Timor-Leste presidential election round-up

The people of Timor-Leste went to the polls on Monday to vote in the final round of the presidential election and it looks like it was a convincing win for Gusmao-backed Taur Matan Ruak, who secured 61.23% of the vote, ahead of Francisco "Lu Olo" Guterres with 38.77%. Provisional results show a voter turnout of 458,703 out of 627,295 registered voters. That's a little lower than the turnout for the first round of the election, which saw 489,933 people vote.

All in all, things seemed to go smoothly with only a few scraps and scrapes along the way. My initial pick for president was Ruak, although after the first round I changed my tune a little and began pondering Lu Olo winning it and then FRETILIN going on to form a coalition government after the July 7 parliamentary elections.

I'm now not sure what to think. Ruak dominated Lu Olo everywhere except Lautem, Manufahi and Baucau. This is a great result for Ruak and Gusmao. Media coverage of the second round was pretty light, even more so than the first round. I haven't seen a great deal of analysis from anyone yet. Al JAzeera ran a short profile of Ruak and The Age has a story theorising that Ruak will take a harder line on oil and gas. Ruak will definitely be a different kind of president to Ramos-Horta, who seemed to lose his grounding and connection with the people later on in his term at the top.

Fundasaun Mahein ran a blog post yesterday:

The second round of the presidential election was on the whole peaceful, with only a few minor incidences, and this shows that the people of Timor-Leste are resolute in their desire for non-violent actions and have sent a clear message to those who seek to provoke violence.

Having successfully overcome the first two of our three main challenges this year, FM hopes that this success will be translated into a successful parliamentary election, which would cement Timor-Leste’s position in the world as a stable and democratic country, and thus breaking away from its post-conflict nation status. We hope that Timor-Leste could become a model for the successful transition of post-conflict nations.

Alex Tilman had a few words to say:

Well, Timor-Leste now has a new president, or rather president elect. Mr Taur Matan Ruak beat Dr Lu Olo comfortably in the second round, picking up most of the votes which went to Fernando Lasama and outgoing President Ramos-Horta. Dr Lu Olo picked up another 50,000 votes but was over 100,000 votes behind. TMR won overwhelmingly in every district except for Viqueque and Baucau, both FRETILIN strongholds.

And he posed this interesting question:

Now that Taur Matan Ruak has won the election, does that mean that the F-FDTL will soon be rounding up all the 17 or 18 year-olds and above to do their military service?

Michael Leach ran down an analysis of the vote. Some highlights:

TMR’s vote increase of 35% came largely (about 31%) from the two neutral and largest eliminated candidates, Ramos-Horta and Lasama, with 4% from the others.

Implications?

It is clear this result greatly enhances the CNRT’s potential bargaining position after July, much as it did in 2007, though importantly, not nearly to the same extent (with some 40% of the electorate signalling a potential opposition rather than 30%).

However, there are two possible caveats:

First, presidential and parliamentary elections are not perfectly comparable. For example, support for TMR in the second round does not automatically mean the same voters would support a coalition with TMR’s major backer, CNRT (though it is of course more likely). This is perhaps especially so given TMR’s broad appeal to all parties, including some members of Fretilin itself. In addition, any who voted for TMR to support the principle of presidential independence, rather than party affiliation, could also fall into that camp.

Second, with the addition of Lobato’s vote, it is probable that the Fretilin vote has increased a few points to the low 30s, and may once again emerge the largest party. If TMR in fact attracted some Fretilin supporters (and this is possible, though unproven), it could even go a few % higher. It is not precisely clear what has happened to the CNRT vote, but if it aligns with the TMR round 1 vote, it is broadly in the same area as 2007. If the new combination of JRH and Lasama were to make major inroads into that vote, the coalition calculus could of course change. This would especially be the case if they emerged in front – though this is presumably less likely now that TMR has won, with the new president likely to enhance the appeal of the CNRT (the sole major party that formally backed him).

The sole potential positive for Fretilin in this analysis is that CNRT, the (mooted) JRH/PD association, the PSD and others will now be competing over a somewhat smaller pool of votes. The negative for Fretilin is that the pool remains a clear majority. However, in Timor-Leste's proportional system, being the largest party does carry some weight, but only where the unity of other smaller parties (and their capacity to form a workable majority) cannot be guaranteed. As was evident in 2007, simply holding a pluraility is insufficient in itself.

In his first declaration as president elect, Ruak thanked pretty much everyone you can imagine and ended with these words:

I would like to reaffirm, the motto I pronounced in the beginning of that long process:

Together for a prosperous, strong and secure Timor-Leste.

After all, this objective can only be attained if the citizens also participated and became engaged, only if they cooperate and became active in the development of our country. Democracy will not advance and become solid without a responsible citizenry.

Pretty standard stuff really.

And that's about it. All to play for as we look forward to the parliamentary election and nothing is certain. Game on.

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