Timor Leste: notes on the 2012 Presidential Elections.

The second round vote for the President of Timor Leste has been announced. The two candidates were Lu’olo (Francisco Guterres), a candidate put forward by FRETILIN and Taur Matan Ruak (José Maria Vasconcelos), a non-party candidate, being supported by Xanana Gusmao, current prime minister and president of the political party, National Council for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT). In the first round there were 12 candidates, Lu’Olo and Matan Ruak were the top two scoring 28% and 23% respectively. Other candidates who had relatively strong showings were current president, Jose Ramos Horta, who was a non-party candidate as well as Fernando de Araújo, president of the Democratic Party (PD), and currently speaker of the parliament. The PD has been a member of the current coalition government led by Xanana Gusmao and the CNRT.  Both Araujo and President Horta scored similar votes at around 18%.

In the second round Matan Ruak (TMR) won with 61% to Lu’olo’s 39%. (Figures rounded).

This was a very strong win for TMR, beyond what the figures show: however it is a win that still leaves some basic questions unanswered. Below are some notes on based on observations from afar and chats with contacts in TL on the elections, and on the prospects for new emerging forces to play a role.

At a raising of the PST flag in a village Timor, 2011.

 Reading the results?

The absence of any ongoing, reliable polling processes as well as of an extensive media, including district based media, makes it very difficult for the outside observer (and perhaps also even Timorese political actors) to know for sure what the mass of the population are thinking about politics. The majority of the population lives in rural village communities, more-or-less based on subsistence agriculture, geo-politically separated from the gossip-intense hot house of Dili (and even Bacau). An outside observer, such as myself, is very dependent on information and judgments of Timorese contacts, in whose judgments one has confidence.

FRETILIN’s failure to rebuild after 2007 vote collapse

 In Timor Leste’s first election, FRETILIN scored 60% of the vote. In the second election, it collapsed to 29%. FRETILIN has not been able to rebuild after this collapse. (FRETILIN today, although claiming continuity with the revolutionary FRETILIN of 1975, is essentially a moderate-to-conservative social democratic party, promoting a private sector led development strategy for TL and with a very electoralist perspective on political change. In relates to the Australian Labour Party in Australia. At its last party congress it invited the tycoon capitalist head of Suharto’s former party,  GOLKAR, Aburizal Bakrie. It was the party that legislated lifelong pensions for all members of the first parliament, gave the telecommunications to a private monopoly majority owned by Portugeuse, and followed closely most of the recipes from the IMF and World Bank on financial matters.)

Lu’Olo’s Fretilin’s vote of first round vote of 28% is almost the same as it received in the first round presidential elections in 2007. In 2007, in the second round, FRETILIN won 30%, whereas this time Lu’olo won 39%. For various reasons the 39% vote must be seen as a major failure for FRETILIN and its “allies” this time around.

Pro-FRETILIN optimists may see this vote can be seen as evidence of resilience of Fretilin’s support. However, FRETILIN has worked very hard over the last four years to improve its standing and popularity. It has carried out a consistent strategy of putting itself forward as the alternative government, strongly attacking the current government for incompetence and being riddled with corruption, or at least unable to handle corruption. It has campaigned consistently to renew its image and authority in the districts throughout this period. Last year, it carried out an exercise of a public process of a mass direct vote for its leadership by its whole claimed membership – for President and Secretary-General – to show it had transparent processes and the its leadership was close to the masses. The vote elected Lu’olo ad Fretilin president and Mari Alkatiri as Secretary-General – there were no other candidates.  It claimed that more than 100,000 members voted. This represented more-or-less 100% of those who had voted for FRETILIN in the 2007 and 2012 elections – if indeed the claim was not an exaggeration.

During the 1st Round Presidential campaign, Fretilin also made it a point to characterize Taur Matan Ruak as not only supported by Xanana Gusmao, whom they have been strongly opposing and criticising, but aligned with him, calling Matan Ruak a “stooge” of the Prime Minister.

