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Timor - Politics

Campaigning commenced after Easter in the mainly Catholic nation with its ageing political lions ready for one more fight. The people of Timor-Leste go to the polls on 12 May 2018, less than 10 months after the July 2017 five-year election. The contest may be the last between the nation's first generation of now ageing leaders. The contest is certain to be the most bitter the 15-year-old nation had seen. The election pits former revolutionary force Fretilin, led by the country's inaugural Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri, who was forced to step down in 2006 after being elected in 2002. He was against former president and prime minister Xanana Gusmao, the country's talisman and his CNRT (National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction) party that formed a coalition with a raft of other parties.

After the July 2017 election, Fretilin formed a government with the support of the Democratic party. But another partner deserted the group at the last minute leaving it as a minority government that was unable to pass a vital economic program needed to prepare a budget bill through the opposition dominated parliament. The prime minister manuvered to ensure parliament did not sit, as required by law, avoiding a no confidence motion in the government that would have seen a resolution to the impasse months earlier.

Australian National University researcher Gordon Peake wrote that Timor is a country of " relationships, friendships, romances and antagonisms that collectively render ideas and concepts such as ‘accountability’ and ‘separation of powers’ almost completely impractical… Kinship and opaque connections are the ties that bind – not five-year plans and detailed strategic documentation."

Timor-Leste's political history to date has been dominated by three figures: Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao, President Jose Ramos-Horta, and Fretilin Secretary General and former PM Mari Alkatiri. These three elder statesmen represented the generation that remembered the Portuguese colonial era. Over the course of the two election cycles in 2012 and 2017, they were confronted with a new generation of voters and leaders. No figure on the horizon, however, had Gusmao's profile at home or Ramos-Horta's abroad.

Timor-Leste became a fully independent republic with a parliamentary form of government on May 20, 2002, after approximately two and a half years under the authority of the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET). The country's first parliament was formed from the 88-member Constituent Assembly chosen in free and fair, UN-supervised elections in August 2001. The FRETILIN Party won the majority of Assembly seats. Mari Alkatiri, FRETILIN's Secretary General, became the first Prime Minister, and FRETILIN dominated the country's 29-member cabinet. Xanana Gusmao was elected in free and fair elections on April 14, 2002 as President.

UNTAET's mandate ended with East Timor's independence, but a successor organization, the UN Mission for the Support of East Timor (UNMISET), was established to provide additional support to the government. UNMISET's mandate expired on May 20, 2005 after the UN Security Council unanimously approved the creation of a small special political mission in Timor-Leste, the UN Office in Timor-Leste (UNOTIL), to take its place. Under the constitution ratified in March 2002, "laws and regulations in force continue to be applicable to all matters except to the extent that they are inconsistent with the Constitution." The Government of Timor-Leste enacted a significant amount of legislation, including criminal and procedure codes.

The political situation in East Timor changed significantly in April/May of 2006 after the capital Dili was shaken with violence, following the dismissal of about 600 military personnel. A series of violent clashes occurred involving the police, the military and armed gangs. Law and order broke down, resulting in deaths, looting and widespread destruction of property. The civilian population of Dili was seriously affected with many thousands of residents fleeing the violence.

In May 2006, the International Stabilisation Force, which had been invited to East Timor by the East Timorese Government, arrived in an effort to restore security and stability. The ongoing crisis led President Gusmao to declare Emergency Powers on 30 May 2006. In the aftermath, Prime Minister Alkatiri, who was instrumental in the dismissals, resigned on 26 June and was subsequently replaced by José Ramos-Horta, the former Foreign Minister. Following Alkatiri’s resignation, calm was largely restored to the country. In July 2006, Ramos-Horta’s new government was sworn in.

The Independent Special Commission of Inquiry for Timor-Leste was established to look into the outbreak of violence in Timor-Leste of April and May 2006. It came about following a request on 8 June 2006, from the then Foreign Minister Jose Ramos-Horta (now President). On 12 June 2006, Kofi Annan, the then UN Secretary-General, asked the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to establish the Commission. In its report, the Commission concluded that the fragility of various State institutions and the weakness of the rule of law were the underlying factors that contributed to the crisis. The Commission identified numerous persons suspected of direct participation in criminal activity during the crisis, and recommended they be prosecuted. Judicial processes were initiated against some of those individuals.

Timor-Leste held presidential elections in the spring of 2007. On April 9, voters chose from a slate of eight candidates. With a voter turnout of almost 82%, the top two finishers were the FRETILIN Party candidate Francisco "Lu-olo" Guterres, who received 28% of the vote, and Jose Ramos-Horta, who received 22% of the vote after stepping down as Prime Minister to run as an independent candidate with the endorsement of then-President Xanana Gusmao. With none of the prospective candidates securing a majority of the vote, a second round was necessary. In the runoff election on May 9, required because the electoral law specifies that a candidate must win a majority, Ramos-Horta won by a landslide, receiving 69% of the vote. The presidential elections experienced some procedural glitches, but were largely free of violence and significant irregularity. Ramos-Horta was sworn in as President on 20 May 2007. Estanislau da Silva took over as interim Prime Minister, replacing Ramos-Horta.

