Monday, March 19, 2012

Some Reflections

Where to start?
I’m gonna start with my thoughts on the provisional results of the 1st round of the presidential election. The results went according to what most people expected, including myself – at least for the two candidates with the most votes. FRETILIN look very organised and determined so Lu Olo’s first place in the polls was not surprising either. Without CNRT’s support, it would a lot tougher for TMR. He still may have made it but it probably would have been a close run thing. 

Most of this is speculation but it seems that CNRT’s vote is not particularly strong, well, it doesn’t seem to have exceeded the results from 2007. CNRT’s support for JRH in 2007 would be hard to disaggregate from his broader appeal but CNRT’s support in parliament in 2007 was in the low 20’s. We don’t know how much support TMR would have received outside of CNRT’s backing but his 25% of the vote only just beats CNRT’s vote in the 2007 parliamentary polls. 

My feeling is that FRETILIN’s results are quite impressive, particularly as TMR has leached much of the vote FRETILN probably would have received some veterans or other associated with the resistance, particularly from the east.

What happens in the second round will be hard to predict. The big questions will hover over JRH and Lasama. Both look like getting around 17-18% of the vote. JRH has sent signals that he is not happy with CNRT and XG, but he may not officially endorse a candidate. 

Lasama may officially back XG and TMR but the grass roots of PD may not go along with that uniformly. Lobato was the only other candidate with any real support – about 5% -  so that could be important as well. Being ex FRETILIN won’t mean that he necessarily backs Lu Olo, personal relationships, falling outs and alliances with others make things hard to predict. 

Finally, FRENTI Mudanca. This is a breakaway party from FRETILIN. It’s a new party formed by a small group of people from FRETIILN disenchanted and frustrated with what they see as a lack of change and reform in FRETIILN, particularly from the leadership caste. They want change, an orientation focused on a range of political and economic issues in Timor-Leste. This reform manifested itself in an attempt to change the leadership of FRETILN in 2006, which failed. This breakaway is led by Jose Luis Guterres (LuGu) a former diplomat in the employ of FRETILN during the resistance. LuGu appears to have attracted about 2% of the vote. 

Given it is a new movement and the number of candidate involved in the polls, this low vote is not surprising. I attended a rally of theirs and I was impressed with the turnout and organisation of the campaign. I thought they would have received more of the vote based on this but this leads to a bigger issue I want to discuss.
Rally sizes can be misleading. Small crowds don’t necessarily indicate the support candidates will receive. JRH had small turnouts in the district of Liquica, but he did very well there, he won the district quite well. Big turnouts for LuGu in Dili didn’t result in many votes. Of course, each district is different and supporters seem to travel around a bit to bolster rallies. The close geographical proximity of district makes it easy for campaigns to bring the same supporters along to rallies in different districts. The FRETILIN rally in DIli was enormous, but much of it came from at least one district in the east. 

Another matter is that of the spectator/festival factor. It’s something to do. Particularly in Dili with many unemployed young people, going to a rally is something to get involved in that is exciting and gives a sense of identity, meaning and validation. These events are like a festival or concert; come with your friends, get dressed up in the appropriate gear, get on your bikes and make a lot of noise. Some rallies provide transport, food, drinks (and sometimes money according to some accounts). People might go along to several different rallies held by different candidates. Turning up and shouting Viva Lasama doesn’t mean they will (or can – given the age of many of the participants). Stories abound of the same people turning up to rallies for different candidates and cheering them along. Viva Lu Olo one day, Viva TMR another day, Viva Lasama, Viva Lobato etc. You get the idea. Voter support is hard to gauge. Can’t judge it by observing the turnout of one rally. 

What I think I can take from what I have observed so far: FRETILN is back and will do at least as well as in 2007, CNRT doesn’t look like it will do any better than in 2007. PD is looking in good health and will be an important player in determining the president and shape of government. The other small parties may have little or no say in this regard. The large number of parties participating in the parliamentary elections is incredible, 24 – 8 more than 2007. This is a matter for at least one more blog, but the nature of the electoral model, money politics, personalities, representation, and development all relate to it. I’ll just foreshadow these aspects for the moment for later discussion.
For my next blog I will provide an overview of the campaigns and rallies I saw in the last three weeks. There’s so much I want to write, yikes, hard to contain it or express it all. 

Otherwise… I’m in pretty good shape. Shaking off a cold. Decided to join a gym. Not really getting any exercise here and I think it will help improve both my physical and mental health. Looking forward to writing more soon. Hope this finds you well.
Ate Amanha.
Maun Evan

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