|Subject: E. Timor Reports: Australian; Age;
- Courier-Mail: Poll deepening political divide
- Australian: Analysis: Slow dance to democracy [By Stephen Fitzpatrick]
The Courier-Mail Saturday, April 14, 2007
Poll deepening political divide
John Martinkus in Dili
'The election officials were unable to answer questions on what had happened to 150,000 votes'
THIS week's presidential ballot in East Timor has solved none of the problems affecting the bitterly divided young nation.
With serving Prime Minister Jose Ramos Horta facing off against Fretilin candidate Francisco "Lu Olo" Guterres in a May 8 presidential run-off the chance of politically motivated violence remains high.
This has been a chaotic and bizarre week which demonstrated once again that losing candidates fear the power of Fretilin, the country's ruling party, and will not accept its political dominance.
On Wednesday, the political landscape in Dili changed dramatically. It started with a news conference called by candidate Fernando "Lasama" Araujo.
Reporters presumed the event was being called to announce the acceptance by the Democratic Party leader that he had come third and was out of the running for the run-off election. Instead Mr Araujo dropped a bombshell.
Together with four of the other losing candidates in the presidential poll, he issued a statement calling on the electoral commission to stop counting the votes on the basis of allegations of misconduct by electoral officials and Fretilin.
It was widely known the results from the eastern part of the country, a Fretilin stronghold, were due to be announced in the afternoon and that the parties had been given prior notice by the electoral commission of the result. All five candidates had waited until the result to allege misconduct and officially declare the election invalid.
When questioned by reporters as to the evidence of the misconduct, Presidential candidate Lucia Lobato waved a piece of paper and said repeatedly: "This is the evidence". She refused to either read out what was on the piece of paper or show it to the gathered journalists.
Later that afternoon the East Timorese electoral authority (CNE), announced the result. CNE spokesman Martinho Gusmao told reporters Mr Guterres had jumped from third place to the lead with 28.79 per cent of the national vote and that widely declared favourite Mr Ramos Horta was in second place with 22.52 per cent, with Mr Araujo on 18.52 per cent.
The looks on the faces of diplomats and journalists in the room who had already declared Mr Ramos Horta as the winner based on earlier results indicated the shock of this result.
There were two reasons why no one predicted this outcome. The first was the selective release of preliminary figure by the electoral authority.
CNE's Mr Gusmao surprised reporters at a news conference last week by declaring he supported Mr Araujo and that he hoped he would win. It was noted in the report by the European Union official observers which spoke of instances of public officials taking political positions in this election.
The second reason for the shock was the CNE's delay in announcing the results from the east of the country.
By delaying their inclusion, it appeared the CNE spokesman was playing some kind of political game that led to early speculation of a Ramos Horta victory.
But, by far the most disturbing aspect of Wednesday's announcement, was the total figures of valid votes counted. The figure of 357,766 was given -- far short of the 522,000 who registered to vote in the poll.
The election officials were unable to answer questions on what had happened to 150,000 votes.
Serious concerns have been raised by the 27-member EU observer group regarding the shortcomings of two Timorese Government bodies -- the Election Commission and the STAE, which ran the logistics for the ballot.
The Age Saturday, April 14, 2007
Unhappy East Timorese vote for change
Lindsay Murdoch, Dili
The nation's poll has shown voters want to punish somebody over last year's violence.
THE first indication there would be problems with East Timor's presidential election came days before the vote - when Martinho Gusmao, a key member of the organising commission, publicly endorsed the rising star of the country's politics, Fernando "Lasama" de Araujo.
Father Gusmao, an influential Catholic priest, shrugged off cries of foul play, saying he could anoint whoever he liked.
High in East Timor's coffee-growing mountains, Alfredo Reinado issued his own public endorsement of 43-year-old Mr de Araujo, humiliating, once again, Australian combat troops who have been hunting him for weeks.
Yesterday, Reinado, a cult-hero figure for many Timorese, told The Age, through an interpreter who rang him on his mobile telephone, he was preparing a statement on how he rated the election.
Apparently, like many other Timorese, he is not happy.
The election of a new president to replace independence hero Xanana Gusmao is an important test for the young nation after last year's violent upheaval that left scores dead and forced more than 150,000 people from their homes.
But despite the eagerness of more than half of the country's 1 million people to have a say in the resolution of the country's problems, all eight candidates have raised serious allegations about the conduct of the election.
The High Court in Dili will be flooded with complaints next week, almost certainly forcing a delay in announcement of the official result. Despite the problems, which included intimidation and count irregularities, voters showed they wanted to punish somebody over last year's violence. Leaders of the ruling Fretilin party were taken aback on Monday evening when they started to receive reports from 500 polling booths around the country.
Their candidate, Francisco "Lu-Olo" Guterres was polling poorly in many areas, including traditional party strongholds in the country's eastern towns and villages.
Only hours earlier, Mari Alkatiri, the party's powerful secretary-general, had refused to even discuss the possibility that Mr Guterres would not win a clear majority, preventing a run-off vote in a second round in one month.
"We never lose. We will win again," he told reporters as he voted alongside Mr Guterres at a polling centre in a Dili beachside suburb where they both live. But Mr Alkatiri did not hear shouts from people lining up to vote. "Horta best, Horta best," they called.
