Democracy Split


The votes cast in the 9 April first round of East Timor’s Presidential elections have been counted. Only preliminary results are available at this stage, but these indicate that a second round will be required on 8 May between the first round winner Francisco ‘Lu Olo’ Guterres (the candidate of FRETILIN,  the Party which currently controls Parliament), and second-placed current Prime Minister, Jose Ramos Horta, who won 28.8 per cent and 22.5 per cent of the vote respectively.

From these results we can deduce that FRETILIN was the clear winner in a poll which many in East Timor see as a crucial indicator of whether the retiring President, Xanana Gusmao, has the electoral clout to secure control of Parliament and become Prime Minister at the 30 June parliamentary elections.

The political divisions that led to last year’s crisis are becoming increasingly clear. It is a conflict between those who remain loyal to former Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri and his FRETILIN Party, which fought for East Timor’s independence from Indonesia, and those who believe the future lies with Xanana, Ramos Horta and the nascent Democratic Party (PD).  

Xanana’s vision for the future is simple. He has stated repeatedly that if elected as Prime Minister he would approve the release of the funds held in the East Timor Government’s ‘Petroleum Fund’   which was set up in 2005 to manage the revenues from huge oil and gas reserves in the Timor Sea. Alkatiri and FRETILIN maintain they are already spending the money and that last year’s crisis (which they now squarely say was caused by Xanana) has prevented them spending money already allocated in the Budget.

The other main issue in this election was whether Xanana was behind the push to unseat Alkatiri from the Prime Minister’s office last year. Opinion here is sharply polarised between those who believe that Xanana, backed by the international community, was the driving force behind last year’s violent events, and those who believe that he only came out against FRETILIN to prevent further disorder.

Most analysts in Australia have failed to appreciate the depth of support that FRETILIN retains in the east of the country. As the only East Timorese political Party that never made concessions to the Indonesians and never stopped fighting for independence, FRETILIN has an enormous symbolic place in the minds of many who lost family and suffered fighting for them.

Xanana’s now very public opposition to FRETILIN has infuriated many who once revered the charismatic leader. As one senior FRETILIN member Harold Moucho said, ‘These are the people that died for Xanana and now he has betrayed them.’

This division between Xanana’s supporters and FRETILIN loyalists cuts right through East Timorese society and has caused problems during this election. FRETILIN complained bitterly when Xanana came out and attended a rally for his preferred Presidential candidate Ramos Horta, saying that it was not appropriate for a sitting President to be politically active.

Thanks to Sean Leahy

The European Union Electoral Observer Mission, the most experienced and credible of all the electoral observer groups in East Timor, noted in its preliminary report that ‘during the campaign, some public officials took political positions from village chiefs up to the highest national authorities.’ The report went on to identify the CNE (National Election Commission) spokesman Martinho Gusmao’s and his public statements in support of Democratic Party candidate Fernando ‘Lasama’ Araujo.

All through last week, as the person responsible for announcing the results, Martinho Gusmao, a Catholic priest, was the centre of attention. Based on the results from the capital, Dili, he basically called the election in favour of Ramos Horta, with Araujo as the runner up. The majority of the results weren’t made available until last Wednesday causing a shock when FRETILIN moved from third position to first, after the inclusion of the results from the Baucau and Lautem districts in the country’s east.

The high support for FRETILIN in the east mirrored the divisions drummed up by leaders last year that resulted in east/west violence during the crisis. But last Saturday, Martinho Gusmao revealed at another press conference that the counting for key areas of FRETILIN support in the east Lautem, Viqueque and FRETILIN candidate Lu Olo’s home town of Ossu had not been completed. He then went on to tell the press that that the total number of votes in the biggest eastern city of Baucau was 200,000 higher than registered voters.

In an electorate of only 520,000, this was an extraordinary claim. European Union observers, however, say that there were never any ‘excess voters’ and that Martinho Gusmao was highlighting a mathematical error that had already been ironed out.

Why would he do this? As a confessed supporter of third-placed candidate Araujo, the CNE spokesman may be trying to assist the latter’s calls to have the vote declared invalid. FRETILIN has repeatedly called for the spokesman to be removed, issuing another statement this week stating, ‘The CNE failed to remove him and since then he has repeatedly made statements prejudicial to FRETILIN and to the independence and neutrality of the CNE.’

When asked to respond to accusations of his own personal bias Martinho Gusmao said simply, ‘That happens to me everyday. I will not answer that question.’

The rash of allegations of voting irregularities from all the losing candidates including Ramos Horta contribute to a very delicate situation where there are already calls to have the vote recounted. It is worth noting that these calls of foul play only started when the majority FRETILIN vote was made known.

If any violence erupts in East Timor as a consequence of this FRETILIN victory it will be started not by FRETILIN but by those who are already disputing the result. The same people who, last year, resorted to violence to remove Alkatiri from power.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.