Please send comments, suggestions, criticisms, and threats to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
Article for TAF blog (Draft)
17 June 2012
Bucking the System, Concentrating the Vote?
The nature of the electoral system in Timor-Leste is the primary focus of this article. The substantive argument made here is that while the electoral system does encourage fragmentation and proliferation in the party system, there are three major countervailing factors that are likely to produce results that contradict the commonly anticipated outcomes of such an electoral system. To be more specific, the proportional representation model employed in Timor-Leste is unlikely to produce a parliament consisting of a large number of parties with small numbers of seats. Based on a prediction of the likely results of the 2012 parliamentary election, drawn primarily from the results of the 2012 presidential election, this article concludes that Timor-Leste is going to experience a further increase –compared to 2007 - in the amount of the vote that is directed towards just three parties: FRETILIN (Revolutionary Front for an Independent Timor-Leste), CNRT (National Congress for the Reconstruction of Timor) and PD (Democratic Party). This article will argue that this concentration of the vote, and the reduced presence of smaller parties, can be explained by the historical legacies of these parties, the role of charismatic leadership, and the benefits of incumbency and patronage politics.
The article will first introduce some insight into the mechanics of Timor-Leste’s electoral system. Secondly, it will then provide some historical context by looking at the results of the 2001 and 2007 elections. Thirdly, the focus will shift to providing a preview of the 2012 parliamentary elections by discussing the dynamics and politics of CNRT’s management of the AMP government, followed by a biography of the political players that will contest the polls. Fourthly, a projection of the likely results of the 2012 election will be proffered. Fifthly, this analysis will seek to explain the reasons for the anticipated concentration of the vote in FRETILIN, CNRT and PD. Finally, this article will suggest three scenarios for the likely makeup of the government for the period 2012-2017 based on the hypothesised results provided earlier.
Literature on Electoral Systems
The electoral system used in Timor-Leste is a member of the Proportional Representation (PR) family of electoral systems. According to the International (IDEA), PR is, “An electoral system family based on the principle of the conscious translation of the overall votes of a party or grouping into a corresponding proportion of seats in an elected body. There are two principle variables that determine the nature of the PR model employed: district magnitude (DM) and the threshold for attaining seats.
District magnitude is the number of seats available in each electoral district. The greater the district magnitude, the closer the relationship between a parties vote and the total number of seats they receive. According to Taagepera and Shugart, this is because:
[s]eats come in whole number while votes are a nearly continuous variable. When more seats are being allocated, a better fit can be achieved, on the average, between a party’s percentage of votes and a percentage of seats that corresponds to an integer number of seats.
The most proportional system is the single national district, which is the system that Timor-Leste employs.
The second principle variable is the threshold, the minimum share of the total vote that parties much attain if they are to be eligible to receive seats in the parliament. The objective of the threshold, if it is high enough, is to stymie a flood of small parties participating in elections hoping to win seats based on a very small percentage of the overall vote. The smaller the threshold, the greater incentive there is for fragmentation of larger parties into smaller parties. If a faction within a party, for example, is unable to implement some or part of its agenda, or if the leadership is divided along a clash of personalities, a smaller threshold might encourage it to split and form its own party in the hope of getting representation at the next elections. In this scenario, a proliferation of parties would form and contest elections. A small threshold is general considered to be at the 3% mark, which is what we have in the case of Timor-Leste.
These two variables, when considered together, have been categorised into a theoretical framework that places them along a continuum of ‘moderate’ and ‘extreme’ electoral systems. ‘Moderate’ PR systems, Germany for example, are those which combine multimember districts with smaller (M) district magnitudes with a higher threshold; ostensibly designed to limit the presence and influence of smaller parties. ‘Extreme’ PR systems, like Timor-Leste, along with Israel, Italy and the Netherlands for example, have either multimember districts with larger district magnitudes (M) or consider the whole nation as a single constituency. Such an electoral system tends to encourage greater participation and the influence of smaller parties in comparison with ‘moderate’ systems.
The d’Hondt formula is employed to count votes and distribute seats by adopting the highest average method:
One seat is allocated in a district at each of a series of counts to the party or grouping with the highest total. When a seat is allocated, the original vote of the party that wins it is reduced by the division.
This method tends to favour larger parties in multimember districts with small numbers of seats. This structural discrimination is somewhat mitigated in the case of Timor-Leste because the entire nation is treated as a single district. A political party will incrementally see a reduction in the return of the number of seats they get proportionately as their share of the vote increases.
