Timor Leste: Ceremony most democratic!

Ceremony most democratic!
Chris White reports on Timor Lester’s Presidential elections 2012
(An April 5th update with corrections on the earlier post)
I was on March 23rd an International Solidarity Election Observer in Dili for the first round for this new nation’s Presidential elections.
Fretilin’s Francisco “Lu Olo” Guterres gained the highest vote with 28.8%, former Chief of the Defence Force, Major General Taur Matan Ruak – PM Xanana Gusmao’s candidate – with 25.7%, and President Jose Ramos-Horta Independent coming third with 17.5% and the Democrat Party’s Fernando “Lasama” de Araújo who is the President of the Parliament came fourth on 17.3%. The remaining 8 candidates had smaller numbers.
I am returning to Dili for the 16th April Presidential run-off between Lu Olo and Ruak and back again for SEARCH for the Parliamentary elections end of June.
Parliamentarians are elected on a proportional representation basis of one national electorate of some 640,000 voters and on party lists. In this Parliament PM Xanana Gusmao with his party CNRT leads the majority of parties in the Alliance Majority government since 2007. The PM selects a Council of Ministers, who are not in Parliament.
Facebook friends read my regular posts before and after election day, and see photos with Fretilin leaders and at the Fretilin mass rally with over 20,000 half an hour out of Dili. I attended press conferences by Ramos-Horta and Lasama, by Lu Olo, posted on election night ‘Anthony Green’ updates of part counting, met other observers from Australia and overseas, and talked to the KSTL Konfederasaun Sindikatu Timor-Leste unions. Seehttps://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000076872632
Timor-Leste had continuous Presidential election coverage on TV, radio and printed Dili media. The world media coverage e.g. Portuguese and ex-colonial Portuguese countries TV and the Indonesians and Australian media, and for good coverage the ETAN daily reports http://www.etan.org/ and you can follow Jose Teixeria a Fretilin MP, former Minister and media strategist on Facebook.
On polling day, I took photos during the long watch of the voters voting. They queued before 7am in my booth in Dili, with the UN and police on hand, but rather boring meaning no incidents, and all friendly as it should be. The local staff and officials on the day did well, most respectful to the people. I enjoyed meeting International observers. Voting tapered off over lunch with no rush on the 3pm close. Then the counting began. In my booth over 100 voters watched the votes being counted recorded one by one and indeed – supporting the Timor-Leste electoral organisation Secretariado Técnico da Administração Eleitoral STAE http://www.stae.tl/– STAE – most democratic and fulfilling STAE’s goal of transparency. The process was slow with meticulous recording of each step. Early on a women amongst those recording stood up and made a strong speech that was applauded by all. I don’t know what she said, but after the officials started to move along more briskly I can guess. Quite a democratic ceremony. The non-compulsoty vote was down to 78%. The heavy rains and distances travelled for voters to return to their local village made it difficult. As can be expected on the following days much rumour mongering at what happened, contested boxes, not being able to vote but overall Timor Lester’s first fully run fair by international standards democratic electoral process.
I make four points on the politics:
1 Fretilin and Lu Olo did very well but not as well as they planned;
2 that Australian media reports are often wrong e.g. in what Ramos-Horta said;
3 the contest on one policy debate by Ruak for compulsory military service and
4 in Timor Leste arguing the President is not “largely ceremonial or symbolic”.
1. Lu Olo
Too much of the media reports fail to highlight Fretilin’s winning the most votes and with Lu Olo likely to be voted in as an excellent President.
I do favour Fretilin and Lu Olo (see my report of the Fretilin Congress ‘Here to stay!’ on this blog) and enjoyed meeting key leaders, their optimism, party professionalism, and the excitement of many thousands at the Dili rally and at Fretilin headquarters.
I do not take anything away from Xanana Gusmao’s masterly dominant political practice here. He is backing well-known and respected Taur Ruak the quality former resistance hero and former Chief of the Defence Force and involved in the 2006 crisis, now the citizen candidate and without question able to boost his vote in the second round to win the Presidency and be great.
