“I have twice cooperation with Xanana in the past. Now, I can no longer. Xanana has always put himself as commander, and all the others are his soldiers.”
This remark was stated by Secretary General of Fretilin Mari Alkatiri to Jaring.id when met after the political rally in Aileu Square, Timor Leste, on Thursday, the 11th of May 2023
Mari Alkatiri had has served as Prime Minister of Timor Leste for the 2002-2006 period. While Xanana Gusmao served as President. Alkatiri stepped down in 2006 after Xanana declared a state of emergency and took power. This was due to Alkatiri’s decision to fire more than 600 members of the Timor Leste Armed Forces. At that time, a number of ministers under the Alkatiri administration, including the Minister of Foreign Affairs Ramos Horta also resigned.
Ten years after the polemic, Alkatiri returned to the post of PM for the 2017-2018 period. However, he was removed even though his party won the highest seats in the legislative elections. This was because Fretilin was defeated by CNRT which success in attracting the support of other parties, the People’s Liberation Party/Partidu Libertasaun Popular (PLP) and KHUNTO to begin a coalition.
Therefore, Alkatiri immediately refused when he was asked about the possibility of a coalition with the CNRT after the legislative elections, Sunday, the 21st of May 2023. This Parliamentary Election is the fifth time since Timor Leste became independent in 2022. The previous elections were held in 2007, 2012, 2017, and 2018.
Preliminary results from a quick count conducted by The Matadalan Survey and Research Institute (M-SRI) in collaboration with The Kompas Research and Development Institute, predict that CNRT will lead the vote. The CNRT is estimated to have won 44.86 percent of the vote, followed by Fretilin with 25.69 percent, then followed by the Democratic Party (PD) with 9.23 percent.
Other parties with an estimated vote of between 3 percent and 7 percent are KHUNTO (Kmanek Haburas Unidade Nasional Timor Oan), PLP (People’s Liberation Party), and PVP (Os Verdes de Timor Party). Meanwhile for the PUDD (United Democratic Development Party) it is estimated that the vote will be around 2.36 percent. For other parties, it is possible that it has not yet reached 1 percent.
Meanwhile, the Portuguese News Agency, LUSA reported that the CNRT won 39.72 percent of the vote. Preliminary results put CNRT won the election by a landslide over the Fretilin Party which only won 25.07 percent of the vote. Followed by the PLP Party led by Taur Matan Ruak with 5.87%, and the Democratic Party (PD) led by Mariano Assanami Sabino with 9.85%. Meanwhile, the KHUNTO Party, which is now led by Armanda Berta dos Santos and José dos Santos “Naimori Bucar” was able to get 7.94% of the vote, and the Green Party (PVT) led by António Lela Huno Cruz won 4.19% of the vote, followed by the PUDD Party with 3 .77% of the vote. Meanwhile, the Portuguese News Agency, LUSA reported that the CNRT won 39.72 percent of the vote. Preliminary results put CNRT won the election by a landslide over the Fretilin Party which only won 25.07 percent of the vote. Followed by the PLP Party led by Taur Matan Ruak with 5.87%, and the Democratic Party (PD) led by Mariano Assanami Sabino with 9.85%. Meanwhile, the KHUNTO Party, which is now led by Armanda Berta dos Santos and José dos Santos “Naimori Bucar” was able to get 7.94% of the vote, and the Green Party (PVT) led by António Lela Huno Cruz won 4.19% of the vote, followed by the PUDD Party with 3 .77% of the vote.
With the acquisition of these temporary votes, CNRT’s position has not absolutely controlled the majority of parliamentary seats because it has not won more than 50 percent. The party that wants to get the majority of votes must form a coalition with other parties. For this reason, the President of Timor Leste Josè Ramos Horta is worried that the political deadlock in Timor Leste will not be resolved.
