|Subject: Economist: A half-built nation -
April 14, 2007
A half-built nation - Timor-Leste
Timor-Leste's perilous elections
An election season has begun peacefully but Timor-Leste will need years more babysitting from the UN
A WHITE United Nations helicopter, piloted by Russians, touches down in Mahaquidan, a remote and drizzle-drenched spot in Timor-Leste's mountains. Out steps Atul Khare, the Indian diplomat who heads the country's UN peacekeeping mission. At the polling station, around 100 villagers queue patiently, shepherded by policemen from Singapore, Portugal and Namibia. As elsewhere this Easter Monday, April 9th, voting is going smoothly and turnout seems high. "Parabéns!" ("Congratulations!"), beams Mr Khare, before flying off to his next stop.
The whole world is on hand to help as the tiny, troubled country (formerly Indonesian-occupied East Timor) holds its first presidential election since independence in 2002. It is packed with soldiers, police, diplomats, election monitors and aid- workers from every corner of the globe. In the capital, Dili, constant patrols by the UN's Australian-led peacekeeping force ensure that clashes between political factions, which flared up during campaigning, are absent on election day.
Timor-Leste gave the UN its first chance to play midwife at the birth of a brand-new country. If nation-building cannot succeed in such a small and relatively homogeneous spot, it will have little chance in bigger and more complex places such as Afghanistan and Congo. Easter Monday's incident-free polling, in which the Timorese had a choice of eight candidates, suggests that the enormous care lavished on the country might pay off. However, many doubts remain.
In May last year, after the UN had scaled down its operations, the country descended again into violence and its army and police collapsed, prompting the dispatch of fresh peacekeepers. The prime minister at the time, Mari Alkatiri, invited the chaos by sacking almost half of the army for going on strike. The striking soldiers, mainly from the country's west, had complained of discrimination by their commanders, mostly from the east. The UN was accused of having planted the seeds of this conflict by mishandling the integration of former rebel fighters and pro-Indonesian militias into the new country's security forces, though the clash was fuelled by rival politicians, exploiting the rifts for their own ends. General disorder followed, including clashes in Dili between easterners and westerners.
The present campaign for the influential but largely ceremonial presidency has only widened the rift that underlies all of this: that between Mr Alkatiri's Fretilin, which had been the independence movement's political wing, and Xanana Gusmão, the current president, who was its military leader. After last year's violence, Mr Alkatiri was forced to resign as prime minister and was replaced by an ally of Mr Gusmão's, José Ramos-Horta, who jointly won the Nobel peace prize for his efforts as the independence movement's chief international spokesman.
Mr Gusmão now plans a job-swap. While backing Mr Ramos-Horta's bid for president, he will seek the prime ministership, under the banner of a new political party, in a parliamentary election in June. Preliminary results from Easter Monday's presidential vote put Mr Ramos-Horta second, with 23%, while Fretilin's Francisco Guterres (known during the resistance as "Lu-Olo") came first with 29%. Mr Ramos-Horta thinks he will still win the run-off next month, because most of the eliminated candidates' voters will switch to him. Mr Guterres's advisers think many Fretilin supporters abstained this time, and that their man will win if they can be persuaded to vote in the second round.
Big oil and gas deposits found in the seas between Timor-Leste and Australia mean that the new nation is no longer poor. Mr Ramos-Horta says Fretilin's over-cautious and insular government has let more than $1 billion of oil revenues stack up in its accounts, while a population of fewer than 1m still suffers widespread poverty, child malnutrition and unemployment. Tens of thousands who fled last year's fighting are living in tents in refugee camps. Fretilin had intended to spend more heavily last year but the violence thwarted its plans. Once Mr Ramos-Horta became prime minister, cohabiting in government with Fretilin, it was reluctant to increase aid in case he took the credit.
Whereas the government has spent little, the UN has splashed out over $3 billion since arriving in 1999. But this largesse has left few visible signs, save at the UN's huge base in Dili, where construction continues apace, suggesting that the world body is digging in for the long term. The capital is still littered with rotting buildings, abandoned in various rounds of violence.
The presidential candidates all pledged before the election to accept its outcome. But five losing candidates have jointly accused Fretilin of intimidation and possible vote-tampering, threatening to reject the result unless there is a public recount. Mr Ramos-Horta says the official turnout figurearound 70%, despite the queues seen at polling stationsis suspiciously low. Fretilin retorts that its supporters were the main victims in pre-election clashes.
Fretilin's opponents fear that it might be a sore loser and cause trouble if Mr Guterres does not win. But worse might come if Fretilin does win the presidential or parliamentary election: the soldiers it sacked are hiding in the hills, angry and, in some cases, armed. The UN's hordes of experts have made huge efforts to nurture democracy and build strong institutions in Timor-Leste. But it still seems as if one stiff gust of wind could blow it all away.
April 12, 2007 Thursday 2:49 PM EST
EU presidency calls East Timor vote "a milestone"
DPA POLITICS ETimor Elections EU Germany EU presidency calls East Timor vote "a milestone"
The European Union's German presidency called this week's presidential elections in East Timor a milestone and urged politicians to accept the results.
"The EU regards these elections as an important milestone on the road to nation-building and to re-establishing stable democratic structures and accountable democratic institutions," said a statement released Thursday in Berlin.
"The EU calls on all political forces to accept the results of the elections, including the upcoming runoff election, and adhere to the principles of non-violence and legal processes," it added.
This would "ensure that the elections have a unifying impact and contribute to bringing the people of Timor-Leste together," the statement said.
It added that the EU's 27 member states and its decision-making executive were committed to assisting East Timor in completing the election process and would continue to monitor the run-off.
The top two vote-getters in Monday's first-round vote accepted the the validity of the poll on Thursday and began preparing for a run-off ballot set for May 8.
The winner of the first-ever locally organized election with 28.77 per cent of the 357,766 votes cast was parliament Speaker Francisco "Lu'Olo" Guterres of the ruling Fretilin Party.
Prime Minister Ramos Horta, who ran as an independent, secured 22.66 per cent to finish second. The constitution requires a run-off ballot when no candidate wins a clear majority of the total votes.
East Timor was a Portuguese colony for 400 years until 1975, when it was invaded by Indonesia and occupied for 24 years before a 1999 UN-sponsored referendum made it an independent nation.
Apr 1207 1449 GMT