I do argue to the Australian commentary for balance. I make the point that Lu Olo’s campaigning and political presentation shows equally if not more so his quality of being a great President. Lu Olo is experienced as the Parliament’s first President. My bias was boosted by seeing at the Fretilin headquarters one night the film featuring Lu Olo’s life to 2001 – luckily for me in English and made by Film Australia and narrated by Cate Blanchett. Lu Olo campaigns well, and is as good as any political leader. He has just got his law degree. Here is his detailed platform
His campaign maintained the Fretilin vote, but was disappointing for those supporters expecting more.
Here Tim Anderson explains why he believes Lu Olo will be President and there will be a Fretilin alliance government in July
Taur Ruak is doing well in formerly Fretilin strongholds. Xanana Gusmao’s government has the control of the state and incumbency and vastly increased spending by government tenders for millions in economic development as well health, education etc but also distributing rice linked to voting (but all government’s do it, and the people need the rice).
Where will the votes of the losing candidates go in the deciding Presidential vote?
2. Ramos-Horta
I witnessed at the Presidential Palace what was international news. President Ramos-Horta in another superb media performance gracefully bowed out. He thanked everyone and “I loved every minute” and “I love the people” and a few plugs for his new book. See one report
Michael Leach in the Agehttp://www.theage.com.au/opinion/politics/ramoshortas-greatness-lay-in-his-ability-to-remain-above-the-fray-20120320-1vhrw.html
On the ETAN lists ‘Ramos-Hortas Achievements will be Remembered by His People’ by: Azinho“FUNTIL MAUBERE”
So is he without political power? He still dominates, I witnessed, when the next day I sat in at the Hotel Timor joint public press conference live on TV. President Ramos-Horta and Lasama – third and fourth combining with 35% their votes and declaring their voters will decide, a strong stance.
Some press commentators misinterpreted what was said or deliberately pushed an agenda by reporting that Horta/Lasama favoured Ruak/Xanana, they were against Fretilin, and they were joining together in the Democrat party for government – none of this was said. Both seasoned performers were seriously on message – ‘we have the power not only for the Presidential runoff but also the Parliamentary elections for PM and government.’
But no hint on whom they will support. They will not declare while the behind the scenes’ bargaining continues. Who gets what in the next government be it Alkatari PM or Xanana PM requires much discussion.
Ramos-Horta said, “together we hold 35% of the vote. This is a huge responsibility to channel our power whichever we go we will win, we decide what is best for the country, for peace and stability etc. Lasama can declare…I Ramos-Horta can’t declare as President, but 80% of my supporters want guidance. I will find a way to say for the second round. Our criteria will be who best serves the interests of our country. We appeal to the remaining two candidates for a clean election. Please no threats, no dark clouds of threats. This is not good for our country. We will be watching. We will not channel our votes to anyone who pressures, makes aggressive speeches. An absolutely clean election. So honour this.” Who says that President Ramos-Horta has no longer any power?
It may well be that Ramos-Horta and Lasama do not go for Ruak and Xanana Gusmao who then go into opposition. Given the stories of the breakdown in working with the government, they may support Lu Olo and then a Fretilin alliance of parties with Mari Alkatari again as PM.
Some of the smaller parties such as the Timorese Social Democratic Association (ASDT), former Fretilin Minister Rogerio Lobato (who ran fifth with 3.5 per cent), the three female first round candidates, plus Lurdes Bessa, the Vice-President of the Democratic Party (PD), now also back Lu Olo. It is in early April still an open question.
Ramos-Horta, one of the world’s consummate brilliant media politicians, will find a way to influence the outcome. But Ramos-Horta although a ‘big man’ is not in a party and is unlikely to be able to instruct all of his supporters to vote one way and the same applies to Lasama – the votes will divide up.
Professor Damien Kingsbury’s useful take of how the votes may divide up from Ramos-Horta and Lasama followers is here.http://www.thediliweekly.com/en/editorial/editorial-corner/1117
“I must work together with them … Big brother Ramos-Horta will go with his younger brothers [in the Democratic Party] to prepare to meet the parliamentary election and the formation of a … constitutional Government of the Republic Democratic of Timor-Leste.”
Based on this from Ramos-Horta and what has followed Damien Kingsbury argues that Ramos-Horta has a decisive political alliance with the Democrat Party and whoever then forms the alliance with Lasama becomes the PM and government – or even Lasama himself as PM?