The elections in 2001 for the Constituent Assembly saw FRETILIN win a healthy share of 57.37% of the vote based on a nationwide PR model without a threshold. This meant they took 43 out of the available 75 seats. Three other parties received a noticeable share of the vote: PSD – 8.18% = 6 seats, PD – 8.72 = 7 seats, and ASDT – 7.84 = 6 seats. The remaining seats were distributed to the smaller parties. FRETILIN also won 12 of the 13 district seats. FRETILIN’s total of 55 seats was not enough for them to rule in their own right; they needed 60 to pass the Constitution. To achieve this, they formed an alliance with ASDT, whose 6 seats was enough to get them over the line.
The following are the number of votes, and percentage of the overall vote, which each of parties that passed the 3% threshold received. The final statistic is the number of seats each party won in the new parliament: FRETILIN: 120,592 – 29.02% = 21, CNRT: 100,175 – 24.10%, = 18, ASDT-PSD Coalition: 65.358 – 15.73% = 11, PD: 46.946 – 11.30% = 8, PUN: 18,896 – 4.55% = 3, KOTA-PPT Coalition: 13,294 – 3.20% = 2, and UNDERTIM: 13,247 – 3.19% = 2. No party in its own right had ability to form government. In the end, CNRT was able to form government with 39 of the 65 seats in parliament; in concert with PD, ASDT, PSD and UNDERTIM. On August 8 2007, Xanana Gusmao was sworn in as Prime Minister; he would lead the Alianca para Maioria Parlamentar (AMP) or Parliamentary Majority Alliance in government.
The immediate statistic that stands out is the drastic decline, of almost 29%, in the level of support for FRETILIN compared to 2001. FRETILIN maintained a strong base of support in the Eastern districts; 45.5% in Lautem (down from 62.8%), 60% in Viqueque (down from 75%), and 62.4% in Baucau (down from 82%). CNRT appears to have been the primary beneficiary of this reduction of support for FRETILIN. In the remaining districts, FRETILIN took some serious hits, with CNRT, the ASDT-PSD coalition and PD doing respectably in the Western and Central districts. In total, the three biggest parties (FRETILIN, CNRT and PD) collated close to 65% of the vote, which translated into 47 seats. 26% went to other parties, while almost 12% (50,396 votes) were lost because they were directed towards parties that fell below the 3% threshold.
Previewing the 2012 Parliamentary Elections
The task of managing four partners in parliament and cabinet (The Council of Ministers) has not always been an easy one for Prime Minister Gusmao. With the exception of UNDERTIM (2 seats), the loss of any of the other partners in the ruling alliance would either leave this government on the precipice of losing power, or losing power completely. Holding onto the reins of power in such precarious situation is not an ideal situation for the Prime Minister and CNRT; they have big plans for the future of the country and the less negotiation necessary the better. With fewer partners, the Prime Minister would also have greater autonomy in disciplining ministers or members or parliament that our out of line or get in legal trouble. CNRT’s goal in the 2012 parliamentary elections is to attain a majority to be able to this, or at least minimise the number of partners they have to work with.
This assessment of the state of play for the political players in the 2012 parliamentary election is largely based on a reading of both rounds of the 2012 presidential elections. The presidential election does not provide a perfect guide for the outcome of the parliamentary election, but it does provide the best set of data available on where things roughly stand for many of the political players involved.
FRETILIN was able to more or less maintain its national level of support since 2007 based on the first round result for its presidential candidate, Francisco ‘Lu-Olo’ Guterres; close to 29% of the overall vote. FRETILIN did see some of its support chipped away in the East by TMR, who is a popular figure among ex-FALINTIL and current defence force (F-FDTL) members. It is conceivable that this shift is a temporary phenomenon and these voters will return to FRETILIN. Additionally, some analysts have interpreted the results from both rounds of the presidential election as indicating a slight improvement for FRETILIN in the West and Centre of the country compared to 2007. FRETILIN, however, faces huge pressure from CNRT’s campaign to make inroads into the east and FRETILIN supporters into the CNRT camp. FRETILIN will do well to hold its vote and level of support in 2012.
