Sunday, March 25, 2012

Tempo Manas

The Dili Beach Hotel.

First thing about this place you will notice is the large numbers of TVs. It’s a sports bar and it serves its purpose with aplomb. Cold drinks, decent food and three different codes of footy on at the same time. AFL, NRL and Rugby Union on different screens broadcast at the same time. Brilliant. Great way to wind down on a Saturday evening. Felt a bit ridiculous but why not indulge a bit? I was really there only for the AFL but it was the first Sydney derby and it wasn’t much of a game. The only one on too this weekend – round one. Looking forward to normal service resuming. Expect a decent crowd out for the games – just gotta avoid the Collingwood games; for obvious reasons.
I plan to put up a photos page pretty soon so you all can get a sense of what it’s like on the campaign trail. Won’t get too wordy on this page I promise. 

The campaigning for the second round of the presidential election begins on Friday, 30 March. There’s only two candidates, TMR and Lu Olo, but with over two weeks of campaigning before the actual polls on Monday, 16 April, there will be plenty for me to keep an eye on. 

I have got the itch to get out Dili. Not that there is anything wrong with Dili, it’s just that I’ve been here for almost two month (gosh it’s gone quickly – 1/3rd of my time here) and only been out once to the other districts (Liquica). Spending a few days out with each of the campaigns in other districts will help satisfy this craving. Dili is so different from the rest of the country, and I really want to get a better/broader perspective on life and conditions here in Timor-Leste. 

Tempo Manas:

Hot Temperature – in the literal sense it’s not too hot here in Dili. And Dili can get very hot. It’s technically the rainy season but there hasn’t been much in the last week. But when it rains, it really does rain. No, it’s reasonably comfortable weather wise. My place is up in the hills a bit which helps, too. Can’t sleep with the AC on, using the overhead fan, which keeps things pretty comfortable. Sleeping okay once I get to sleep. Finding it hard to relax, always thinking about my research here. Starting to read some novels to help me to take my mind off it. Starting to enjoy reading again. Going through two fiction: The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad and Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh. Started reading Xanana’s autobiography as well. 

I digress, the tempo manas reference is a metaphor. The hot season relates to the political climate. It’s hard to gauge but things at least on the surface seem pretty calm in Dili. People seem to have accepted the 1st round results and got on with their lives. The elections were generally regarded as a success. No major or systemic incidents of violence or fraud. The turnout was a bit under 80% of registered voters. 

Double registration of voters does partly explain this figure, which is lower than previous polls I think. Possibly the biggest factor that has reduced voter turnout is a terrible piece of legislation that requires people to return to their home districts in order to vote. There is a way around this but it is a bureaucratic nightmare, lots of paperwork. This legislation makes life difficult for many people, especially in Dili. So many people come from the districts for work in Dili. Urbanisation is exclusively centred on the capital and the numbers I believe are significant. I don’t have them on hand. Just from personal experience, I could feel that Dili from election day had lost a sizable chunk of its population. Dili was almost a ghost town on election day and it has only gradually returned to normal, it probably took a week to return to its regular schedule.

Voting really shouldn’t cost people anything. Attaining independence and implementing democracy here has cost so much already – it shouldn’t be an issue for people over whether or not to vote. But it does. The financial costs involved themselves can be prohibitively high. With so few jobs all income is valuable and voters must weigh up whether it is worth it. It costs to travel, then there is lost income from not working. Lots of people squat, especially students, and they risk losing somewhere to live if they go away. 

One of the biggest effects electorally speaking is the differentiated results on voter turnout on people who come from the further out districts to the East. These are the districts were a lot of the students who come to Dili come from. It takes longer to travel to the East and the argument is that this hurts FRETLIN more than any other party. FRETILIN’s stronghold traditionally is in the East. This legislation was implemented recently by the CNRT led AMP government. A cynic would have you believe that this was a deliberate strategy to weaken FRETILN’s vote. I’ll leave that one up to you.
FRETLIN still did very well in the East, and TMR did reasonably well to. He seems to have attracted at least some of the veteran vote, and others, who would have normally voted for FRETILIN. Fortunately there are a lot of people coming out demanding changes to the legislation. Even across the parties that are involved in the AMP government, there are plenty of noises being made about the need for change. JRH has strongly made this argument, too. I can’t see any reason not to change, it removes discrimination from those who would otherwise make sacrifices to vote in a system where the districts don’t make any difference anyway. The whole of Timor-Leste is treated as a single constituency, results in districts are irrelevant to the overall result.

Getting back to tempo manas. There have been some reports of road blocks going up and ID’s being checked. Political affiliation does matter here and it could be a source of tension. Some areas of Dili are dominated by one or another party and being from another party or being perceived as being associated with a different party could mean trouble. The results from the 1st round have not triggered any negative response overall, but the 2nd one will determine the winner. Time will tell if the results are accepted. Chest beating and confident declarations of certain victory do not help the situation, they inflame expecations and set up conditions for supports of the losing candidate to perhaps feel they were robbed. I feel that the results could be very close and this could be a problem. If it’s a finely balanced victory I worry that the knowledge that you got so close but still failed may be a catalyst for trouble. A clear cut winner may be the more desirable outcome - but then again, this is all speculation and the reverse may be true (or both). I certainly don’t make any confident predictions about anything here. I’ve barely spent any time here. In addition, I’m not sure if anyone knows what’s going on. The conditions exist for things to go South here, I really hope that things go smoothly, but I will keep my ear to the ground. Everyone and their dog has an opinion on what could or will happen here, so the only thing certain is that we cannot be certain about anything. In the meantime, I will stock up on provisions for the house just in case. I’m off for dinner. Have a good night.

Peace, Evan

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