As the PM picks his Ministers not in Parliament, Ramos-Horta may return as the Minister for Foreign Affairs – as he was in the Alkatari government.
Even if he is not a Minister, he cannot but continue to wield power over certain issues, but as Past-President. Indeed all of Ramos-Horta’s political practice as President defines the role as being more than ‘largely symbolic’.
Pat Walsh in this piece “Jose Ramos-Horta’s Ian Thorpe” moment
praises Ramos-Horta and says Ruak is too inexperienced next to Lu Olo.
“Ramos-Horta is a national treasure. His contribution to East Timor’s liberation is legendary and as a non-partisan president since 2007 he has worked tirelessly to offset Timor’s image as a near failed state by rebuilding unity, rebranding East Timor as a peaceful country and serving as a critical part of its checks and balances.
He is open to criticism including that he has contributed to a culture of impunity and has sometimes exceeded his powers and interfered in issues that are properly the business of government, not the presidency.
But to reject someone of his capacity, authority and track record is the political equivalent of East Timor abandoning its campaign for the gas pipeline from the Timor Sea. How this came to pass will require more research. The short answer seems to be that the electorate got the impression Ramos-Horta, unlike his hungrier opponents, had lost his appetite for the job, and when Xanana Gusmao abandoned him they followed suit.
The choice facing the electorate now is, in my view, straightforward. Although the second round candidates have similar political and military pedigrees, Guterres is better qualified to be president. Since independence he has occupied significant national leadership roles, including heading the country’s largest political party and serving as speaker of the parliament for many years. He has recently completed a law degree and can also take some credit for the responsible role played by Fretilin during its recent years in opposition.
TMR is not ready. He has virtually no experience outside the military, which he was in charge of when the 2006 crisis began in its ranks. Many are rightly uncomfortable with the prospect of a recently retired general, Indonesian style, becoming head of a fragile state in which the military already plays an internal security role.”
See other reports on this http://www.diakkalae.com/2012/03/so-whats-happening-now-with.html;
3. Policy
What differences there are in policy between Ruak and Lu Olo on the broad questions of development, oil and gas, food, health, education, infrastructure etc are difficult to discern.
From the start of the Nation, these political elites showed considerable solidarity and long-term unity on these development questions for a Timor Leste way.
On a daily basis politics is another scene – with fierce contests on the details, how to develop, how to tackle poverty and unemployment and illiteracy and poor health and the roads etc. Politics is bitterly fought out between the political giants.
Fretilin attacks the government on the issue of waste and badly spending millions from the Petroleum Fund revenues, on corruption and not investing enough on health and education.
Ruak plays it tough against Fretilin with strong accusations that they are divisive.
I am mixing in the Dili elite, away from people’s debates, 80% who live in rural areas, away from their experiences, their drawing of lessons, their political understanding of events, their village traditions, so I do not know how the majority of people view these issues.
But I was struck by one major election debate. Ruak – on election banners in military uniform with Xanana also (and fair enough) – is promising if he wins compulsory military service for all the youth. Read here http://www.fundasaunmahein.org/2012/03/20/militar-obrigatoriu-pro-kontra/
This has considerable popular support, it seems, given 60% youth unemployment and the UN leaving and security issues geo-politically such as the US war with China, the US Darwin Base and the Australian military, police forces and intelligence.
‘Those who are in favour of its application put forward a number of arguments suggesting it is a positive approach. The below is just a number of such positions;
1. That it would provide structure and discipline to the youth
2. That it would provide important life skills to the youth
3. That it would provide opportunities for the youth to experience Timor-Leste beyond the limits of their villages and subdistricts
4. That most 18 year olds want these opportunities
5. That most parents want these opportunities for their children
6. That service of this sort would bind Timorese from all walks of life together in a nationalist experience
7. That service of this kind would reduce sukuism and regionalism in Timor-Leste, and contribute to the building of national identity
8. That it would provide skills which would improve future educational and employment opportunities
9. That it would infuse in youth the sense of participation in national organizations rather than resistance or opposition to national institutions.
