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EAST TIMOR - by Max Lane

No leaderships with a national-scale authority

The recent Presidential and parliamentary elections have been very revealing. They have showed that no political institution or figure from the period of the national liberation struggle has developed a political following based on program, ideology, ideas or leadership. No figure or institution scored more than 29% in either the first round of the Presidential elections or the parliamentary elections. In the parliamentary elections both CNRT, the umbrella organization the Resistance (and de facto the only operating structure) and FRETILIN, the organization that lead the movement in the 1970s and proclaimed Independence with the support of the majority of the people, scored less than 30%. FRETILIN scored 4% more than CNRT: 29 to 25%. The Democratic Party (PD) and the ASDT led by a pre-1999 student leader and a founder of FRETILIN respectively scored less than 20%.


(The following notes are the result of conversations over the phone with contacts in East Timor and with friends in Jakarta who also are in close contact with East Timor, as well as trying to keep up-to-date with what materials are available on some key websites. The lack of a strong media in East Timor means that there is not enough data, especially for a person observing from a long way away, to have a really clear picture of what is happening. News reports in the mainstream media are also often misleading as journalists come and go to East Timor for particular events and report without any understanding of history, even immediate history, or context or sensationalise to seek a bigger market share. In the case of East Timor, a very big majority of materials are written by direct participants in the political battles, or with strong allegiances.

Anyway, in the immediate aftermath of the elections, the following “stream-of consciousness” is now down in writing.)

Jose Ramos Horta, standing as an independent candidate, has defeated the FRETILIN candidate, Francisco Guterres Luolo, 70% to 30% in the second round of presidential elections in East Timor on May 9. This apparently clear-cut vote will not, however, guarantee a shift to a more stable political situation. A deeper analysis of some of the long-term issues behind divisions within the East Timorese political elite and some features of the election themselves point to some unresolved issues.


(I spoke to Avelino Coelho in Dili over the phone.May 11.) See also Green Left Weekly this coming week.

As of Friday, May 11, the East Timorese National Commission of Elections announcements on the results of the East Timorese presidential elections recorded a 73% win for Jose Ramos Horta, standing as an independent candidate, and a 27% vote for Francisco “Lu’olo” Gutteres standing as the candidate of FRETILIN, the party which currently holds a majority in the parliament and the cabinet. With Luolo retaining his 27% vote from the first round, FRETILIN’s vote has collapsed from just over 60% in the last general elections in 2001.

The collapse in the vote, according to Avelino Coelho, General Secretary of the Socialist Party of Timor (PST), is connected to the failure of the FRETILIN government during its term of office since 2001 to deliver any progress in the socio-economic arena. “There has been a virtual ignoring of agriculture. The PST has had meetings with the government putting forward proposals that would advance production in agriculture. Our cooperatives, in the several villages where they are operating, are already doing that. The government just ignored all proposals. We are now more and more unnecessarily dependent on imports from Indonesia.” Coelho also emphasised the high unemployment rates as another major grievance.


(A version of this article has been published in Green Left Weekly newspaper)

The Presidential election campaign is now officially underway in East Timor. Voting will be held on April 9. Max Lane spoke by phone with Avelino Coelho, Secretary-General of the Socialist Party of Timor (PST) and one of the Presidential candidates.

ML: During the first days of the campaign and your campaign meetings what issues are people raising with you?

AVELINO: Yes, we have visited several towns already where we have organised rallies and other meetings. The language issue is important and people are responding strongly. I am opposing the use of Portugeuse as the national language and arguing that Tetun be both the national and official working language, Indonesian can be a back-up working language, as stated in the constitution but Tetun must be the national language,


On April 9 East Timor will have its second Presidential elections, elections which will precede parliamentary elections soon afterwards. The East Timorese political system combines a President, who is commander-in-chief of the army and who has veto powers over legislation, with an executive cabinet, headed by a Prime Minister, elected by the parliament. In the coming Presidential elections there are 9 candidates, compared to two at the last elections, The nine candidates are Francisco Guterres Lu-Olo from FRETILIN , Avelinho Maria Coelho for the Socialist Party of Timor (PST), Francisco Xavier do Amaral, Manuel Tilman , Lucia Maria Brandao Freitas Lobato, Jose Ramos Horta, Joao Viegas Carascalao and Fernando de Araujo Lasama.