The Government of Timor-Leste held parliamentary elections on June 30, 2007. Observers agree that the elections were generally free and fair. FRETILIN won the most seats in parliament, but no single party won a majority and the various parties did not agree to form a national unity government. On August 6, 2007, President Ramos-Horta asked Xanana Gusmao, the leader of a coalition with a majority of the seats in the parliament (the Alliance with a Parliamentary Majority or AMP), to form a government.

The move sparked violent protests led by supporters of FRETILIN, the former governing party. FRETILIN won the most seats in elections, but Gusmão had formed a majority coalition, called the Alliance of the Parliamentary Majority. Gusmao was sworn in as Prime Minister along with most of the other ministers in the new government on August 8, 2007.

Although the June elections proceeded in a largely peaceful atmosphere, violent disturbances broke out in several areas of Dili and the eastern districts of Baucau and Viqueque when the president announced the formation of a new government as FRETILIN partisans took to the streets to protest that they had not been given an opportunity to form a government. The unrest subsided within days, but the affected areas remained tense for several weeks thereafter and FRETILIN continues to assert that the AMP government is unconstitutional although it participates actively in the work of the national parliament.

Upon taking office, the AMP government put the problems of the internally displaced persons, the petitioners, and other issues flowing from the 2006 crisis at the top of its policy agenda. The Ministry of Social Solidarity launched an IDP reintegration program, including resettlement assistance and financial support, that allowed for the gradual closing of the camps. All but a few of the nearly 150,000 IDPs had returned home or been resettled by July 2010. The government also addressed the grievances of the military petitioners. Accepting monetary compensation, they closed their encampment in Dili and returned to their homes.

On February 11, 2008, followers of former military police commander and fugitive Major Alfredo Reinado attacked President Ramos-Horta at his residence in Dili. Ramos-Horta sustained gunshot injuries and was airlifted to Australia for medical treatment. Prime Minister Gusmao escaped unharmed after his bodyguards thwarted a separate attack against him the same day as the attack on the president. Two of the alleged assailants were killed in the initial attack on the President Ramos-Horta. The president's bodyguards killed Reinado.

The government, with the approval of the national parliament, immediately imposed a state of siege that temporarily imposed a curfew, curtailed freedom of assembly, and gave security forces greater latitude for arrests and searches. These emergency measures were scaled back as conditions stabilized over the following weeks. After medical treatment in Australia the President returned to Timor-Leste to take up his duties in East Timoro n April 17. By May 2008, the remaining rebels had either surrendered or been apprehended.

The incidents presented an unexpected and serious challenge to State institutions, but encouragingly, and in contrast to the events of 2006, the situation did not precipitate a crisis destabilizing the entire society. The institutions of the State responded in an appropriate and responsible manner that respected constitutional procedures. The Prime Minister demonstrated firm and reasoned leadership; the Parliament functioned effectively as a forum for debate in response to the events; and leaders of all political parties urged their supporters to remain calm, while the general population demonstrated faith in the ability of the State to deal with the situation.

The state of emergency was lifted completely when the remainder of Reinado’s followers surrendered to authorities on April 29, 2008. Most of them were convicted on March 3, 2010, for their involvement in the assassination attempt. Ramos-Horta subsequently commuted the sentences of the defendants, and they were released. Since 2008, the government has succeeded in maintaining stability throughout the country.

East Timor President Jose Ramos-Horta conceded defeat on 19 March 2012 in his bid to win a second term in office. With more than 70 percent of the ballots counted, results show Francisco Guterres, from the main opposition Fretilin party, ahead with about 28 percent of the vote. He was followed by former military chief Jose Maria de Vasconcelos with 25 percent. They went go on to a run-off election in mid-April. Former independence leader Taur Matan Ruak won East Timor’s presidential election 2012. Taur Matan Ruak, Commander of the Armed Forces, was a guerrilla colleague of Gusmao's during the Indonesian occupation. He was a central player in the 2006 crisis and was recommended for prosecution by the UN Commission of Inquiry. Nevertheless, he is seen and occasionally revered as a founder of the nation due to his long service in the military resistance. Ruak won the presidential runoff with 61 percent of the vote to 39 percent for Francisco Guterres, another independence leader known as “Lu Olo.” Guterres placed slightly ahead of Ruak in the Marach 2012 first round of the presidential election.

