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Political Parties of Timor Leste

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Part II: Focuses on Political Parties background and status, including information about individual parties and figures behind the party.

Part II: Emerging from the ashes of dictatorship, the Timorese people won the independence of the country formerly known as East Timor or the 27th province among Indonesian military ranks and files. Timor Leste is treading the same path to survivalism at the end of this month, only this time it is suppose to be without bloodshed. A series of riots have tested the judicial and security sectors of the government, almost dividing the small island country into ethnic rivalry.

The discontent among the country’s youth, the largest segment of the population, is closely related to the lack of job opportunity and government support and has quickly become part of political parties’ election campaign agenda. Along with youth grievances, the presence of international peacekeepers, last year’ unresolved riot cases and relationship with neighboring countries are also on the forefront. Fifteen registered political parties have signed the Political Party Accord to assume responsibility on their members and supporters before, prior and after the elections. Divided along the political line of left, right and centre, the election would certainly be a test case for the country’s fledgling politics.

In the second installment of this series, you will be directed to background and figures of the fifteen Political Parties registered for the Parliamentary Elections on 30th June 2007.

1) ASDT – Associacao Social Democrata Timorense (Timorese Association of Social Democrats)

The party was co-founded by Francisco Xavier do Amaral and Jose Ramos-Horta in 1974, soon after the end of Salazar’s rule in Portugal. Following a dispute over strategy against Indonesia, do Amaral was shortly taken prisoner by FRETILIN militants before being captured by Indonesian troops during an ambush. Prior to the Indonesian invasion in 1975, do Amaral was the first President of East Timor for nine days. In 2001, he contested against Xanana Gusmao for the same title only to receive less than 20 percent votes. In terms of political ideology, the party has moved from left to centre, with strong emphasis on creating job opportunity and developing equal distribution of wealth.

2) CNRT – Congresso Nacional para a Reconstrucao de Timor (National Congress for Reconstruction of Timor)

new party that revived from a relic of the resistance period, CNRT’s strongman, Xanana Gusmao, a former Commander in Chief of FALINTIL in 1981, is poised to become the next Prime Minister should he form a coalition with several smaller parties for the Parliament majority. With the party’s manifesto currently being drafted, it is not very clear as to what the party’s stance for the June 30th election will be. So far the election campaign has been evolving within the restructuring of national security instruments and allowing further foreign investments into the country. Xanana’s popularity would certainly play a bigger role rather than party’s ideology which has strong links to former guerilla fighters.

3) FRETILIN – Frente Revolucionaria do Timor Leste Independente (Revolutionary Front of Independent East Timor)

Established on 11 September 1974, following the Portuguese Carnation Revolution, FRETILIN was the major player both the military and political struggle for independent. Many of its high profile figures lived in exile, particularly in Mozambique during Indonesian occupation. Mari Alkatiri, the senior member of Timor Leste’s diplomatic mission and a revered economist, returned in 1999 and became the Prime Minister of the country until last year’s riots. Francisco “Lu Olo” Guterres was the President of the National Parliament until his recent defeat during the Presidential election on 9 May 2007. Holding 55 out of 88 seats in the parliament, FRETILIN have the advantage of performing well in the election because of strong membership throughout the country, they also have better party structure than any other parties. FRETILIN’s link to some Marxist-Leninists ideologies has brought the country into a radical social, political and economic change and is regarded as the most progressive in the region.

4) KOTA – Klibur Oan Timor Asuwain (Association of Timorese Heroes)

Another old party formed in 1974, soon after Portuguese ended their colonial era and before Indonesian annexation, this pro-integration party is pushing for a promotion and protection of Timorese culture and traditions and is primarily an association of liurai (traditional king) families. Manuel Tilman, the leader of the party is also a well known member of Mambai ethnic group in the central plain of Timor Leste. With two seats in the current parliament, the party formerly known as the Popular Association of Monarchists of Timor (APMT) claims to have 30,000 members mostly on the western part of the country. The party’s social policy, which was adapted based on the Socialist Party of Portugal, supports the establishment of a strong welfare state with a progressive tax system.

5) PD – Partido Democratico (Democratic Party)

Formed in 2001 soon after the Constituent Assembly, PD is the largest opposition party in the Parliament with seven seats maintaining its centre-left ideology. Fernando “Lasama” de Araujo, a young political activist advocating independence was arrested in 1991 after the Santa Cruz Massacre in Dili and spent seven years in an Indonesian prison. Coming second after FRETILIN in terms of political structure, agenda and membership, the party is set to form a coalition with smaller parties like CNRT, ASDT and PSD, if FRETILIN fail to win a majority. The party’s strong emphasis on strengthening democracy and upholding social justice with non-violent political solutions and human rights is set to give FRETILIN candidates hard time. On foreign policy, PD seeks better regional ties with neighboring countries and ASEAN, aiming for further foreign investment and market liberalisation.

