As Timor-Leste heads towards the second round of the Presidential elections, many are wondering who, ultimately, will become the new figurehead leader of the nation. While the role of the president is largely ceremonial, it does have some important powers, its symbolism is an important unifier in a country still developing a coherent national identity, and how votes are allocated will start to identify the shape of the next parliamentary government.
Importantly, while in the 2007 elections there was a backlash against the incumbent Fretilin government and the second round of presidential voting saw the formation of two clear blocs, the 2012 elections are more ambiguous. In particular, the announcement by the out-going President, Jose Ramos-Horta, and the Democratic Party (PD), that they would remain neutral and not allocate preferences in the second presidential round, has increased the sense of uncertainty as to its outcome.
Jose Ramos-Horta’s decision to support the Democratic Party (PD) in the parliamentary elections has two sets of implications for Timor-Leste’s politics. The first and most obvious will be the effect that this has on the outcome of the parliamentary elections and in particular the level of success of PD. The second, less obvious, implication will be for the next, second round of the presidential election, for which Ramos-Horta was unsuccessful.
Assuming that votes for candidates will be translated, more or less, into parliamentary votes, based on Ramos-Horta’s support, with his 18% added to PD’s 17%, PD can expect to receive around 35% of the vote which, extrapolating from first round presidential figures, is likely to make it Timor-Leste’s single largest party and hence in a dominant position to form a majority alliance in parliament.
Following Timor-Leste’s presidential election last Saturday, the two leading candidates, Fretilin’s Francisco ‘Lu-Olo’ Guterres and Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao-backed Taur Matan Ruak, will now progress to a second round of voting in mid-April. Their success to date reflects perhaps more the relatively high level of party loyalty within Timor-Leste than support for the two as individuals.
At 28%, Lu-Olo’s vote was almost exactly the same as in the first round of the 2007 election. Ruak’s vote reflected support in 2007 from the main government party, CNRT, for outgoing president Jose Ramos-Horta, then at 22 per cent. At that time, CNRT was a new party and has since had time to consolidate in office, reflected in Ruak’s 25% vote.
Both Lu-Olo and Ruak are well known in Timor-Leste, but neither is especially well known outside the country. That will no doubt change for one of them after April.
Amongst Timor-Leste’s traditions, there is none more central to how Timorese understand themselves in relation to their world than that of lulic, or that which is ‘sacred’.
While a sense of lulic is not always visible, especially in life that is affected by elements of modernity, such as in a town or in Dili, it continues to lie under the surface for many, perhaps most, Timorese.
The idea of lulic can apply to place, to the relationship between things, such as the sun and the moon or the earth and the sky, to relationships between people, to life and death and social obligations and to symbols of authority and social organisation.
As traditions evolve and change to incorporate new elements, so too has lulic changed to incorporate such symbols.
Old Portuguese swords may be considered as lulic, as can flags that have a particular value or importance.
The dog was sleeping, its head on its paws, in the middle of the road leading from the airport. As we approached in a four-wheel-drive, it looked up, gauged the situation and put its head back on its paws and closed its eyes. This sleeping dog was let lie.
Apart from horrific moments of violence and destruction, East Timor has otherwise been a pretty laid back place, as it is now.
The pigs that used to wander the streets just outside of the main commercial precinct are only a little less common than they once were.
Yellow taxis ply the streets at the slowest possible speed to conserve fuel. Sunday c-ckfights and wet season thunderstorms are often as exciting as it gets.
When things are normal, life tends to move at a pretty slow pace. It is only when violence erupts that East Timor goes from a lazy day dream to a frantic nightmare.
Timor-Leste has emerged from its dark past and extremely low levels of development with some cause for optimism. A range of human development indicators, from infant mortality to longevity and education, have all begun to trend more positively, government programs have alleviated some of the worst effects of poverty and infrastructure is being developed.
But Timor-Leste still faces significant challenges, which its new government, no matter who is elected this year, will have to deal with. These challenges fall into three categories; the environment, the resources curse, and human capacity.
At one level, Timor-Leste has a physical environment that is set. The soil is relatively poor, especially on the north coast, its capacity to produce crops is limited and its rainy season is usually brief, in regional terms, but often very heavy. Added to the mountainous nature of the land, cropping is difficult, poor seasons are common and torrential rains can wash away crops in a day.
(unknown) 1937 – 6 March 2012. East Timor’s first president, for just 9 days ahead of Indonesia’s invasion in 1975, Francisco Xavier do Amaral, has died in Dili at the age of 74 of complications caused by advanced cancer. Do Amaral, affectionately known in East Timor as ‘Grandfather’, was born in Turiscai in the Mambai-speaking mountainous central region of East Timor. The son of a liurai, or local ‘king’, he was educated at St Jose Jesuit seminary in Macao where he qualified for the priesthood. However, do Amaral chose instead to work in the Dili Customs House where he became a popular, politically active intellectual. With Nicolau Lobato and current president, Jose Ramos-Horta, on 20 May 1974, do Amaral founded the broad-based anti-colonial Timorese Social Democratic Association (ASDT), at Ramos-Horta’s urging becoming its president.
As East Timor heads to the polls this year, starting with the presidential election next month, it will be embarking on a new and hopefully more positive phase of its often troubled development. East Timor now appears to be moving along a path of stability and hope, but a number of major issues await its new government but.
First among the issues to confront East Timor’s new government will be how to handle the withdrawal of the Australian-led International Stabilisation Force later in the year. East Timor is now much more stable since the 2006 crisis and looks to remain so, but its police are still poorly trained and underlying problems continue, including poverty and high levels of unemployment.
Timor-Leste will go to the polls as a result of its five-year electoral cycle on 17 March, kicking off an electoral process that will run until early July.
The question hanging over this process is whether it will mark the formal consolidation of democracy in the once deeply troubled territory, or whether it will signal a return to the problems of 2006–07 — which have been a common feature in many other post-conflict, post-colonial states.
As Timor-Leste heads into the three rounds of 2012 elections, election observers have begun to organise to monitor the election process and to report their findings. Accredited by Timor-Leste’s National Electoral Commission (CNE), observers continue to play a critical role in the young country’s still developing democratic process. Observers have been a part of Timor-Leste’s democratic process from the start of the country’s move towards independence. In 1999, independent observers spread across the then occupied territory, often by local transport and staying in homes or basic local accommodation, helping to enhance the larger international presence and thereby complicating plans by the Indonesian army, then known as ABRI, and its proxy militias to derail the ballot process. The observers gave Timor-Leste’s people an understanding that, though it was a difficult time, they were not alone.