(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.
The various contenders for Timor-Leste’s presidency in the 17 March election have begun to try to persuade the voting public why they should be elected as president. A number of candidates have said that, if elected, they will institute particular changes or reforms. These promises appear, however, to misunderstand the role of Timor-Leste’s president.
In short, the role of the president in Timor-Leste is, with few exceptions, a ceremonial one. Apart from a few carefully circumscribed areas, Timor-Leste’s president does not have an executive function.
Presidential candidates who announce that, if elected, they will institute particular changes therefore appear to be unaware of the constitutional role of the president. It is either that, or that they wish to change the constitution and give Timor-Leste a different type of political system.
Lest we forget @ Albany
“Of course, it is in a remote place,” said a lady at a tourist information centre, slightly frowning. I was a little paralysed with her reaction as it was not in the context of what I said before her words.
In the early November last year, I was in Albany, WA. As many of you, hopefully, may remember, Albany was the place where the last whaling station in Australia was operating. The site has turned into a museum named the Whale World. It seemed that it was crucial for me to visit the site for my research, and so I did.
It was quite a trip from Melbourne. I flew into Perth and then took a coach service to Albany the next day. I could have rented a car but because I hadn’t driven a car for more than a decade, I thought I better stay away from driving for other drivers’ safety.
As Timor-Leste’s political climate warms up ahead of next month’s presidential elections, many people are asking who is most likely to be elected president. In a country that does not have political polling, there are no obvious indications as to which candidates are most preferred by voters. But there are some indications of possible combinations, each of which could produce very different outcomes.
The vote from 2007 is seen by many as an indication to voting intentions in 2012 but, if so, it is no more than an indication. Since 2007, the political landscape has changed, which could affect how Timor-Leste’s citizens vote and how the candidates and parties align themselves.
The announcement by President Jose Ramos-Horta that he will seek re-election for a second term in office has thrown open Timor-Leste’s presidential race, all but guaranteeing that the process will now run to a second round of voting. Although Ramos-Horta’s candidacy adds another strong contender to the presidential stakes, added to two other strong contenders and what will probably be a list of around a dozen less likely candidates, it now seems unlikely that any one candidate will receive the requisite 50%+1 in order to win the presidency in the first round. President Ramos-Horta announced his decision to run again for the presidency after receiving a petition signed by more than 116,000 East Timorese asking him to stand again for the office. He had been considering whether or not to run again throughout 2011 and had at times said that he would both run and not run again.
As the rhetoric heats up ahead of Timor-Leste’s official campaigning period for the forthcoming presidential elections, there is considerable interest in how the political process will unfold in 2012. There are a range of possibilities, but some possible outcomes do seem more likely than others.
The big question is whether Timor-Leste voters are likely to show the voting discipline they did in the three rounds of elections in 2007. In those contests, the vote for the first presidential round was very closely reflected in the second round, with the minor parties but one throwing their support behind Rose Ramos-Horta, who was elected in the second round with an overwhelming majority of just under 70 per cent. Fretilin’s candidate, Francisco ‘Lu-Olo’ Guterres, increased his vote from just under 30 per cent to just over 30 per cent, reflecting the addition of the support of a further, minor party.