The party of East Timor's prime minister won the July 2012 parliamentary elections — but without an overall majority. With all the ballots counted from Saturday's poll, the National Council of Timorese Resistance party, led by former rebel leader and current prime minister Xanana Gusmao, had just over 36 percent of the vote. The results are expected to set up a prolonged period of negotiations to form a coalition government. The United Nations praised the polls for being peaceful and orderly. The UN had said that it will withdraw its troops if the parliamentary polls went smoothly, following peaceful presidential elections in April 2012.

On 20 March 2017, Timorese citizens voted to elect their next president. Eight candidates were vying for the presidency in this election. No candidate was expected to receive 50 percent plus one of the valid votes in the first round, so a second round would be held on April 20, 2017. The 2017 presidential election was the first national election to be managed by the National Election Commission and Technical Secretariat for Electoral Administration without substantial logistical support from the United Nations.

Former guerrilla leader Francisco "Lu-Olo" Guterres had a commanding lead over the Democratic Party's Antonio da Conceicao, who is minister of education and social affairs. Lu-Olo, a 62-year-old former guerrilla commander representing Fretilin, the traditional party of resistance to Indonesian rule, had 60 percent of the votes. Da Conceicao had 30 percent and said he would accept the outcome. The remaining votes were divided among six other candidates. East Timor's president has a mostly ceremonial role.

On February 16, 2017, the Court of Appeal announced that all eight prospective candidates who had submitted applications for candidacy by the February 8, 2017 deadline had met all qualifications to contest the election, including having provided the names and signatures of 5,000 registered voters in support of their candidacy.

Two former arch-rival parties — FRETILIN and the National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT) — supported a single candidate for president - FRETILIN resistance icon, Francisco Guterres (known as Lú-Olo). The sheer power of Xanana Gusmão's continuing influence is seen in his support of front-runner Lú-Olo for president. The emergence in 2016 of the new Popular Liberation Party (PLP), which espoused democratic slogans of “issue-based politics” and “accountability”, positioned as an opposition to the governing consensus politics. But the resistance leaders seem compelled to relentlessly serve the nation, delaying an inter-generational transition.

The country's Presdident, José Maria Vasconcelos, the former military chief known by the nom de guerre of Taur Matan Ruak, stood down to seek the more powerful prime minister's job when the country held legislative elections in July 2017.

The Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor, better known as Fretilin, won the election held in July 2017 by a narrow margin, forcing it to join with a smaller party to form a minority government. Mari Alkatiri, leader of FRETILIN, held just 30 of the 65 parliamentary seats and its minority government soon fell, after the Parliamentary Majority Alliance opposition coalition declined to support Fretilin's program for government. The country had suffered a political impasse in subsequent months.

Fretilin tried to form a coalition with the National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT), People's Liberation Party (PLP) and the Kmanek Haburas Unidade Nasional Timor Oan — known as Khunto — but all disagreed with Fretilin's approach to power sharing and declined.

Since then the opposition Parliamentary Majority Alliance (AMP) comprising CNRT, PLP and Khunto, has placed considerable political pressure on the Fretilin/PD coalition with the result being the decision for early elections. In January 2018, Timor Leste’s President Francisco Lu Olo dissolved parliament and called for new elections.

East Timorese voted 12 May 2018 in their second election for parliament in less than a year after the collapse of a minority government. A three-party alliance led by independence hero Xanana Gusmao's National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction party was vying against Fretilin, which headed the short-lived government formed following the 2017 election. Gusmao is an iconic figure to many Timorese and returned to Dili to a hero's welcome in March, after successfully negotiating an agreement with Australia on a maritime boundary in the Timor Sea. The deal should in time see East Timor earn billions of dollars in oil and gas revenues from the Greater Sunrise field there.

The main AMP party, the National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction, was in power from 2007-17. The AMP's combined strength made it the more likely winner, but Alkatiri said Fretilin hoped to win more than 30 seats. Some 784,000 people had registered to vote across 13 municipalities and voters turned out early to cast their ballot.

The factions have fundamentally differing styles of leadership. The Alkatiri model is domineering, rigid and inflexible. Gusmao's was flexible and one in which many people were brought into a big tent. It was designed to compromise and rule, rather than dictate and rule. This came from different historical experiences during the liberation struggle. Gusmao's clique managed a system of governing in the jungle based on internal compromise and negotiation. Meanwhile, the Alkatiri clique of exiles took ideological stands that were rigid in their stance.

Around two-thirds of Timorese are under 30 years of age, meaning that there is a widening generation gap between the country's leadership and the majority of the population. Gusmao, Alkatiri and most of the country's political elite are veterans of the independence struggle.

The opposition coalition led by former prime minister Xanana Gusmao won the parliamentary election. The election commission said that with most of the votes counted, the Alliance of Change for Progress won 34 of the 65 seats in the legislature. The ruling Fretilin party won 23. The new government will be tasked with nurturing new industries and providing better education.

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