CNRT backed TMR for the role of president and if we take TMR’s first round result as an indication of how much support CNRT enjoys nationally – which is not an unproblematic assumption - the figure closely resembles the 2007 result; in the range of 24-25%. CNRT has also been recently boosted by the additional support of several individuals and groups. One example of this is Gil Alves and his militants from ASDT that were denied the right to run their list as the legitimate party list of ASDT. Another is FRETILIN Resistensia: a group of people formerly involved in FRETILIN (its President Antonio Cardoso, was a former FRETILIN member of parliament), who have switched their electoral support to Xanana Gusmao and CNRT. CNRT are also well prepared financially for the campaigning; a recently published list of political donations totalled US$2.5 million.
PD will be optimistic about the upcoming elections. Jose Ramos-Horta is behind their campaign and may be able to carry over some of his impressive first round result of almost 18% in the presidential election into PD’s 2012 parliamentary result. One of the other big questions is whether Lasama’s first round presidential result of almost 18% will be translated into PD’s parliamentary result. This did not occur in 2007; Lasama received a fraction over 19% in the first round of the presidential poll, while PD only received 11.30%.
PSD (Social Democratic Party) has consistently won around 8% of the vote in both the 2001 and 2007 elections. Lucia Lobato, their number two on the party list, will be appealing her conviction for corruption. Will this taint PSD’s campaign and hurt them electorally? It remains to be seen.
ASDT (Timorese Social Democratic Association) has suffered huge internal problems. Gil Alves and his faction submitted a party list for the election. Joao Correia and his faction appealed the legitimacy of this list, and submitted their own. The Tribunal ruled in favour of Correia and he will carry the mantle and banner of ASDT in the elections. Bloku Proclamador (BP), which also draws on the legacy of Xavier do Amaral, will make competition tight in the traditional stronghold of ASDT in the Mambai area. Along with these damaging internal rumblings, ASDT make struggle to make its presence felt in the parliament; it may be in danger of not even making the 3% threshold.
The other parties in 2007-2012 national parliament, and which are competing in 2012, UNDERTIM, KOTA, and PUN will face a real challenge getting back in. With so many parties and coalitions competing, there is a real danger votes may be spread out too much for them to reach the threshold, or make a noticeable impact in the parliament.
There are three parties to watch out for in 2012: PDN is headed by a former leader of PSD. PDN has a strong membership base and a large support network throughout the country. FRENTI-Mudanca (FM) is led by Jose Luis Guterres or ‘LuGu’. He is a former ambassador to the U.S. and was Vice-Prime Minister in Xanana Gusmao’s government (2007-2012). He did poorly in the first round of the presidential election, receiving only 2% of the vote. FM will hope to improve on this result to attain a presence in the parliament. KHUNTO is based on the membership base of the martial arts group KORKA. KORKA is said to have a membership of around 80,000. They are a dark horse force in this election. The challenge will be to organise and discipline this membership into a coherent and effective political force; if they can do this, they will make waves.
Two individuals to watch: Jose Ramos-Horta has teamed up with PD’s campaign. He is also appearing on some of ASDT’s propaganda. He has been critical of the AMP government and has warned of the dangers of CNRT having dominance of the national parliament. Despite this criticism, it seems he has come to the conclusion that PD will have to work with CNRT in the new government and that Xanana Gusmao will remain Prime Minister. He did well in the first round presidential poll, despite running as an independent, and it looks like he intends to strengthen the position of PD when it comes to bargaining for influence and the direction of policy in the new government.
The second person to watch is the new President, TMR. It is to be seen to what degree he will be independent of Xanana Gusmao’s influence. CNRT and Xanana Gusmao were critical to TMR’s election to President and some doubts have arisen about whether this has compromised the integrity of TMR’s position as Head of State. When it comes to appointing a Prime Minister, the amount of influence the President actually exerts is fairly minimal actually. Though the President does nominate the Prime Minister, this is only done after consultation with the parties and coalitions that make up the new parliament; there is no point in nominating someone who does not enjoy the confidence (majority) of the parliament. The Prime Minister will be decided by parties and coalitions working it out amongst themselves first.
Projection of Anticipated Results
I will now proffer a prediction of the outcome of 2012 parliamentary election. This assessment is based on previous electoral results (2001 and 2007), but primarily on the 2012 presidential elections. I will not provide precise numbers; instead, I will suggest a range of the percentage of the vote and the number of seats political parties are likely to receive. A word of caution must also be noted about the assignment of seats based on the level of support because of the complexities and nuances of the d’Hondt distribution system:
FRETILIN – 25%-28% = 18-19 seats, CNRT 30-32% = 21-23 seats, PD 16-18% = 12-13 seats, and PSD – 7-9% = 3-5 seats. I am not confident of identifying the make-up of the remaining parties, the support they attract, and the number of seats they ultimately receive. I would not be surprised if the same faces returned from 2007-2012, but the appearance of different parties in the national parliament cannot be ruled out.
