[TimorLesteStudies] Fwd: Tim Anderson: elections in Timor Leste

Angie Bexley Angie.Bexley at anu.edu.au
Mon Apr 23 10:29:49 EST 2007

> Subject: Still Struggling for Independence: elections in Timor Leste
> By Tim Anderson
> 'Independence is not an end, it is the beginning of
> self rule' - Kofi
> Anan, May 2002
> Australian representations of elections in Timor Leste
> have reflected the wishful thinking of an elite. Media
> coverage of the Presidential elections focused almost
> exclusively on the pro-Australian candidate, Jose
> Ramos Horta, and commentaries over a future government
> keenly search for a Xanana-led coalition that might
> upset the currently Fretilin dominated parliament.
> The fact that Francisco ('Lu Olo') Guterres, the man
> who won the first
> Presidential round, was not seriously profiled by any
> Australian media
> outlet should give us pause to reflect on the quality
> of information
> provided. To win the first round while opposed by the
> incumbent President, the incumbent Prime Minster, the
> hierarchy of the Catholic Church and the Australian
> elite is quite an achievement. It shows that Fretilin
> as a force for independence still resonates strongly
> with the East Timorese people.
> There was a great deal of media speculation over
> possible election fraud, pointing a finger at
> Fretilin. This was remarkable given the high level of
> international observers and the open anti-Fretilin
> bias of the electoral authority. Electoral chief and
> Catholic Church representative Martinho Gusmao
> publicly endorsed opposition leader Fernando Araujo
> before the election, then made a false claim that
> votes in pro-Fretilin Baucau were massively
> over-subscribed. European Union observers contradicted
> him.
> What of Lu Olo? He was a guerilla leader for the
> entire resistance period, Speaker of Parliament for
> over five years and remains a loyal member of
> Fretilin. Mari Alkatiri, the former Prime Minister
> reviled by the Australian media, is still General
> Secretary of the party. So while the
> coup attempt and foreign intervention have undoubtedly
> shaken confidence in Fretilin, the first round has
> demonstrated that no other party in Timor Leste has
> anything close to its support.
> Recall that an alliance of sorts was formed at the
> time of the first
> Presidential election of April 2002, where Fretilin
> agreed to support
> Xanana Gusmao, provided that he ran as an independent.
> Xanana's only opposition was Francisco Xavier do
> Amaral from the ASDT (Timorese Social Democratic
> Association). Fretilin had already gained an outright
> majority in the August 2001 elections for a
> constituent assembly, which went on to become the
> nation's first parliament.
> Prior to the 2006 crisis, a major political
> achievement was the effective
> combination of the strategic vision of Alkatiri's
> Fretilin, the charisma
> of Xanana and the diplomacy of Ramos Horta. Despite a
> tiny budget
> (increasing in 2007, with oil revenue) they began the
> institutions of a
> modern state, expanded education, rehabilitated their
> rice fields,
> developed a major health program and clawed back
> several billion dollars in oil and gas revenue from
> the Howard Government.
> Alkatiri attracted most Australian hostility,
> particularly over the
> protracted oil and gas talks. Ramos Horta was the weak
> link. I have
> detailed elsewhere (Timor Leste: the Second Australian
> Intervention) how he attempted three compromises, all
> of which would have pleased Howard and Downer but
> resulted in less revenue for his country. Little
> wonder he emerged as the Australian favorite.
> Xanana maintained an aloofness from party politics, a
> stance which aided his major political project of
> reconciliation. He forgave the Indonesian generals
> (despite a lack of repentance on their side) and
> attempted to reintegrate former militia members into
> local communities.
> However this aloofness evaporated in the crisis, as
> Xanana indirectly
> supported coup leader Alfredo Reinado and bitterly
> attacked Fretilin. As President he demanded the
> resignation of Mari Alkatiri, using a video copy of a
> notorious ABC program which had relied on the word of
> one of Reinado's allies to accuse Alkatiri of arming a
> 'hit squad' to kill his political opponents, and of
> having already murdered a number of them. A UN
> investigation into the crisis ('Report of the United
> Nations Independent Special Commission of Inquiry for
