Timor Leste’s third parliamentary election since the restoration of independence in 2002 was held on July 7. The largest of the incumbent parties, Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao’s National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT), almost secured an absolute majority of parliamentary seats. It has formed a coalition government with two smaller parties, the Democratic Party (PD) and Frenti-Mudansa (FM). Fretilin was the second largest party and will be the opposition again in parliament.
CNRT outpolled Fretilin in this election, reversing the relationship at the time of the 2007 election. CNRT received 36.7% of the vote, winning 30 seats out of 65. In 2007, CNRT received just 24 percent of the vote and 18 seats. This year, Fretilin won 29.9% of the vote and 25 seats. PD won 10.3% of the vote and eight seats, while FM won 3.1% and two seats.
Voter turnout declined from 80.5% in 2007 to 74.8%. Twenty percent of the vote went to 17 parties that were unable to achieve the 3% threshold legislated in the first Fretilin-dominated parliament. If there had been no threshold, there would be 10 parties represented in the parliament rather than four. All of the smaller parties that had contested the 2007 elections dropped in their vote, except for the very small Socialist Party of Timor (PST), which bucked the trend and increased its vote four times up to 2.4% — but still less than the minimum 3% it was targeting.
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.
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.
During the 1990s an organisation called AKSI, later renamed Action in Solidarity with Indonesia and East Timor (ASIET) (where I was National Coordinator for much of the time) published several books and monographs on Indonesia and East Timor. Some of these can be accessed on the web.
The recent Presidential and parliamentary elections have been very revealing. They have showed that no political institution or figure from the period of the national liberation struggle has developed a political following based on program, ideology, ideas or leadership. No figure or institution scored more than 29% in either the first round of the Presidential elections or the parliamentary elections. In the parliamentary elections both CNRT, the umbrella organization the Resistance (and de facto the only operating structure) and FRETILIN, the organization that lead the movement in the 1970s and proclaimed Independence with the support of the majority of the people, scored less than 30%. FRETILIN scored 4% more than CNRT: 29 to 25%. The Democratic Party (PD) and the ASDT led by a pre-1999 student leader and a founder of FRETILIN respectively scored less than 20%.
While press releases issued by the parties and appearing on blogs and distributed to the media did explain policy platforms in different areas, most reports appear to indicate that campaigning on the ground was personality based, with little ideological or programmatic content. The voting patterns indicate that local loyalties played a significant role. In Dili, where local clan, village and locality ties are weaker, the situation seems more fluid. Frustration with high levels of unemployment and housing problems produce higher levels of frustration with the incumbent government.