As will be elaborated on in the following section, I believe we will see a further concentration of the vote in what I will call the ‘big three’: FRETILIN, CNRT and PD (in the range of 71-78% of the vote, an increase from the 65% they collectively received in 2007), and a concomitant reduction in the share of the vote amongst the remaining parties. Some of the shift of the vote may also occur between these three parties as well. This share of the vote could be quite small, possibility in the range of 12-18%, assuming the number of votes lost to parties that fall below the 3% threshold is similar to that of 2007. This figure was almost 12%; if repeated we could see between 54,000 (based on a 450,000 turnout) and 60,000 (based on a 500,000 turnout) lost. 12% may be a conservative figure because with such a high number of parties and coalitions competing in 2012, there is a possibility that more votes will be spread out even more across these parties and coalitions.
Explaining the Concentration of Votes
The literature on the electoral model used in Timor-Leste suggests that with such a small threshold in a proportional representation system, we would expect a noticeable degree of party fragmentation and a proliferation of parties contesting the election. This has certainly been borne out in Timor-Leste. In 2007, there were 16 parties and coalitions contesting the election; there are 21 in 2012. ASDT has suffered a number of splits according to individuals contesting the leadership of the party after the passing away of the former, and highly respected, president (Xavier do Amaral). Leaders of PDRT and PSD have moved on to either join one of the larger parties, in the case of the former, and formed a new party, in the case of the latter. The literature also suggests that the system, because the threshold is so low, would result in the presence of many political parties entering the national parliament. This scenario would force the formation of a government consisting of a large number of parties. This outcome is, of course, in complete contradiction to my analysis and prediction for the upcoming parliamentary election, which forecasts up to three-quarters of the vote being concentrated in just three parties. How can this phenomenon be explained?
This is an intriguing research question. Of course, it is only of relevance if the election results closely mirror my predictions. While a risky venture, I think there is enough evidence available to suggest that my prediction is soundly based and can justify tackling the aforementioned, though admittedly still hypothetical, paradox.
There are three interconnected reasons that help explain the concentration of the vote: (1) Historical Legacy; (2) Personality and Charismatic Leadership and; (3) Patronage. I will go through each of the ‘big three’ parties and analyse them against each of these three explanatory factors.
Ø FRETILIN has strong roots and an unmistakable identity in Timor-Leste, having morphed from a movement to bring about independence from Portugal in 1974, to resistance movement, to its current guise as a modern political party. Its heartland is in the east of the country and still commands general respect for the crucial role it played in resisting the Indonesian occupation and Timor-Leste’ attainment of independence. The further you travel west, however, the esteem in which it is held increasingly diminishes. Its political support has especially suffered some electoral setbacks since the crisis of 2006 and the concomitant rise of Xanana Gusmao and his political vehicle CNRT. Charismatic leadership is not a feature that really contributes to the appeal of FRETILIN. During FRETILIN’s time in government (2002-2007), patronage played a fairly minor role in how it enhanced its political position. There was such little money available – the budget had yet to be flushed with money from the petroleum fund – that it was not in a strong position to utilise it for political gain.
Ø CNRT is essentially founded on the reputation, image and personality of Xanana Gusmao. Gusmao played a crucial role in reorganising the resistance, and also becoming Commander of the armed forces (FALINTIL) in the early 1980’s after FRETILIN’s early attempts to stymie and turn back the Indonesian onslaught proved disastrous. He was able to play an important role in the struggle for independence despite being captured and incarcerated by the Indonesians in the early 1990’s. He was voted in overwhelmingly as President of Timor-Leste in 2002. Gusmao formed CNRT to compete in the 2007 elections. CNRT in some ways draws on a similar historical narrative as FRETILIN; resistance to the occupation is central to their identity, but instead of being constituted in the form of a political movement, it is centralised and distilled in one person, Xanana Gusmao. CNRT is the tangible political expression of this essence. Thusly, charismatic leadership, that is, Xanana Gusmao, is at the core of CNRT’s identity and source of support. CNRT also presents itself as an inclusive, nationalist force that everyone can join and participate in. As one banner puts it, Xanana is the ‘Father of National Unity’. The benefits of incumbency will certainly not hurt CNRT’s chances in the 2012 election as well. Government subsidies and welfare handouts may have the effect in some voters’ minds of linking such benefits to support for the ruling party, which would encourage voters to continue to support for CNRT or possibly other parties in the governing alliance. Patronage, broadly defined as the flow of support from business and other elite types to parties with their hands on the reins of power, which is reciprocated by political support from the same parties to business and the elite through the provision of contracts etc., appears to be of increasing significance in Timor-Leste. The recently published list of proposed contributors to CNRT coffers, which totalled up to around US$2.5 million, being just one example of this behaviour. Such contributions will further strengthen CNRT’s ability to perpetuate its hold onto power and implement its plans for Timor-Leste’s future.