So another reading of these 2012 votes is that Fretilin’s strategy, tactics and campaigns since 2007 has not resulted in any substantial improvement in its level of support. This can, perhaps, also be interpreted as an inability by Fretilin to win support for its style of opposition to the current Xanana-led government – despite the many failings of the government. The failure of Lu’olo to increase his vote despite the hard campaigning of Fretilin and Lu’olo over the last four years must raise the question as to whether Fretilin has reached its maximum level of support.

In 2007, Lu’Olo’s first round vote increased from 28 to 30% in the 2nd round, i.e. basically stayed the same. In 2012 it increased from 28% to 39%. However, this more substantial increase was despite the defacto support of Ferdinand Araujo (Lasama) from the Democratic Party, from president Jose Ramos Horta and from the Social Democratic Party as well as maverick FRETILIN figures such as Lobato. In the first round their combined vote was over 40%, yet Lu’Olo’s vote only increased 10-11%. These figures made public statements of neutrality, but the universal talk on the ground was that were supporting FRETILIN and having joint meetings with FRETILIN. (see more comments below)

I think it is very likely that the actual FRETILIN vote stayed at 28%, or even decreased.

The inability of FRETILIN to rebuild after the 2007 collapse, despite a very aggressive, adversarial campaign against the Xanana government is likely to set in motion a dynamic where FRETILIN’s position and influence decreases further, continuing the trend towards collapse.

The non-Fretilin vote

 As in 2007, 70% of voters did not vote for other non-FRETILIN candidates in the 1st round and 60% in the 2nd round.  But also at least 50% voted for candidates that were not putting themselves forward in a way where there was clear linkage with the question of whom should be in government. In fact, this lack of a clear linkage with the question of who governs probably can be said to apply to the whole 70%. This link is clear in Lu’Olo/Fretilin’s case, but not for anybody else.

It could be argued that Xanana’s clear identification with TMR in his campaign linked TMR with Xanana and CNRT. To the extent that this is true, TMR’s first round vote of 23% was less than FRETILIN’s indicating also that Xanana also has been unable to build upon his 2007 vote, when CNRT also scored about the same figure.

Most of the lesser candidates could not claim to be a part of any strategy to win government. Matan Ruak, though he received support from Xanana Gusmao, did not come forward as a CNRT candidate, but was rather mobilizing his prestige as a former guerilla leader and then commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces.  Much of his explanations in the lead up to the campaign distanced himself from any one party. Fretilin’s criticism of Matan Ruak as a ‘stooge’ of Xanana, in fact, may have started a process of making his candidature more partisan based. Fretilin’s very adversarial approach to other political forces – who have actually no ideological or platform differences with it – often accelerates polarisation. According to the contacts I speak with, the campaign speeches of the two candidates were laced with ample attacks on each other.

Ferdinand Araujo as leader of PD has been an important part of the current coalition government, but he too had sent out signals that this may not continue.

(1)    Jose Ramos Horta and Ferdinand Araujo

Both these men, whose combined 1st round vote comes to 35%, have stated they are neutral in the Presidential elections and have urged their supporters to vote for whomever they like. Horta, the current President and a man of considerable stature, has repeatedly stated, even during the 1st round campaign period and before, that he considers both Lu’olo and Matan Ruak equally qualified and good candidates for President. It appears – at least from a distance- that after talks between Horta and Araujo, Araijo has also adopted a neutral stance.

There have been any reports and analysis circulating, on the internet and by word of mouth, that Horta and Araujo are contemplating forming an alliance and that they are moving towards, or have already decided to consider supporting a Fretilin alliance government after the parliamentary elections. The circulation of these reports may operate to counter-balance their public statements of neutrality, in the sense that many commentators and politicos are now speaking of them as part of an emerging coalition with Fretilin and that they really support Lu’olo’s campaign. However, given Fretilin’s inability to go above 28% in the 1st round even after 4 years of campaign work, a full-blooded campaign by the two men in support of Lu’olo may have been needed to produce a real increase in the vote for Lu’olo, instead of the ambiguous neutral-public, supportive-private policy.