> Timor-Leste') later discredited this story.
> The Australian media, however, clings to the 'hit
> squad' theory, gaining
> some comfort from the conviction of Alkatiri ally and
> former Interior
> Minister Rogerio Lobato for the offence of
> distributing police weapons to civilians. Lobato,
> appealing his conviction, maintains these acts were
> justified during a coup attempt, when the police force
> had disintegrated.
> With coup leader Reinado still at large, but
> apparently no longer considered a political asset or a
> threat by either Xanana or the Australians, the
> politics of Timor Leste seem to have returned to a
> somewhat more 'normal' footing. But it is a political
> process badly
> damaged by violence, dislocation and mistrust.
> Ramos Horta may still win the Presidency from Lu Olo
> in the second round. However this depends more on
> voter perceptions than on the small opposition
> parties' ability to deliver 'blocs' of votes, as in a
> more
> class-based party system. Ramos Horta has
> international recognition but Lu Olo is the
> 'grassroots' candidate. Many of the epithets thrown at
> Mari Alkatiri - that he was arrogant and an exile
> during the struggle - now apply to Ramos Horta, not Lu
> Olo. In any case, a Ramos Horta Presidency would not
> be a major barrier to a Fretilin-led Government. East
> Timorese are used to having a figurehead, non-Fretilin
> President, and a Fretilin Government.
> Xanana Gusmao's descent from the Presidency to party
> politics is a far
> more uncertain path. His role in the crisis and his
> open anti-Fretilin
> hostility has damaged his own standing, as well as
> that of Fretilin. After
> his passive support for the coup, much of the army
> leadership will not
> trust him. His attempt to recreate a 'CNRT' coalition,
> using the initials
> of the earlier coalition which included Fretilin, is a
> gamble which depends upon cobbling together a number
> of small parties whose only common theme is opposition
> to Fretilin.
> On the other side, Fretilin will have suffered from
> their apparent
> inability to guarantee stability and the persistent
> attempts to blame the
> government for the coup. Fretilin may not be able to
> regain the outright parliamentary majority it has held
> since 2001. On the other hand, the Presidential first
> round tells us Fretilin is still the major political
> force in the country. Its vote could still exceed 40%
> in the parliamentary elections. The competition would
> then be  between a Fretilin-led coalition and a less
> coherent Xanana-led coalition.
> Personalities apart, neither Xanana nor Ramos Horta
> offer much of a
> strategic alternative to Fretilin. Of course, both
> participated in many of
> the Fretilin-led Government's campaigns, including
> those which sought to bring in new development
> partners ( e.g. China for oil and gas and Cuba for
> health). Some differences have emerged. Ramos Horta
> has said he favours 'greater privileges' for foreign
> investors, and recently proposed a radical reduction
> in business taxes and tariffs. This would, however,
> increase government reliance on oil and gas revenues.
> Xanana's one recent suggestion has been to break the
> controlled release of revenue from the Petroleum Fund.
> So the main policy departure of a Ramos
> Horta-Xanana-led coalition would seem to be spending
> up the oil wealth faster.
> Fretilin, for its part, has an experienced group of
> Ministers, including
> Deputy Prime Minister Estanislau da Silva, several
> senior women ministers including Maria Boavida and Ana
> Pessoa, a strong party machine, widespead membership
> and has shown its skills in coalition building. Even
> with an absolute parliamentary majority, Fretilin
> recruited independent MPs, such as Health Minister
> (now Deputy PM) Rui Araujo, Finance Minister Fernanda
> Borges, Education Minister Armindo Maia, Labor
> Minister Arsénio Bano and Foreign Minister Jose Ramos
> Horta into the Government.
> A Fretilin-led coalition government thus seems a more
> likely outcome of the coming parliamentary elections
> than a Xanana-led coalition. The return of Mari
> Alkatiri as Prime Minister is also possible. Just how
> the
> constellation of forces that deposed Alkatiri would
> react to this is not
> clear. Expectations have been raised by the
> intervention and anti-Fretilin push. In particular, it
> seems unlikely that Xanana imagines he is trading in
> his Presidency to become opposition leader.
> --

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