EDITORIAL: by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
Implications of East Timor's election
, April 28, 2007
Whatever the ultimate outcome of East Timor's recent Presidential election, it is highly likely that Fretilin will lose the forthcoming parliamentary elections.While the counting of votes in the first round of East Timor's Presidential election has been an utter debacle, the election offers the prospect that fundamental change may be underway in East Timor.
Although the election was conducted by the government, the published results show a massive decline in the vote for Fretilin, the Marxist party which has run East Timor since independence in 2002.
In light of the fact that Fretilin had use of the resources of government to help its election campaign, it is significant that on the published figures, Fretilin's vote has halved from 57 per cent in 2002 to about 28 per cent in 2007, with much of the residual coming from the Fretilin heartland in three districts.
Equally importantly, the vote secured by José Ramos Horta, the darling of the international media and preferred candidate of some foreign governments (including Australia's), was just 22 per cent - far lower than they expected.
Although Horta stood as an independent, he had the authority of being the existing Prime Minister of East Timor, and had the strong endorsement of the retiring President, Xanana Gusmao.
Horta also attempted to project himself as the favoured son of the Catholic Church, the faith to which the overwhelming majority of Timorese are attached. His election propaganda showed a photo of him alongside Bishop Carlos Belo, the revered former Bishop of Dili, as they were presented with the Nobel Peace Prize in 1996.Little comfort
The vote, however, gives little comfort to either Fretilin or José Ramos Horta.
On the other hand, the opposition pro-democracy parties, which were completely marginalised when Fretilin took over in 2002, did far better than most international observers expected.
Fernando de Araujo, the leader of the Democratic Party, won about 17 per cent of the popular vote; Xavier do Amaral, leader of ASDT, secured 13 per cent; Lucia Lobato from the Social Democratic Party won about 10 per cent, while other opposition parties won a smaller share of the vote.
The combined vote of these parties, which have established a coalition, is now considerably greater than that of either Fretilin or José Ramos Horta.
A long-time supporter of Fretilin, Mark Aarons, recently wrote a perceptive analysis of the election outcome in The Australian
on April 12. He wrote: “In a fractured vote, the standout result of Monday's first round of the presidential election is the devastating blow delivered to the ruling Fretilin party.
“In the 2001 election for a constituent assembly, Fretilin received more than 57 per cent of the vote, ensuring that it later formed the first government when the assembly transformed itself into a parliament. Fretilin then had the advantages of popular goodwill from its role in the independence struggle and its formidable village-based organisation.”
Mr Aarons noted that in five years, the Fretilin vote had fallen from three in every five Timorese to one in four.
“The roots of this staggering reversal lie with the dominant wing of Fretilin led by former prime minister Mari Alkatiri. Alkatiri did little to counter his reputation for arrogance with his pre-vote declaration that Fretilin's candidate would win in the first round with up to 60 per cent of the vote. He was 'with the people' and knew they would vote for Fretilin, as they always had (and, presumably, always would).
“The problem with this self-delusion was that Alkatiri and his group had failed to deliver the basics for their people when they had the chance: education, health, jobs, roads, electricity and clean water,” Aarons noted.
An additional important factor was the role of Alkatiri and Fretilin in the violence which erupted last year. One of Alkatiri's closest associates, the former Interior Minister, Rogerio Lobato, was found guilty recently of supplying government-issue weapons to a group of ex-Fretilin soldiers, who were instructed to assassinate rival political leaders.
In the course of the violence last year, the army and police split, gang violence erupted on the streets with people being stoned and houses burned, tens of thousands of people fled their homes, and a number of unarmed police were murdered in cold blood.
The turmoil was only brought under control when Australian and other international forces landed in Dili, disarming the warring police and army factions, and the death squad. However, tens of thousands of people in Dili remain homeless, and those responsible are still at large.
What counts against José Ramos Horta is that he promised to address the crisis facing East Timor when appointed Prime Minister last year: but nothing has happened. The prevailing sense of frustration with the old government is palpable.
Whatever the outcome of the Presidential election, it is highly likely that Fretilin will not control the next parliament, which may have a democratic majority prepared to face up to the issues which Fretilin has failed to address.- Peter Westmore is national president of the National Civic Council.