Jose Ramos Horta received 80,851 votes, according to the unofficial count, a remarkable effort considering he had no party to run his campaign. This was only 23,000 votes behind Mr Guterres, who had the backing of the biggest political machine. What is shaping as a bitterly fought run-off vote between the two men will be held on May 8.
Mr Ramos Horta relied mainly on his high profile to give him more votes than Mr de Araujo, who heads the reformist youth-based Democratic Party. In interviews, Mr Ramos Horta, co-winner of the 1996 Nobel peace prize, portrayed Fretilin as arrogant and out of touch with Timorese, one-third of whom often do not have enough to eat. He said Mr Guterres was a nice enough man, run by Mr Alkatiri, whose image was damaged last year when he was forced from the prime ministership over allegations he knew about the arming of a civilian hit squad. A former guerilla fighter, Mr Guterres can claim, like many other Timorese, to be a hero of the independence struggle. But he is not well known. He did not show up at a press conference on Thursday when Mr Alkatiri gave Fretilin's version of what happened.
For months, Mr Ramos Horta worked hard to portray himself as a man for the poor, making frequent trips to remote villages and Dili's refugee camps where tens of thousands of people are still languishing as monsoon downpours turn them into quagmires.
When Fretilin's leaders reassess their tactics, after recovering from the shock of Monday's vote, they may realise that not only will they struggle to win the run-off because all the non-Fretilin candidates will back Mr Ramos Horta, they face a tough battle to stay in power by winning the parliamentary elections. It might be time to elect a new face to lead the party, such as former NSW public servant Estanislau da Silva, who has been Mr Ramos Horta's deputy for 10 months.
Mr Alkatiri insists he will continue to lead the party into the parliamentary elections after being cleared of the hit squad allegations even though he appears to be unpopular. Xanana Gusmao, the out-going president who plans to lead his own party into power, is already telling voters they must shun Fretilin because the party has failed to significantly improve their lives.
Mr Gusmao, who remained distant and aloof during last year's crisis, will vacate the presidency on May 20.
The parliamentary elections are likely to see even more insults flying than the presidential vote. Mr Gusmao and Mr Alkatiri have been political enemies for decades.
Mr Ramos Horta plans to swing his support behind Mr Gusmao's campaign no matter what the outcome of the presidential run-off. The close friends and long-time political allies plan, on Monday, to announce a deal to compensate 700 soldiers whose sacking sparked last year's violence.
The Australian Saturday, April 14, 2007
Slow dance to democracy
LIKE the song says, we've only just begun.
THE bunting is still up in Fretilin party headquarters and the campaign posters of a beaming Francisco "Lu Olo" Guterres, looking more like Sammy Davis Jr than a former guerilla fighter aiming to become East Timor's next president, hang from every street corner.
Guterres's opponents, key among them Prime Minister Jose Ramos Horta, have weighed in since Monday's national vote with accusations of dirty tricks by Fretilin, the party that declared independence from Portugal in 1975 and then defended it in a jungle war against Indonesia for 24 years.
The complaints can be disingenuous, however. Ramos Horta, after all, founded Fretilin and was its spokesman in exile until 1988, when he and current President Kay Rala "Xanana" Gusmao engineered a deft step out of the party, and into the leadership of a new opposition coalition known as the CNRT, or Timorese National Resistance Council.
Fretilin chose not to join that group, insisting that as the proclaimer of freedom in 1975, it was the only legitimate vehicle of struggle.
CNRT was wound up after independence in 2002 on the grounds that its founding purpose had been achieved, but Gusmao recently had the band strike up the tune once more.
The new CNRT, this time around a single political party with Gusmao at its helm, is the National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction, and it will be a key support in Ramos Horta's attempt to knock off his Fretilin opponent in a two-up runoff vote on May 8.
Gusmao will probably then run at parliamentary elections on June 30. For both polls, the country's two most famous heroes are betting that the new CNRT will have drained enough support from Fretilin to put them in power as president and prime minister.
Besides heading CNRT from 1988, Gusmao led Fretilin's armed wing, Falintil, through the wilderness years, building an unassailable myth of himself as warrior-poet and old-style freedom fighter. The image has served well and many regard Gusmao as a superhuman leader who can create a future of high-spending, oil-based prosperity.
But a fierce loyalty to Fretilin remains, and strong evidence suggests the party was not solely to blame for East Timor's violent upheavals last year.
The criticisms of Fretilin are largely to do with its faltering and error-prone steps from revolutionary socialist front to bourgeois political party trying to run effective government.
Its leadership, critics say, is autocratic and lost in the past. Guterres and the party's secretary-general, Mari Alkatiri, who was ousted as prime minister last year by Ramos Horta, oversee a corrupt, faction-ridden, Marxist structure, they allege.
Furthermore, Alkatiri has no connection with the ordinary people, the opponents say.
But reformers within the party refuse to leave. With almost religious fervour, they believe it is the organisation, not the individuals in it, that matters.
In any case, locating the good guys and the bad guys in East Timorese politics is rarely as simple as working out who's in the arms of whom. Sometimes, when the music stops and the lights come on, the alliances are a surprise.
Next month's presidential runoff, and the parliamentary polls that follow, will be the real test of who leads and who follows in East Timor's awkward dance to maturity.
------------------------------------------ Joyo Indonesia News Service