Sunday, April 8, 2012

TMR+XG = TMR+CNRT-Independence

Right, I’m back. At One More Bar; an Aussie style sports bar. Got some footy on and a Melbourne Bitter, with potato skins on the way. I’m going to the gym tomorrow so I’ll make up for it.

To follow on briefly from what I wrote at the end of my last blog, before I get onto Event #2, I am going to expand on my discussion of TMR’s case for his presidential bid. The point I want to address is his claim that all presidents elected in TL have been independent (all two of them, being XG and JRH), which he claims strengthens his case because he too is an independent candidate. In contrast, there is no mistaking Lu Olo as FRETILN’s candidate. TMR claims that the people of TL always pick independent candidates, and because of this, he should be elected. This particular aspect of his argument was raised in a recent entry in the diak ka lae blog, and I am grateful to those responsible for posting it. You can find a link to the blog at the right hand side of my blog.

There are certainly some strengths associated with a candidate for president not being formally tied to a political party. Lu Olo is definitely FRETILIN’s man, and his relationship with that organisation for some voters is probably problematic at the very least. How much Lu Olo would be able to be himself, as opposed to a creature of the party machine, under the influence of its leadership i.e. Mari Alkatiri in particular, is a valid point of discussion. The idea of a person from FRETILN being the head of state for all Timorese is divisive for many, I’m thinking particularly of those who became disillusioned with FRETILIN or being actively involved in forming the anti-FRETILN bloc during its term in government 2002-2007. 

An independent candidate would seem naturally a safer and more palatable prospect in this context. JRH did well enough in the first round in 2007 to pass through to the run off, where he benefited from the formation of an anti-FRETILN movement, which encompassed the support of almost all of the other candidates from the first round – bar Manuel Tilman from KOTA. CNRT, as part of this movement, saw its chance to flex its muscle and eliminate Lu Olo in 2007 by backing JRH, though JRH seemed to be able to remain his own man during his term as president, and not be beholden to the pressures exerted by the parties that supported him. The tension between JRH and XG over the last five years, over a variety of issues, demonstrate that JRH was determined to keep his independence to a large extent demonstrated in criticism of the CNRT led AMP government. This less than harmonious relationship between the PM and President has partly contributed to CNRT not backing JRH in his Presidential bid in 2012. 

A side note. JRH appeared to have decided late in the game to run again. He would not get backing from CNRT as he did in 2007. He was assured that CNRT would not back another candidate, however. This proved a short lived promise, as CNRT got behind TMR shortly before campaigning in the first round began. I believe that the personal relationship between JRH and XG, at least at a political level, had deteriorated substantially. They did not see eye to eye on everything and by most accounts JRH was not shy in criticising XG and his government. XG backing TMR might have been a way of punishing JRH politically, perhaps XG wanted to ensure JRH would not make it through to the second round. TMR was the obvious choice to back if XG wanted to challenge FRETILIN and also undermine JRH. Lasama, the leader of Partido Democratico, was a strong candidate but would be harder to manage and influence from the perspective of XG, given that Lasama was in charge of his own party etc. This appears to be a fairly cynical piece of political maneuvering by XG, his personal relationship with TMR is not supposed to be a happy one. Most of it would come from all the chaos of 2006, when TMR was head of the defence forces and XG was President. What really happened will probably never be revealed, but mistakes were made by almost all of the leadership caste at the time and apparently those two guys still have a beef with each other. TMR and XG/CNRT is a marriage of political convenience.

The essential thrust of my point is that while TMR presents himself as an independent candidate, it is terribly difficult for him to hold to that argument given how reliant he has become on XG and CNRT to get behind his campaign. Additionally, while independent candidates have become president in the last two elections, this does not mean a candidate from a particular party cannot or should not be voted in. I would argue that neither candidate, TMR or Lu Olo, is independent, despite TMR claiming otherwise. While he is not formally or advertised as CNRT’s candidate, looking at all the posters and stickers around the place, it is impossible to believe otherwise. He is CNRT’s candidate in everything but name. XG is behind him, he turns up at rallies and is in all the posters. There is one with an older photograph of the two of them in military fatigues, along with a recent photo of them in civilians clothing. This is a similar one in sticker form:

As I’ve argued before, XG is CNRT, XG with TMR = TMR as CNRT’s candidate in the perception and minds of people when they see those campaign posters. It is a quiet and subtle endorsement of TMR by CNRT via the agency of XG. I don’t have a problem with CNRT getting behind TMR; the problem is with the argument that he is an independent candidate, I think it’s disingenuous. How much he is in control of his candidature and campaign, and how much XG and CNRT are behind it is hard to tell. The influence that XG would like to exert on TMR should he win office will be a question that can only be answer in time, should TMR win. Should he win, and should the formation of government get messy like it did last time, well, I can only suggest you watch this space. The President is empowered to invite the parties to try and form government, in theory the party with the most seats has the first opportunity to do so. FRETILIN feel hard done by with what happened in 2007, despite winning most seats, they claim they were not given a chance to form a coalition government. Again, what went down at this time is disputed, but if no party has a majority and needs to form a coalition government to rule, the role of the president will be critical. It could spell trouble. Both CNRT and FRETILN would want to have influence over the President in this situation, this would test the integrity and independence of the President in relation to the parties and individuals behind them.

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