Saturday, March 17, 2012

Waiting for the results to come in.

The ballot papers are currently being counted and I estimate they are about 25% of the way there as I write this. Probably still too early to tell but there are indications that Lu Olo and TMR will make it through to the second round. Not terribly surprised if this eventuated, the lack of direct party support for JRH appears to have really damaged his chances. Party backing appears to be very important for candidates if they want to really have a chance here. Having said that, the amount of support he is accruing, which at this time is not that far of the lead candidates, is quite impressive. JRH is evidently popular at a personal level – his standing attained through his diplomatic efforts during the occupation and his achievements in the first government 2002-2007 as foreign minister and prime minister, then as president 2007-2012. The fragmentation of ASDT/Bloc Proklamador after the death of Xavier do Amaral and the campaign by JRH to direct votes from these organisations to himself is another factor that assisted his cause. 

This would be hard to track though because the splintering of these two organisations was very chaotic. Various people claimed to be the true representative of these organisations and the direction of their supporters’ votes was divided among several of the other candidates. JRH certainly made a big effort to associate himself with do Amaral, whose personal vote had been 17% and 14% in the previous presidential polls, this poster being an ostentatious example of this:

JRH (left) and do Amaral (right) Rough translation: Xavier and all supporters of the ASDT Party support JRH. President for peace and national unity.

The fragmentation of ASDT/Bloc Proklamador touches on an issue I am considering in regard to the weak institutional nature of the party system here. FRETILIN is not included in this category. While it has a strong leadership in the shape of Alkatiri and Lu Olo, it is structurally very sound and with deep roots in society across the country. The handover of leadership to the next in line, when that eventually happens, should not really effect the party itself. 

I have little confidence this would occur with the other parties. ASDT has demonstrated how dependent it was on a charismatic leader to hold it together. With do Amaral’s passing, it has disintegrated. Weak institutional strength was probably at the heart of it, with various people or factions fighting over the inheritance of the party. ASDT has traditionally been seen as a party that was formed from the Mambai people of central Timor, though do Amaral did attract support from across Timor given his historical role in the independence movement. Will ASDT recover and reform? Will there be a new party to represent the Mambai people, or will it melt into other parties?
Parties don’t seem to be formed around specific ethno-linguistic groups for the most part. While some parties like FRETILIN have their strongholds in certain areas (they are particularly strong in the east) they also draw support more broadly. This support is not identified with the interests or orientations of the various ethno-linguistic groups, politics doesn’t seem to be a platform or vehicle for the expression of such matters.

CNRT: established by XG in 2007 to run as an alternative to FRETILIN, it was able to form a coalition government and has stayed in power until now. There is a lot of discussion about the relationship between XG and CNRT. Is it purely a political vehicle for him? Will it survive after he leaves politics? How strong are the institutional foundations of CNRT? It is hard to tell. CNRT is inseparable from the image and reputation of XG. CNRT is XG, XG is CNRT. That’s the impression I’m picking up anyway. This would suggest that there is daylight between XG and CNRT, without his personality and direction, CNRT might really struggle. CNRT draws on, in terms of its support, a similar constituency to that of FRETILIN. The use of CNRT itself is a deliberate wink and a nod to the CNRT – different acronym – of the late 1990’s that oversaw the final period that led to independence. Frustration with FRETILN in 2007 and the need of a viable opposition, or alternative government, led to the new CNRT’s creation. 

XG has a strong personal following. A double edged sword – the success or failure of CNRT rests on this following. CNRT might be able to continue if it works at developing itself internally and forming relationships at the grass roots level. I can’t see XG running again, this will be his last tilt, along with JRH and Alkatiri. These elder statesman are at the upper end of the ’75 generation. CNRT will have to work hard to develop into a party that can survive into a new world with new leaders. Of course, this discussion is mostly speculation, a matter for 4-5 years in the future. Questions could be asked though about the structure of the party as it currently stands. With the right effort, CNRT could continue with relying on XG, but on what basis. This is another problem of charismatic leaders keeping parties afloat. Could infighting over its leadership led to a similar situation as ASDT? There must be questions I can advance to CNRT as it stands that would give some indication one way or another…

Other parties? My feeling is they suffer the same problem of ASDT, perhaps not to the same degree… The guys – and I mean guys, men, party politics is dominated by men, another topic to be addressed… none of the big parties have women at the top of the leadership caste, and only a few of the smaller ones are headed by women – like Lasama of PD and LuGu of FRENTI Mudanca, are relatively younger and aren’t associated so much with the armed resistance movement. 

LuGu was a diplomat and Lasama was involved in the student/youth resistance movement. Given the prominence of strong personalities in the resistance movement, it’s natural that they get a lot of attention and personal allegiance according to their respective roles… but this reliance of personalities to carry parties is dangerous. Party structures, policy and ideology need to be developed, Timor-Leste has so many challenges to face and parties should be developing around different ideas of how to address these challenges. Party politics needs to develop and discussions about the way forward, not just about candidates respective roles during the occupation. Another topic I am itching to scratch…. Gonna take a break. Check the scores.

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