10. That it would minimize the influence of MAGs, gangs, crime and drugs etc on the youth
Those who are against the policy of national military service put forward a number of arguments suggesting it is a negative approach. The below is just a number of such positions
1. With around 40,000 18 year olds leaving school each year it is potentially very expensive(food, fuel, uniforms, buildings, vehicles etc)
2. That it would create a massive national military infrastructure which is unhealthy
3. That Timor-Leste does not need a youth population trained in military skills (ie weapons, warfighting, hand to hand combat)
4. That it would require purchase and therefore management and control of large numbers of weapons.
5. That mandatory service would possibly be unconstitutional if it does allow for religious, moral, political or health exceptions
6. That it does not fit into current Government planning either through the F-FDTL Forca 2020 plan or the AMP Government Strategic Development plan.
7. That current laws relating to the defence force do not include provision for such a policy
8. That health, education, infrastructure, economic development are higher priorities.’
East Timorese I spoke to in Dili want peace for their children and prefer if there is to be compulsion, civilian jobs and training such as building, construction, labouring, civil service, health, education, NGOs and services and rural jobs.
Many solidarity activists do not want to have struggled from Australia against the Indonesian military and campaign from Australia and indeed all over the world in 1999 and 2006 to end up with Timor Leste a militarised army dominant nation. But at least we can debate this question.
Some interpret President Ramos-Horta’s guarded comments on no threats and his concern over military uniforms during the election to mean he does not favour Ruak’s militarism into civilian life.
Ruak as military commander did earlier put to Parliament his conscription plan
but this was knocked back.
Big Men
Tim Anderson’s analysis contrasts the ‘big men politics’ of Xanana Gusmao and Ruak dominating contrasted with a more traditional Fretilin party organization.
“This year’s (2012) elections in Timor Leste will not just be about a clash of parties or personalities, but also a confrontation between two important themes: ‘mauberism’ and ‘big man’ culture….Fretilin’s better known ‘mauberism’ is an assertion of indigenous identity which stresses cultural pride and collective action. … ‘big man’ culture, a Melanesian concept which seems to also have roots in East Timorese culture, not least through the Liurai (kingly) tradition. The role of Xanana Gusmao in the post-independence scene is certainly the best example of this. In Timor it is sometimes referred to as the ‘maun bo’ot’ (big brother) idea.
‘Big man’ culture means that local and political conflict are seen as resolvable by the intervention of a great personality, a hero or mediator. The ‘big man’ politician, like the clan leader or the Liurai, can be seen as a unifying force, expected to impose himself on the situation and then distribute benefits.
Political weaknesses of this approach might be immediately apparent. The language is populist (promising more than is delivered, or hiding other agendas), accountability is ignored and corrupt private networks tend to displace the public sphere and to restrict participation. Mauberism, on the other hand, maintained the legitimacy of wider popular participation…. The extreme ‘big man’ dependence of the CNRT, and of its wider government coalition the AMP (Parliamentary Majority Alliance), subsequently crippled any real collegial policy formation. For example, the 2010 ‘Strategic Development Plan’ was pretty much an edict from the office of the Prime Minister.
…Fretilin puts the weakness of the CNRT/AMP more or less this way: if Xanana Gusmao falls under a bus, that’s the end of CNRT/AMP; if Fretilin leader Mari Alkatiri falls under a bus, Fretilin goes on. …
Even if Taur as President were highly ethical and more talented, what legacy does an individual leave behind, in a country which so much to build? Can ‘Big Man’ culture really help develop a nation? I think not. Surely there is more to be said for pooling talents and building some distinct Timorese solutions?”
Read Anderson’s arguments earlier on this blog http://chriswhiteonline.org/2012/03/anderson-on-timorese-elections/
La’o Hamutuk Timor-Leste Institute for Development Monitoring and Analysis provides critical articles on the government’s lack of implementation of policies. This is worth reading http://laohamutuk.blogspot.com.au/
Another overseas road to riches or ruin report here http://www.theglobalmail.org/feature/east-timors-road-to-riches-or-ruin/135/
4. Presidential Power
In discussing the politics of these Presidential elections a strong contrast with Australia’s Constitutional parliamentary democracy and Governor-General is needed.