There may be more to this new development and President Horta’s cooperation with Araujo. Horta won his impressive 18% vote with no support from an established, national political party or machine. While part of his vote may be due to some strong loyalties in particular districts, it is his role as a non-partisan, peace-maker that is the basis of the broader authority he has won as the main form of his long participation in the struggle for independence. His decision to pardon the men who shot him in the back is one of the most dramatic symbols of this role. At the moment, the “platform” being adopted by Horta and Araujo is also one of “non-partisanship, and peace-making”. They proclaim that both Presidential candidates are equally good men. President Horta’s early criticisms of the election process has been allegations made in relation to physical intimidation by some of Matan Ruak’s supporters. As a result of these statements, Horta has won a public commitment by both Lu’Olo and Matan Ruak on March 30 that their supporters would not engage in such activities.

Many of the circulating reports analysing and speculating these developments are suggesting that in the June elections a “3rd block” comprising the parties ASDT (until his recent death headed by Timor’s 1st president, Xavier Amaral), PD and the Social Democratic Party (PSD), including Ramos Horta will emerge competing with both FRETILIN and CNRT, but more open to cooperation with FRETILIN than with CNRT. If this indeed develops, it would seem likely that such a bloc would include as part of its “branding”, a non-partisanship, and peace-making approach. This would contrast with both Fretilin’s aggressive adversarial style as well as Xanana Gusmao’s active campaigning for Matan Ruak, and his own adversarial response to Fretilin. Such a bloc would be able to make use of President Horta’s reputation in that area.

But such a bloc would also have to make its positions on other policies clear, and the records of both FRETILIN and CNRT but also PD and PSD, who have been part of the current government. It will be impossible to remain non-partisan. In fact, it is likely that President Horta’s intervention into the party political process may have already weakened his authority and charisma as a peace-maker diplomat standing above the party fray. This may also be one of the reason’s for the minimal support for Lu’Olo from former voters for Horta.

(2) Xanana Gusmao and CNRT

Xanana Gusmao and CNRT clearly supported Matan Ruak in both rounds, along with the Socialist Party of Timor (PST). In his post-victory speech, TMR gave specific thanks to both the CNRT and PST. (In the first round, the PST effectively split its vote between Horta and TMR, but all PST votes went to TMR in the 2nd round. In villages where PST has a majority, the vote for TMR is reported to be 90%). What is not yet clear to such a long distance observer such as myself is what has been the content of either CNRT’s or TMR’s campaigning.

While the campaigning framework has been essentially for the position of President – who is NOT the head of government – the campaigning has not focussed on government policies. The sharp conflict at the moment between FRETILIN and CNRT has not yet produced a clear for-and-against policy framework.  Mutual recrimination seems to be dominant.

TMR did keep to his general manifesto, however this is formulated in a fairly general way and is not too dissimilar in its basics from other parties. (In fact, 90% of the TL parties have a similar general approach to economic development strategy, i.e. private sector driven.) I have also heard reports that TMR made regular criticisms of the life-long pensions for members of parliament, introduced by the FRETILIN majority parliament before 2007.


The question of what policy questions (no doubt to be taken from the Strategic Development Plan) CNRT and Xanana Gusmao emphasise in campaigning between now and the June elections will be one factor determining how the 70% non-Fretilin constituency will vote. With both FRETILIN and probably also CNRT stagnating, or even declining, in the mid to low 20% range, what other smaller parties do may also be important. (I don’t include PD here. I think it has become too fractured internally, and now too compromised in terms of where it actually stands, that it is likely also to be a spent force.)

