Subject: Martinkus: East Timor: Democracy Split

Quinta-feira, Abril 19, 2007

East Timor: Democracy Split

Wednesday, April 18, 2007 John Martinkus

The votes cast in the 9 April first round of East Timor’s Presidential elections have been counted. Only preliminary results are available at this stage, but these indicate that a second round will be required on 8 May between the first round winner Francisco ‘Lu Olo’ Guterres (the candidate of FRETILIN, the Party which currently controls Parliament), and second-placed current Prime Minister, José Ramos Horta, who won 28.8 per cent and 22.5 per cent of the vote respectively.

From these results we can deduce that FRETILIN was the clear winner in a poll which many in East Timor see as a crucial indicator of whether the retiring President, Xanana Gusmão, has the electoral clout to secure control of Parliament and become Prime Minister at the 30 June parliamentary elections.

The political divisions that led to last year’s crisis are becoming increasingly clear. It is a conflict between those who remain loyal to former Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri and his FRETILIN Party, which fought for East Timor’s independence from Indonesia, and those who believe the future lies with Xanana, Ramos Horta and the nascent Democratic Party (PD). Xanana’s vision for the future is simple. He has stated repeatedly that if elected as Prime Minister he would approve the release of the funds held in the East Timor Government’s ‘Petroleum Fund’ ­ which was set up in 2005 to manage the revenues from huge oil and gas reserves in the Timor Sea.

Alkatiri and FRETILIN maintain they are already spending the money and that last year’s crisis (which they now squarely say was caused by Xanana) has prevented them spending money already allocated in the Budget.

The other main issue in this election was whether Xanana was behind the push to unseat Alkatiri from the Prime Minister’s office last year. Opinion here is sharply polarised between those who believe that Xanana, backed by the international community, was the driving force behind last year’s violent events, and those who believe that he only came out against FRETILIN to prevent further disorder.

Most analysts in Australia have failed to appreciate the depth of support that FRETILIN retains in the east of the country. As the only East Timorese political Party that never made concessions to the Indonesians and never stopped fighting for independence, FRETILIN has an enormous symbolic place in the minds of many who lost family and suffered fighting for them. Xanana’s now very public opposition to FRETILIN has infuriated many who once revered the charismatic leader. As one senior FRETILIN member Harold Moucho said, ‘These are the people that died for Xanana and now he has betrayed them.’

This division between Xanana’s supporters and FRETILIN loyalists cuts right through East Timorese society and has caused problems during this election. FRETILIN complained bitterly when Xanana came out and attended a rally for his preferred Presidential candidate Ramos Horta, saying that it was not appropriate for a sitting President to be politically active.

The European Union Electoral Observer Mission, the most experienced and credible of all the electoral observer groups in East Timor, noted in its preliminary report that ‘during the campaign, some public officials took political positions ­ from village chiefs up to the highest national authorities.’ The report went on to identify the CNE (National Election Commission) spokesman Martinho Gusmão’s and his public statements in support of Democratic Party candidate Fernando ‘Lasama’ Araujo.

All through last week, as the person responsible for announcing the results, Martinho Gusmão, a Catholic priest, was the centre of attention. Based on the results from the capital, Dili, he basically called the election in favour of Ramos Horta, with Araujo as the runner up. The majority of the results weren’t made available until last Wednesday ­ causing a shock when FRETILIN moved from third position to first, after the inclusion of the results from the Baucau and Lautem districts in the country’s east.

The high support for FRETILIN in the east mirrored the divisions drummed up by leaders last year that resulted in east/west violence during the crisis. But last Saturday, Martinho Gusmão revealed at another press conference that the counting for key areas of FRETILIN support in the east ­ Lautem, Viqueque and FRETILIN candidate Lu Olo’s home town of Ossu ­ had not been completed. He then went on to tell the press that that the total number of votes in the biggest eastern city of Baucau was 200,000 higher than registered voters.

In an electorate of only 520,000, this was an extraordinary claim. European Union observers, however, say that there were never any ‘excess voters’ and that Martinho Gusmão was highlighting a mathematical error that had already been ironed out.

Why would he do this? As a confessed supporter of third-placed candidate Araujo, the CNE spokesman may be trying to assist the latter’s calls to have the vote declared invalid. FRETILIN has repeatedly called for the spokesman to be removed, issuing another statement this week stating, ‘The CNE failed to remove him and since then he has repeatedly made statements prejudicial to FRETILIN and to the independence and neutrality of the CNE.’ When asked to respond to accusations of his own personal bias Martinho Gusmão said simply, ‘That happens to me everyday. I will not answer that question.’

The rash of allegations of voting irregularities from all the losing candidates ­ including Ramos Horta ­ contribute to a very delicate situation where there are already calls to have the vote recounted. It is worth noting that these calls of foul play only started when the majority FRETILIN vote was made known.

If any violence erupts in East Timor as a consequence of this FRETILIN victory it will be started not by FRETILIN but by those who are already disputing the result. The same people who, last year, resorted to violence to remove Alkatiri from power.

About the author John Martinkus covered the conflict in East Timor from 1995 until 2000. He was resident correspondent in Dili for Associated Press and Australian Associated Press, from 1998 until 2000. He is author of A Dirty Little War (Random House, 2001), about the country’s violent passage to independence. And last year, he co-produced the report ‘East Timor: Downfall of a Prime Minister’ for SBS TV’s Dateline.


John Martinkus' analysis of the outcome of the first round of East Timor's presidential election offers a good insight into the issues facing the country. However, there are a couple of definitional issues that require clarification.

Winning the largest vote in a plurality is not a victory as such if it remains under an absolute majority, as Lu-Olo's vote clearly did. This mistake was also made in Indonesia's 1999 elections, in which Megawati's PDI-P won the largest vote, but still not an absolute minority, and she was unable to construct a coalition to put her into the presidency. This might or might not happen with Lu-Olo, but at this stage we can only say he has the largest vote in a plurality, not that he has won anything. With its vote close to halved, it seems that Fretilin will need to establish a strong, inclusive coalition if it is to be returned to government as the dominant, but not only, party. Alternatively, a coalition of smaller parties could easily take government from Fretilin.

Beyond that, the east-west divide as noted by voter break-down is indeed cause for concern. Lu-Olo polled strongly in Viqueque, Bauacau and to a lesser extent Lautem, while Lasama polled strongly in Bobonaro and to a lesser extent in Ermera, Cova Lima and Oecussi. JRH polled strongest in Dili, Liquica and Manatuto. Do Amaral polled strongly in Aileu.

However, what none of this says is that the vote was divided in most districts, with only a handful of districts indicating more than 50% support for any one candidate. That is, while there are clear preferences in some districts, accounting for historical linkages, patron-client relations and so on, a clear east-west division as such is not supported by the figures.

This is good news, as it shows a complexity of voting behavior across a wide geographic area, meaning that while there might be localised tensions, such as those seen within Bauacau, Liquica, Ermera and Viqueque in particular, and some broader geographic preferences, it seems insufficient to sustain claims of a clear nation-wide split.

Perhaps a broader sense of national identity, and complexities of interests and allegiances, are still the basis for a sense of (successful) national cohesion.

Beyond that, John's observation about Martinho Gusmao is spot-on. In any other system he would have been forced to resign after his numerous gaffs, and should now do so to again allow the CNE to be seen as a legitimate, impartial organisation.


Damien Kingsbury

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