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Professor James Fox
Politicking is now in full swing in East Timor. Sixteen parties are officially registered with the UN and campaigning began on 15 July. Elections will be held on 30 August for 88 seats in a Constituent Assembly whose task will be to draft and approve the constitution for the new state of Timor Lorosa’e. Of these seats 75 will be chosen on a national basis and only 13 at the district level.
Choosing from among such an array of parties will undoubtedly pose a dilemma for a population that has never before participated in free democratic elections. FRETILIN, the party that led the revolutionary struggle, is expected to poll well but its position has been challenged by divisions within the ranks of its old guard. Francisco Xavier do Amaral, an early founder of FRETILIN, has formed his own party, the Timorese Social Democratic Union (ASDT), and will rely on the old FRETILIN revolutionary flag to garner support in the countryside. This party appears to have the support of other dissidents who claim that East Timor has been independent since 1975, ostensibly reject the UN’s presence and oppose the present election process.
The main challenge to FRETILIN is likely to come from two other parties: the Social Democratic Party (PSD), led by Mario Carrascalao, a respected former governor of East Timor when it was under Indonesian rule, and the Democratic Party (PD), led by Fernando de Araujo, a former student leader and activist who was jailed with Xanana Gusmao in Cipinang prison. The PDS comprises an impressive group of moderates with bureaucratic experience whereas the PD’s support is expected to come from the younger generation who played a decisive role in the campaign for independence.
Only four parties, FRETILIN, ASDT, PDS, and KOTA have managed to mount a full slate of candidates at the national and district level. KOTA, the Timor Patriots’ Party led by members of the dos Reis Amaral family, is one of several surviving parties from the 1970s. In addition to FRETILIN, these parties include the conservative Timorese Democratic Union (UDT) led by another member of the Carrascalao family, Joao Carrascalao, and Trabalhista, a kind of Timorese Labour Party (PTT) led by Paulo Freitas da Silva.
In a political arena dominated by personalities and family relations, the political platforms of these and many other parties is as yet far from clear. Most parties have agreed to sign a “Pact of National Unity” to guarantee a non-violent election process and a degree of stability after the ballot. Two parties, and in particular the enigmatic ASDT party, have refused to sign the document that also calls for Xanana Gusmao to be the country’s first president. The strong support for Xanana among the parties whose membership will draft the new constitution, suggests a constitution that will have a separately elected presidency, whose position will be distinct from that of the various parties.
WATCHPOINT: New players will emerge in a changed political landscape.
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