In recent polls issued by the Dili newspaper, Suara Timor Loro Sae, Jose Ramos Horta, the current Prime Minister has been topping the poll and PST Secertary-General Avelinho Coelho, also known as Avelino da Silva, has been coming in second. Max Lane has been talking to Avelino Coelho about his campaign and political conditions in East Timor.


Avelino da Silva will stand for President in East Timor. I will post an interview with Avelino in a week or so. In the meantime, please check out earlier posts on East Timor and see my articles on the Socialist Party of East Timor in LINKS magazine.

I posted on this Blog some time back an Indonesian media report on the role of Cuban medical teams in Indonesia after the earthquake and tsunami which hit central Java.

I post below also a statement by the East Timorese government on the role of Cuban medical aid in East Timor.

Both reports speak for themselves as to the quality of the aid given by Cuba. I will post something later reflecting on how is it that such a poor country as Cuba is able to provide such aid.

East Timorese politics and the Cuban aid

There has been some discussion among observers of East Timorese politics – mainly in Australia – that recent instability in the East Timorese government and in Dili society has reflected conflict within the government between two significantly differing political perspectives: one represented by former Prime Minister Alkatiri and one represented by current Prime Minister Ramos Horta.



I have recently been able to review a fairly detailed chronology of events covering the last few months in Dili. The chronology, written in Indonesian, was prepared by a mixture of NGO and other activists in Dili.

The detail in this chronology highlights the role of marginal political elements in the process leading to the recent political crisis. In particular, it becomes clear that on several occasions demonstrations by “petitioner” soldiers continued after the soldiers left with other political elements keeping a certain portion of the demonstrations going. The chronology refers to one party – about which I have found little information – called the PDRT.

There is also the still unexplained report of Jose Ramos Horta, now as PM seeking to work with FRETILIN, issued a statement condemning the leader of the Democratic Party (P:D) and his wife of stirring things up.


Preamble: These comments are using “information” published in the media and “information” being circulated on various email lists by supporters of either Fretilin or PD. I have received a little information also from Avelino da Silva (PST) and from the Indonesian dissident academic, Hilmar Farid who has been in Dili for the last two weeks. The absence of any in-depth written analysis from the PST is a major limitation in making any assessment at the moment.


(1) Tim Anderson’s recent article “East Timor after Alkatiri: nation or protectorate?” starts with a quote from a recent FRETILIN statement:
"We did not expect that the elected leader of a party with an overwhelming mandate could be forced to stand down in this way in a democracy".

My surprise is that the government as a whole did not resign much earlier. In bourgeois politics, which is what exists in East Timor, any government under which the army breaks up, the police disintegrates, civil disturbances break out which the government can’t handle so has to call in 4 foreign powers would almost inevitably have to resign. Resignation of elected governments in the face of massive policy failure is normal in bourgeois politics, usually followed by new elections.


EAST TIMOR: More electoral gains for socialists
Max Lane
East Timor’s local elections are now in their eighth month. In Aileu, close to Dili, the Socialist Party of Timor (PST) achieved second place after Fretilin, pushing the Democrat Party into third place. Overall, in the districts contested so far, the PST has been averaging third position, up from the sixth place it achieved in the 2001 elections.
The PST has won a total of 27 positions, including three suco (village) chiefs and 10 aldeia (sub-village) chiefs. The other positions were on village councils.


EAST TIMOR: A UN failure
A major theme of the ceremony that took place in Dili on May 20 to proclaim the independence of East Timor was that the three-year period of United Nations transitional administration was a great success. However, East Timor has been one of the great failures of the UN.
Military forces under the political direction of General Suharto's New Order regime entered East Timor in December 1975. In the weeks and months immediately after that invasion, the UN Security Council and later the General Assembly called for the withdrawal of Indonesian military forces. When the Indonesian military finally withdrew 24 years later, much of East Timor had been destroyed, 200,000 East Timorese had been killed and more than 100,000 had been displaced.


Solidarity with the Timorese people
Max Lane
On May 24, East Timorese President Xanana Gusmao, Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri and the speaker of East Timor’s parliament Lu’olo sent a letter to the governments of Australia, Portugal, Malaysia and New Zealand as well as to the United Nations asking for assistance in the form of a military presence in order to respond to civil disorder in the East Timor capital Dili, and surrounding areas. The disorder had developed out of a dispute within the East Timorese armed forces


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