At its most recent congress,, CNRT passed a resolution that it would not govern again in coalition. Xanana stated that he would rather be in opposition that rule via coalition again. He has had to govern with whatever talent (or lack of it) that his coalition partners have provided and in a constant state of internal negotiations and bargaining. To do this CNRT needs to win at least 50% of the vote. If indeed Fretilin has plateaued at 30% then theoretically/mathematically this is not impossible. CNRT has to get 50% of that remaining 70%. However, the fact that Xanana’s support for Matan Ruak did not result in a vote better than 23%, also makes this very unlikely. If a 3rd bloc does emerge (Horta-ASDT-PD-PSD), this will make it harder, it would seem mathematically, for CNRT to win that 50%.

It is very likely that if FRETILIN and CNRT both score somewhere in the 20%+ range, they will need a coalition with the smaller parties, (or each other).

Separate from any assessment we might make now as to whether this is likely, if Xanana and CNRT are serious about ruling in their own right and winning 50% of that 70%, then it would natural for us to assume that they have some campaign strategy to try to do that. If this is the case, what is it? Is it the case? I don’t know the answer to either of these questions.

But the campaign strategies for winning government are not yet clear for any of the non-Fretilin parties.

New emerging forces

 As  I noted above, with both FRETILIN and probably also CNRT stagnating, or even declining, in the mid to low 20% range, what other smaller parties do may also be important. It could be that 50-60% of the vote may be divided among several smaller parties. In its recent new edition of Suara Sosialis Timur newspaper (now being published fortnightly), the Socialist Party of Timor (PST) has stated it is aiming to win 10 seats, up from its current zero. The PST has underwent an impressive expansion during the last 4-5 years, emphasizing methods such as intensive political education, door-to-door campaigning, building its university student organisation FRESTI (now important in its campaign work), and establishing model agricultural cooperatives. It has no doubt also benefited from the platform that its President, Avelino Coelho, was won with rural audiences through his role as Secretary of State for Energy Policy, responsible for the provision of free electrification in remote villages (via solar panels, as well as bio-fuel and bio-energy managed by Beneficiary Assemblies, successfully reaching around 15,000 households, delivering night-time lighting and other low-energy facilities to probably around 75,000 household members. Where such households were previously using kerosene as fuel, they have been saving $1 per day since the free electricity has been available.)

Can the PST win 10 seats? It is not impossible. From what I have seen in TL and based on statistical data provided by and conversations with their activists, it seems that they have a very good chance of winning at least 3-6 seats. They have consolidated their base support in a number of areas. The parliamentary results cannot be automatically extrapolated from the presidential elections. While the stagnation trend for FRETILIN and the weak 1st round showing for TMR indicate that there is no clear leading force or personalities and that perhaps 40-50% of the vote is up for grabs, what happens in July will be now determined by what everybody actually does – how they campaign.

I think the most interesting thing to watch is how new, emerging forces – such as the PST – will campaign.

Talking to PST activists and from visits, it is clear that the PST is strong in: Atabae, the sucos of HATAS, Rairobo, Sanirin, Leolima and Leohitu; in Manatuto, Kairui, Bathara, Sananain; in Ermera, Estado, Mertutu, Raimerhei, Ponilala, Samara, Katrai Kraik, Katrai Leten, Leggimea, Mau Ubo, Lisapat, Lauana, Humboe, Batumanu, Koliati, Hatulia Vila, Manusae, and others; in Viqueque, Waguia ( but in Waguia, Lu Olo won, while Taur got 190 votes) , Bahatata, Laline, Ahiki, Ira Bin de Cima, Ira Bin de Baixo; Ainaro, Edi, Manetu, Aituto, Manelobas,; in Same, Aitnua, Mindelo, Foholau, Beremana, Liu Rai, Orana. PST has its base committees in nearly 100 Sucos. In those one hundred sucos, Taur won a large majority of votes, in some cases 90%.

On the Socialist Party of Timor. (To be continued next week)

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