Peaceful presidential election in Timor-Leste
This article is sponsored by Uniting, the Board of the NSW and ACT Synod of the Uniting Church responsible for the work of community services, chaplaincy and social justice advocacy.
Francisco Lu-Olo Guterres, the President of FRETILIN, was elected to be the National President of Timor-Leste on March 20, with an absolute majority of 57.2 per cent in the first round. Lu-Olo was defeated in the presidential elections of 2007 and 2012, which were won in the second round by Jose Ramos Horta and Taur Matan Ruak respectively.
The candidate who came second was from the Democratic Party (PD), Antonio de Conceição Kalohan with 32.5 per cent of the vote. There were six other candidates, but none achieved more than 2.6 per cent of the vote.
Among the small number able to vote in Sydney and Darwin, Lu-Olo won 127 votes to Kalohan’s 75. In Portugal, 285 were able to vote, with Lu-Olo winning 187 votes and Kalohan 62.
Lu-Olo’s election was greeted with joy among FRETILIN members, and also expresses a greater national unity as the country approaches its parliamentary elections, expected to be on July 8.
The election campaign period, election day itself and the following days were all peaceful, in contrast to all the elections since 2001. A crucial aspect of this atmosphere was the support for Lu-Olo from Xanana Gusmão, the President of the CNRT Party.
CNRT did not contest the presidential election. The sight of FRETILIN and CNRT flags mingling at campaign rallies was completely new and genuinely friendly, even happy.
Both FRETILIN and Xanana hoped that Lu-Olo would win by an even higher margin, at least with 70 per cent of the vote. Ultimately CNRT did not deliver on the scale desired by Xanana, but the political effect was still very powerful. The voter turnout was 71 per cent.
The vote for Kalohan is much higher than the 17.3 per cent which PD achieved in the 2012 presidential election, and suggests a new political alignment will emerge in the parliamentary elections. Kalohan had mild support from the outgoing president, Taur Matan Ruak. While Kalohan raised the divisive idea of “east versus west” during the campaign, this appeared to have little impact.
Taur Matan Ruak’s term concludes on May 20, and after that he is expected to start campaigning with the new People’s Liberation Party for the parliamentary elections. This is likely to reduce the votes for the Democratic Party.
Lu-Olo in his gentle campaign speech emphasised the constitutional role of the Presidency, and promised not to be an opposition to the elected government and to respect the independence of the judiciary and the parliament. While it was a lot like a civics lecture, Lu-Olo’s speech did implicitly criticise actions by previous Presidents. He stated that the President had the power to veto parliamentary bills, but he would only do this in an extreme case and would provide constructive suggestions to help the government to fulfill its program.
The parliamentary elections however will be dominated by policy and program issues, with the future of the Petroleum Fund and economic security, good budget management, economic diversification and health and education funding all on the agenda. Corruption and wasteful spending are widespread concerns.
Lu-Olo won nine of the 13 municipalities, some by huge margins. Kalohan won clearly in Liquiça, and by narrow margins in Ermera, Ainaro, and Oecussi. In Oecussi, CNRT supported Kalohan.
Peter Murphy was an International Observer registered with the Technical Secretariat for Elections and attended the Lu-Olo rally at Manatuto on March 14, and the final Lu-Olo rally at Tacitolu, Dili, on March 17. He observed seven voting places from Railaco to Gleno and Ermera Village.
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