I disagree that the President is ‘largely ceremonial’. Commentators use this term. Well known Australian researcher Professor Damian Kingsbury in the Dili Weekly explaining ‘The Role of the President’
And in this commentary. “While the role of the president is largely ceremonial, it does have some important powers, its symbolism is an important unifier in a country still developing a coherent national identity, and how votes are allocated will start to identify the shape of the next parliamentary government.” Damien Kingsbury Deakin Speaking 3rd April 2012http://www.deakin.edu.au/deakin-speaking/node/283
‘Largely symbolic’ is used by Michael Leach see http://chriswhiteonline.org/?s=Timor&submit.x=0&submit.y=0
‘Largely ceremonial’ is used by Australian journalists as an introduction to stories on the President and in other media http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/world/2012-03/17/c_131473339.htm.
But Ramos-Horta is no way largely a ceremonial President. His political practice defines the role of the President and that is wide and powerful – no doubt he admires the French or Russian model!
What political power he has exercised and continues to on a daily basis at home and in international relations, how he daily publicly comments, how he assists people or not with representations to the government and Parliament – all these actions marks the political boundaries for the President – Ramos-Horta at least. For those Presidents following, we shall see.
One Constitutional power the President has is to veto legislation and send it back to Parliament. For example,
‘In February, 2012 after two years of delay, Parliament approved three laws regarding access to land, sending them to the President for signature or veto. On 20 March, President Jose Ramos-Horta vetoed the three proposed laws, sending them back to Parliament for revision. He raised many important concerns, including: Land law:
Lack of consensus in civil society
Too much discretion and power given to the state to claim land
Weak definition of what land can be taken by the state in the “public interest”
Unclear system for compensation of holders of prior rights who don’t get titles, including foreigners
Unclear whether the Church can own land
Potential conflict of interest by including the Land and Property Directorate in the Cadastral Commission
Inappropriate cutoff date for prior adverse possession
Unclear definition and protection for community property rights
Expropriations Law:
No definition of the “public interest”
Open to abuse of expropriation powers to serve private interests
Expropriation should only be used in exceptional cases
Unclear if State can lease or sell expropriated land
Real Estate Fund:
Establishes an unnecessary bureaucracy and mechanism with no clear need
Money comes from the State Budget, and so shouldn’t get special handling
Possible conflict of interest in Board of Directors including outside persons.’
Ramos-Horta we all remember was the subject of an ‘assassination’ attempt by rebel soldier Reinardo who was killed and although much can be said of this and the real story is yet to emerge, one conclusion is that powerful Presidents are shot, not inconsequential symbols.
Ramos-Horta was not always dominant such as when his anti-poverty move was ruled unconstitutional by the Court of Appeals. His constant seeking to play a role in Woodside oil/gas negotiations saw him at times in with the government, but at other times rebuffed.
Similarly in no way was Timor Lester’s first President Xanana Gusmao ‘largely ceremonial’.
I am not taking anything away from the practice of the Heads of State in many ceremonies – international and national and local. Xanana’s ceremonial qualities for Independence celebrations and nation building are most significant in the new nation and deservedly so. (I add I loved the perspective from Kirsty Sword his Australian wife in her tearjerker love story and resistance heroine). As well President Ramos Horta on peace, healing, national unity etc political practices that are most significant. Alkitari and Lu Olo stand equally tall in such ceremonial duties and nation building.
Xanana’s political power as President in all that was happening was more than symbolic. The political system developed from the beginning with conflict and key contests between the President and the PM, at times with the President decisive.
Xanana Gusmao’s Presidency in his daily political practice defined the boundaries of Presidential power. That is the political reality. Why not, I say.
PM Alkatari legislating by Decree that is allowed had his Penal Code with draconian powers against defamation of the government and in breach of freedom of political expression etc vetoed and sent back by President Xanana Gusmao.
The President is the Commander in Chief of the Army with shared responsibility with the PM and Ministers. So in the 2006 crisis publicly the soldiers’ strike is the spark and the police intervene and all the political actors and much can be said, and also the President’s political practice was not ceremonial but politically ideologically driven – elsewhere I referred to as a ‘coup’ against Alkatari.