Ø PD owes its original base of strength to the role its members played in the resistance. Situated primarily in the west and centre, the clandestine movement consisted mainly of students that operated to covertly support the armed struggle and make life difficult for the occupying force. The national discourse, especially during the election period, is generally dominated by the role of the armed struggle. The clandestine movement is seeking ways to gain greater expression and recognition of its role and PD is one avenue for it to pursue this goal. Demographically speaking, PD has a great advantage because of the large numbers of young people that were involved in the movement in comparison with those involved with the armed struggle. Charismatic leadership plays a smaller role in PD’s identity and support than it does in CNRT, but it should not be discounted. Fernando ‘Lasama’ de Araujo, the president of PD is well respected. He was a leader of the student resistance movement and spent time in an Indonesian prison. He has polled well in the last two presidential races and with Ramos-Horta behind the campaign, PD have strong individual leaders representing them. Though to a lesser extent than CNRT, incumbency and patronage will also work to the advantage of PD. They had a number of ministers in the cabinet and will have been able to cultivate networks and support amongst the elite.
In conclusion, I will outline three possible outcomes for the makeup of the government (2012-2017), ranked in order of what is most likely to occur:
- A CNRT led alliance with PD, PSD, and possibly one other party if it was necessary to attain a majority. This would provide Xanana with a healthy number of seats, in the range of 36-41 perhaps, in the parliament. This arrangement would be attractive because it would essentially be AMP version 2. Xanana would have fewer partners to manage and they have also worked together before. Most of PD’s base of support would also appear to be in favour of working with CNRT rather than FRETILIN. Ramos-Horta has also recently come out and said that he expects PD to do well and that Xanana Gusmao is almost certain to be the Prime Minister again.
- An alliance between CNRT and FRETILIN is the second possibility. Between the two of them, they would command a healthy majority in the parliament. Working with only one partner would simplify the matter of running the government. Additionally, if CNRT invited FRETILIN into government, it would be bringing the ‘East’ back in to the political tent; a symbolic gesture towards strengthening national unity. Arguments against this outcome are obvious: there is too much history between the two parties, supporters and leaders alike. Besides bad blood, the clash of personalities also throws up obstacles; how to divide up responsibilities amongst the heavy weight players with big plans, ideas, and egos?
- The last projection is premised on my prediction about the likely distribution of the vote and seats being incorrect. If a large number of parties with 2-4 seats emerge from the elections, this could make the formation of a new government very messy and tricky. Alliances based around either CNRT or FRETILIN could have to be made with four or more political partners. The exact makeup of the government would be very hard to predict.
 Reynolds and Reilly, et al. (2005). Electoral System Design. op.cit., p.181
 Taagepera and Shugart. (1989). Seats and Votes. op.cit., p.19
 Horowitz. (2003). Electoral Systems. op.cit., p.125
 Lijphart. (1991). Constitutional Choices for New Democracies. op.cit., p.73
 Lijphart. (1991). Constitutional Choices for New Democracies. op.cit., p.73
 IDEA Handbook pp.177-178
 Leach. (2009). The 2007 Presidential and Parliamentary Elections in Timor-Leste. op.cit., p.220 and IDEA Handbook pp.177-178
 Smith, (2004). East Timor. op.cit., p.151
 King, (2003). East Timor's Founding Elections and Emerging Party System. op.cit., p.748
 Smith, (2004). East Timor. op.cit., p.151
 Kingsbury. (2009). East Timor. op.cit., p.186
 Leach. (2009). The 2007 Presidential and Parliamentary Elections in Timor-Leste. op.cit., pp.228-229, McWilliam and Bexley. (2008). Performing Politics. op.cit. p.77 and Kingsbury. (2009). East Timor. op.cit., p.185