Elections and Leaders

Southeast Asian Affairs, January 1, 2002 | Go to article overview

Elections and Leaders


Xanana Gusmão has retained his universal appeal among the East Timorese people, and the various political factions know that he is the leading choice for the position of head of state to be decided somewhere down the line. But for some time Gusmão would not commit himself to run for office. Gusmão's threat to resign from formal office was made good when he resigned as chief of the National Council in late March 2001, citing infighting among its members. Attempts by Ramos Horta to become the chief were blocked by the members of the National Council, which demonstrates the different constituencies of the two most famous independence leaders. Gusmão's support base is among the East Timorese resident in East Timor during Indonesian times, while Ramos Horta's support base lies with the émigré communities, and with many international friends and supporters of East Timor. There are indications that senior Falintil (Forças Armadas de Libertação Nacional de Timor Leste) and Fretilin leaders do not accept Ramos Horta as a successor to Gusmão's mantle. Gusmão was succeeded as head of the National Council by another pro-independence leader, Manuel Carrascalão, after Ramos Horta withdrew his candidacy when the first round of voting was a 13:13 vote.

On 30 August 2001, East Timor's first free election in post-Indonesia times was held to choose a Constituent Assembly that would also serve as a legislature --- the date selected marks the second anniversary of the Popular Consultation in 1999. Prior to the election, UNTAET established a Constitutional Commission which was composed of seventy-two East Timorese commissioners, thirteen advisers, and thirteen rapporteurs, who conducted hearings throughout East Timor on the shape of the state's Constitution through June and July. A total of 200 hearings were held, covering all sixty-five subdistricts, and involving the participation of 30,000 East Timorese. The consultations produced a long list of recommendations, but most East Timorese favoured a presidential or semi-presidential system.

Also, in preparation for this election, the CNRT (National Council of Timorese Resistance), which had overwhelmingly won the 1999 ballot, was disbanded in June. The CNRT had served the role of bringing together the leading independence factions at that time, including Fretilin and the UDT (União Democrática Timorense, or Timor Democratic Union). Established in April 1998, it replaced the Fretilin-dominated National Council of Maubere Resistance (CNRM, or Conselho Nacional de Resistência Maubere). The decision to disband the CNRT was done in the interests of allowing the factions to resume their old party structures in order to try their luck at the polls.

The election itself was done through a mixture of district and proportional representation (PR), although it was very heavily weighted in favour of the latter. Of the eighty-eight seats in the Constituent Assembly, each of the thirteen districts elected one representative through plurality voting, while the remaining seventy-five seats were allocated through nation-wide proportionality. Thus, each voter votes twice during the election. This system is to ensure that each district has at least one seat, although as PR systems show the world over, successful political parties must take regional and demographic considerations into account in the collation of their party lists. The primary role of the Constituent Assembly is to draft a Constitution.

In the run-up to the 30 August 2001 election for East Timor's Constituent Assembly, UNTAET provided for the registration of the East Timorese population, completed on 23 June, which revealed that the population stands at 737,811 (excluding those still in West Timor). It also revealed that 18 per cent of the population now lives in Díli, the capital --- a rapid growth for that city.

Sixteen parties were registered for the election, with Fretilin expected to win. The parties were listed on the ballot form according to random draw. …

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