Xanana Gusmao’s exercise of his political organising and his legal powers proved determining in the 2006 crisis getting rid of Alkatari as PM. With people suffering and burning the President got his way with Alkatari’s ‘voluntary’ resignation that led to Australia’s military intervention. The stories are still being written and filmed about the strong political forces from inside and outside of Timor Leste, including Howard and Downer who wanted Alkatari removed. Xanana Gusmao as President put in Ramos Horta as acting PM before the 2007 elections elected Ramos Horta as President. Ramos-Horta interpreted the Constitution – despite Fretilin having the highest vote and seats – as the numbers in Parliament so appointed Xanana Gusmao as PM.
The point I make is the strong contrast with the required absence of governmental and political power by our Governor-General, who is for ceremony and a symbol.
I wrote earlier that the Republican Constitution of Timor Leste is “jointly Parliamentary and Presidential”. In feedback “jointly” is criticised as “incorrect”. But it is difficult to classify new and different semi-Presidential systems. The import of saying “jointly” was to emphasise the democratic will of the people voting in two rounds for the President – so the President apart from designated powers of appointing the PM and having a veto on legislation etc – has importantly a democratic political legitimacy, not only a unifier for the Nation, but seen by people as a countervailing source of power to the elected Parliament and the PM, who runs the government. The test is not just the literal words in the Constitution, but how the political players create the role and exercise political determinations. Such political power may be seen as crossing acceptable boundaries and “illegal” but nevertheless constructs what the President does in practice.
I was asked about our Queen, why? Imagine explaining to the East Timorese Australians’ so-called democratic maturity when we failed to vote for a new Republic with our elected President. We are still divided and dominated. Our Constitution retains the Queen of England as our symbolic Head of State with the Australian Governor-General on a daily basis purely functional.
Timor Lester’s Head of State their elected President is very different.
Clearly the elected Parliament is sovereign and has the formal power, with the PM and his Council of Ministers the real governmental power.
The Budget has to be and is closely scrutinised by the Parliament with the public listening on the radio or watching TV. As elsewhere checks from the Parliament on the government could be stronger.
We all stand in support of the East Timorese political actions determining this question of political power between the President, Parliament and PM.
Outside of this election, I met with unions, still forming. I will report later on the early struggles of the new union movement, the KSTL .
I did note that at least their Constitution supports workers’ rights, e.g.the Right to Strike is included. Employer lock-outs are forbidden.
Initially ILO International Labour Organisation principles are laid down to be followed. The Parliament has just passed after tri-partite consultation a revised Labor Code. I look forward to the development of the practices and institutions to protect and advance workers’ rights, not the least capacity building of workers into unions. I was told about most disturbing police interventions against peacefully striking workers. For example this solidarity message is for Bank workers against union busting and police arrests -so much for workers’ freedom of assembly. The police should be told by the PM and Minister to ignore employers and not get involved in workplace issues!
I received an update from APHEDA Dili (see the report on this blog)and the new Working Womens Centre focussing on rights for domestic workers. ‘According to the Advocacy Officer Working Women Center Timor-Leste (WWCTL) Ricar Pascoela, many of instances of violence against domestic workers in rural areas by their employers happen because of a personal referral system, lack of workers knowledge and understanding of their rights and duties, the Labour Code and the Constitution of RDTL.
She added much training is needed in this regard.
“Providing them with training is very important. First we need to increase their capacity and in depth knowledge about their rights and duties. They need to understand the Labour Code and to understand they are not alone.” The Dili weekly.
Conclusion. I record one criticism of the electoral laws for Parliament to look at namely that people have to vote where they are registered in their villages and with good reasons, but if they can’t make it back despite the Friday being a day off and with the heavy rains and terrible roads and costs then this may be one reason explaining lower voting some 74%. So the question of reform includes the ability to vote other than where you are registered.
But overall the vote was neutral, fair and transparent.
The people of Timor Leste democratically vote in the run off on April 16th for a President in the next stage of their national civic ceremony. Then the all-important Parliamentary elections are in June/July. More international observers will participate. Timor Leste democracy is arguably a model for many other citizens to turn to. With whatever solidarity we can give we support their democratic ceremony. We shall see what happens. Next instalment soon.
More references are available from chrisdwhite@bigpond.com April 5th 2012.

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