional and liberal democratic ideas of legitimacy in Timor-Leste is widely considered to be an important issue for the stability of the nation-state as a whole, and integral to engaging local communities in nation building, peace building, and democratization. Drawing on fieldwork conducted by the authors in Baucau, Los Palos, Viqueque, Venilale, and Ainaro in 2008–2009, we examine the ways elected chefes de suku and chefes de aldeia are interacting with traditional authorities at the local government level. The findings suggest that the interaction of modern and traditional systems has produced several hybrid models of local political authority and legitimacy. Specifically, we identify three models: two “co-incumbency” models, and an “authorization” model emphasizing a separation of powers between traditional and modern authorities.

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