In a special interview with Jaring.id, Horta asked Fretilin and CNRT to cooperate. It needs 33 of the 65 seats to hold the lead in parliament. “I want to see the CNRT, Fretilin and the Democratic Party work together. Of course, if the CNRT won absolutely, there would be no need for a coalition, and I could not force Xanana to work with Fretilin and the PD. I can only intervene if no party gets an absolute majority,” Horta said on Wednesday, 10th of May 2023.
In the previous parliamentary elections, Fretilin won 23 seats and CNRT 22 seats. However, because the CNRT built a coalition with the PLP and the KHUNTO Party, Fretilin was also eliminated from the government. The coalition appointed Taur Matan Ruak, who came from the PLP, as prime minister. Even though the PLP only won 8 seats in the election.
According to Horta, the political maneuvers of the CNRT and a number of small parties like this could have fatal consequences for the government. Political compromise, said Horta, was inevitable. “If there is 1 political party that wins an absolute majority, I will still suggest they invite the party with the second most votes. And it might also be the party with the third most votes to build a stronger government and a stronger parliament. This is necessary to accelerate decision-making, “he hoped.
President Horta’s hope is reasonable because this year Timor Leste is targeted to become a full member of ASEAN. He wants the government that was built by this year’s parliamentary election to make the government-run stable. “We are already members, although we are still observers. We have received the draft road map (ASEAN) and it was fully approved at the ASEAN Summit in Labuan Bajo (May 2023),” said President Horta.
There are many international agreements that Timor Leste must adopt and follow up on if it wants to become a full member of ASEAN. “Many people don’t see that after signing an international agreement or agreement, we have to comply with national regulations. If not, we will have to change our regulations to be able to adopt the agreement. This creates a lot of work,” he added.
Interestingly, for similar reasons, the CNRT claims that this can only be achieved if the PM is held by Xanana. “Being prime minister, one must be able to master the material and dare to take risks in government programs,” said CNRT Party official Tomas Cabral to Jaring.id, Monday, 8th of May 2023.
Horta himself admits that no one can compare to Xanana in Timor Leste in any field, whether in terms of military strategy, politics, or even the economy, but he says he can cooperate with all parties. He really hoped that CNRT and Fretilin could work together.
However, Alkatiri has rejected the proposal. “Fretilin and CNRT are totally different. Fretilin is serving the people, while CNRT is manipulating the people,” he said.
The confrontation between Fretilin and CNRT was acknowledged by Tomas Cabral. “That’s high-level politics. We only had confrontations with Fretilin, not with other parties,” Cabral answered when asked about the acts of mutual attack that had taken place throughout the campaign.
Overshadowed By Old Parties
In the midst of the conflict between Fretilin and the CNRT, a number of new parties emerged. One of them even passed and contested in this year’s legislative elections, namely Partido Os Verdes de Timor (PVP) or what is called the Green Party.
Having a party logo that is similar to the Indonesian Solidarity Party (PSI) in Indonesia, the Green Party attracts the sympathy of young prospective voters. PVP President Antonio Lela Huno, in an interview with Jaring.id on Wednesday ,11th of May 2023, said his party is an alternative among the political parties that have dominated so far.
“So far, elections have only been dominated by the big parties. CNRT, for example, with Xanana Gusmao who has become a central figure of the party. He dominates the electorate because of his historical and persona factors. We see there is saturation. Therefore we made an alternative (party), “Antonio said.
Antonio claims his party has 65,000 members and he is optimistic that PVP can win 5 seats in this year’s elections. “We are targeting the votes of young people and new voters, which are predicted to number around 500 thousand voters,” he said. There are a total of more than 850,000 votes up for grabs in this year’s election.
But almost the same as other parties, the programs they offer are about access to education, health services, and reducing unemployment. According to Antonio, it is as if the young people of Timor Leste have no hope of working and living a decent life. Even if they get a job, the average wage is around US$ 150 per month, while the monthly cost of living in Timor Leste, according to a number of surveys, is US$ 522 per month.
“We do politics to give the best for the country. Even though we are a new party, our political work has been going on for 4 years,” he said while expressing his ambition that it was only limited to becoming the third major party in Timor Leste after Fretilin and CNRT.