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Anthony L. Smith
In the run up to August 2001 elections, Fretilin leader (and later Prime Minister), Marí Alkatiri, boasted that his party would easily capture 80-90 per cent of the popular vote. Fretilin is the East Timorese party most associated with that country's independence struggle, and presided over East Timor during the brief period of unilaterally declared independence in 1975. However, Fretilin failed to gain the majority it claimed it would, gaining just 57.4 per cent of the vote and, under East Timor's electoral formula, 55 out of a total of 88 seats. Nonetheless, Fretilin, with the help of coalitional arrangements was able to achieve the two-thirds majority necessary to pass the constitution that it wanted. Fretilin, under Alkatiri, Chief Minister Ana Maria Pessoa, and House Speaker Francisco 'Lu-Olo' Guterres has gone from strength to strength since 2001 as a parliamentary party. Attracting other parliamentarians in ad hoc coalitional arrangements has enabled the ruling party to push through its agenda. The fractured opposition have been so frustrated that on a number of occasions during 2004 they simply remained absent from parliament as a protest. Alkatiri confidently predicts that Fretilin, as the natural party of government, will be in power for the next fifty years. Is East Timor to become a one party state?
The Fretilin leadership's long-running feud with ever-popular President, Xanana Gusmão, has been a check on Fretilin power. In contrast, Prime Minister Alkatiri, who lived in exile in Mozambique, lacks Gusmão's charismatic appeal and 'resistance hero' status. Dissatisfaction is partially confirmed in recent results from local elections. East Timor has begun the process of elections for 433 chefes de suco (community leaders) and 2,300 village chiefs, to be financed by the UN Development Programme and five donor nations. In December 2004, the first round of elections occurred in the Bobonaro and Oecussi districts with an 82 and 92 per cent turnout respectively, according to the Technical Secretariat for Electoral Administration (STAE). Candidates linked to Fretilin lost heavily in these elections, with voters opting largely for independent candidates. What must be slightly alarming for Fretilin, in particular, is the loss in Bobonaro which is a reversal of fortune from the 2001 national election results. Lack of cohesive alternatives may mean that Fretilin will be secure at the next national elections in 2006, but the party appears to have lost a good deal of popularity in the recent years, even if it has retained iron-clad control of the government benches.
The views expressed in this publication are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect US Policy, the position of The Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, US Pacific Command, Department of Defense or any US Governmental agency.
WATCHPOINT: Will Fretilin take further losses in the next round of local body elections, which will be held in March 2005 in Baucau, Lautem and Manatuto?
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AFG Venture Group is an Asia and Australia based corporate advisory and consulting firm with over 20 years experience in creating alliances, relationships and transactions in Australia, South East Asia and India; including a 15 year history of corporate and equities advisory in Australia, undertaking merger, acquisition, divestment, fund raising and consulting for private and public companies.
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