EAST TIMOR: by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
Election swing against Gusmão government
, March 31, 2012
In the first round of voting in East Timor’s presidential election, Francisco “Lú-Olo” Guterres, the candidate for the main opposition party Fretilin, led the voting with 28 per cent, followed by the protegé of Xanana Gusmão, former military chief Taur Matan Ruak with 25 per cent, and current President José Ramos-Horta in third position.
The election marks the end of Ramos-Horta’s political career in East Timor, but he could take up a position internationally with the UN. Ramos-Horta — who served as East Timor’s Foreign Minister from 2002 to 2006, as Prime Minister from 2006-7, and as President from 2007-12 — was dumped by Xanana Gusmão in the run-up to the current presidential election.
Poster for Fretilin's presidential candidate, Lú-Olo.
Ramos-Horta had publicly criticised Gusmão’s government for corruption and nepotism.
Ramos-Horta ran without Gusmão’s support and secured 19 per cent of the vote, but it was insufficient to put him into the run-off election, which will take place in April.
The leader of the Democratic Party, Fernando “Lasama” de Araújo, came next, with 17 per cent of the popular vote.
There were 12 candidates in the presidential election on March 17.
The vote reflected historical divisions in East Timor, between people living in the eastern districts, which are Fretilin’s stronghold, and the country’s capital Dili, where Gusmão’s party is based. The army strongly supported their former commander, Taur Matan Ruak.
It also reflected deep public concerns about issues such as the lack of national development despite billions of dollars of royalties in the country’s Petroleum Fund, a widening wealth gap between the middle-class in towns such as Dili and Baucau and the majority of people who remain extremely poor, and the problem of corruption in government.
East Timor has long suffered from a lack of national development. During more than four centuries of Portuguese colonial rule, East Timor was a remote part of the Portuguese empire which was used as a source of sandalwood, and little else. During the 20th century, the authoritarian government of António Salazar used East Timor as a place of exile for political enemies of the regime.
Some of the most famous people in East Timor today, including Xanana Gusmão and José Ramos-Horta, are the children of Portuguese deportados, and they have dominated politics in East Timor from the forced decolonisation in 1974-75 to the present day.
After a brief but bloody civil war in August 1975, Fretilin seized control of the colony, and declared independence, shortly before Indonesia invaded.
The Indonesian occupation was characterised by major infrastructure works, such as road-building and electrification, coupled with brutal repression by the Indonesian military and a guerrilla war led by Fretilin.
Throughout this period, the Catholic Church supported and protected the people, leading to the conversion of most of them to Christianity.
When Indonesia was forced to conduct a referendum on independence in 1999, the people voted overwhelmingly to break away from Indonesia, and pro-Indonesian militias then indulged in an orgy of destruction, burning most of the infrastructure which had been built over the previous 24 years.
Since then, rebuilding of infrastructure, particularly roads, has been shamefully slow, and the general view is that the country’s roads are now worse than they were 13 years ago.
More progress has been made in rebuilding the electricity network, but even today most people live in houses without electricity, particularly in rural areas. The telecommunications network is also poor, and as a result there is discontent with the government’s performance.
Xanana Gusmão has shown himself to be a master of rhetoric but has delivered little to most of the people.
Attention is now turning to the second round of the presidential election, when Fretilin’s Lú-Olo will be opposed by Gusmão’s candidate, Taur Matan Ruak.
Five years ago, when the run-off election was between Lú-Olo and José Ramos-Horta, all the minor parties urged their supporters to vote against Fretilin, giving Ramos-Horta an overwhelming 69 per cent of the popular vote.
However, this year’s election is likely to be a lot closer. All three of the minor partners in Xanana’s coalition have separated themselves from his government since the last election, after falling out with Xanana over a variety of issues.
In these circumstances, it is far from certain that they will throw their weight behind Taur Matan Ruak, Xanana’s candidate for President. The outcome of the presidential election is therefore far from certain.
Later this year, elections will be held for East Timor’s Parliament, with over 20 parties having registered. Any party securing over 3 per cent of the vote will win representation in the national parliament.
Based on the presidential vote, no party is likely to secure an outright majority, so East Timor will again have a coalition government after the next election.