EAST TIMOR: Fretilin wins, but no landslide

Issue 

BY JON LAND

Fretilin, the party which declared East Timor independent in 1975 and which was the largest single force in the long fight against occupation, has won 57% of the vote in the country's first elections since the end of Indonesian rule — but the result is well short of the 85-90% the party had been predicting.

The United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor announced provisional electoral results for the Constituent Assembly on September 6, declaring 12 parties elected to the 88-seat body. Fretilin won 12 of the 13 district seats and 43 of the 75 national seats.

Fretilin had hoped that it would win a large enough majority to be able to draft the constitution without having to rely on the support of other parties in the assembly — and most of the local and international media had forecasted just such a Fretilin landslide.

Given the considerable non-Fretilin vote, such a strategy is now not so easy. At least 60 of the 88 members of the Constituent Assembly must approve the constitution for it to be adopted.

The first results announced by the Independent Electoral Commission on September 3 for the districts of Aileu, Ainaro, Covalima, Lautem, Liquica and Manatuto signalled that Fretilin was not going to win the vote that many of its leaders had predicted. While all the district representatives provisionally elected for these districts are from Fretilin, the national representative vote reflects considerable support for a number of other parties.

In Aileu district, once considered a Fretilin stronghold, the ASDT (Social Democratic Association of Timor) won 52.3% of the vote, more than twice that of Fretilin. Two smaller, newer parties, the PST (Socialist Party of Timor) and the PD (Democratic Party) received notable votes of 5.6% and 5.2% respectively.

The strong vote for the ASDT in Aileu and neighbouring Ainaro, Manufahi and Manatuto reflects the strong traditional following for the ASDT's popular leader, Xavier do Amaral, formerly a prominent Fretilin leader and the president of the Democratic Republic of East Timor declared on November 28, 1975.

The result reflects considerable public openness and interest in the newer parties.

It remains unclear, however, whether the strong showing for the PD and ASDT, which both tapped into support from nominally Fretilin-aligned voters, will fuel the antagonism between Fretilin and ASDT, or whether it will intensify factional struggles within Fretilin itself.

As an openly socialist party, the PST has done quite well, particularly in those areas where it has established farmer cooperatives and won the respect of the local population, such as in Aileu, Liquica and Manatuto.

Party general secretary Avelino Coelho da Silva told Green Left Weekly that despite a strong anti-left smear campaign the PST has helped "legalise and legitimise socialism in East Timor".

While the PST will hold just one seat, Coelho said that he was deeply satisfied with the result and that the PST would continue with its projection of building grass-roots support for cooperatives and land reform.

Across East Timor, the national representative vote varied widely. Fretilin received a vote as low as 27.1% in Aileu, but more than 80% in Baucau.

The PD and the PSD (Social Democratic Party) received strong votes in many districts (a national total of 8.7% and 8.2%), giving these parties the second largest block of seats after Fretilin, with seven and six seats respectively. ASDT received slightly less than the PSD and will hold six seats.

As one of the newer parties that has formed since the 1999 referendum, the PD has done very well. It has many former student activists in its ranks and some significant support from lower-ranking civil servants, former National Council of Timorese Resistance (CNRT) activists and Fretilin members disgruntled about, amongst other things, the adoption of Portuguese as the official language of East Timor.

The PSD support appears to come primarily from another layer of ex-CNRT officials and members. The party's leader, Mario Carrascalao, has considerable respect due to his role as a former governor during Indonesian rule who became increasingly outspoken against the excesses of the Indonesian military.

Once a key leader of the traditional conservative party UDT (Timorese Democratic Union), Carrascalao's leadership role in the PSD — along with another prominent ex-UDT leader, Leandro Isac — has likely to have won over a significant section of UDT members and sympathisers.

The UDT has received a drubbing in the election, reflecting an extremely diminished level of support compared to what it once could claim. It will hold two seats, as will four other parties: the National Timorese Party, Klibur Oan Timor Asuwain, People's Party of Timor and the Christian Democratic Party.

The Socialist Party of Timor, the Liberal Party and the Christian Democratic Party of Timor have one candidate each elected to the Assembly.