6) PDC – Partido Democrata Cristao (Christian Democrat Party of Timor)

A small party established in 2000 with three seats in the current parliament, PDC is looking at garnering support and place within the political system by merging with UDC – Uniao Democrata Crista de Timor (Christian Democratic Union of Timor) to link both the Catholic and Protestant churches in Timor Leste with the Australian, Indonesian and Portuguese networks. Party leader, Antonio Ximenes was a director of the National Commission for Study on the Future of East Timor, a local NGO, while Reverend Arlindo Marcal, the General Secretary of the party is a former head of East Timorese Protestant Church, with a strong belief in human rights he is one of the founding fathers of Yayasan HAK (HAK Association). Despite PDC’s left-leaning inclination towards FRETILIN and UDC’s affiliation with UDT’s conservatism, both parties have strong Christian social justice values, are pluralist and committed to establish a program to promote moral development of Timorese youth. The party advocates for a strong relationship with neighboring countries and the Pacific.

7) PMD – Partidu Milenium Demokratiku (Millenium Democratic Party)

A new party in political arena, Ermenegildo Lopes aka Kupa, the current President co-established PMD together with Vice President Lettu Purn Melio de Jesus in December 2005. The name highlights that Timor Leste face a number of challenges in its development, and that make the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDG) a priority. With “Democracy, Reconciliation, Development” as their election campaign motto, PMD, a centrist party, supported Jose Ramos Horta during the Presidential elections and would likely be working with other opposition parties should FRETILIN fail to garner majority votes.

8) PNT – Partido Nacionalista Timorense (Timorese Nationalist Party)

Maintaining its link with Indonesia, PNT was founded at the height of popular consultation (referendum) and supports broad autonomy within Indonesia in terms of political bargaining. Dr. Abilio Araujo, the leading figure of the party of two parliamentary seats become a centrist party after the result of the popular consultation which recognized UNTAET as the legal international authority in East Timor during the transition period. A controversial figure, he has been an avowed Marxist as well as a businessman before being expelled from heading the FRETILIN External Delegation for his dealings with Indonesia. PNT’s stance on justice and reconciliation is conflicting: on the one hand they advocate for amnesty surrounding the 1974 events, and on the other they look to prosecute on the actions of 1999 and onwards.

9) PPT (ex MPTL) Partido do Povo de Timor (People’s Party of Timor)

Dr Jacob Xavier, the leading figure of a party claims that he is a direct descendant of the King of Portugal. The “monarchist” party was established in 2000 by Erminio da Silva da Costa as part of the now defunct MPTL – Movimento do Povo de Timor Leste (People’s Movement of East Timor). A former APODETI leader (another defunct party), da Costa was formerly number three in the ranks and files of pro-Indonesia militia after Joao da Silva and Eurico Guterres and a member of UNTAS, the militia political wing who subscribe to the idea of Pancasila. Despite its record of being blunt with its historical establishment, PPT supports the FRETILIN-led government on several legislations and has further increased the likelihood that they will not gain any representation in the new parliament due to their support of the popular parliamentary pension laws.

10) PR – Partidu Republikanu (Republican Party)

Despite its recent establishment (December 2005), several heads of the party claim their pro-autonomy stance during the period of Indonesia’s annexation. Joao Mariano Saldanha, an academic and a member of an influential Timorese family which includes the proprietor of Suara Timor Lorosae (local newspaper), is also the acting Rector of Dili Institute of Technology and a member of the Council of State is a well known figure in Timor Leste. This newly established party has a political objective to ensure a social democracy that guarantees equality, justice and tolerance. In an effort to promote national unity, PR will criminalise Lorosae/Loromunu (eastern/western) as discriminatory words which can be related to last year’s unrest. If elected, PR will look at creating a Ministry of Gender and Minority Affairs with the objective to increase the participation of women in politics, public administration, military and other sectors.

11) PSD – Partido Social Democrata Timor Lorosae (Social Democrat Party of East Timor)

Working closely with ASDT and PD, PSD was established in 2000 as a moderate alternative to FRETILIN and UDT. Having secured six seats in the parliament, this centrist party has been the vocal opposition against FRETILIN government including the most recent one regarding FRETILIN electoral law proposals. Mario Carrascalao, Zacarias Albano da Costa, Lucia Maria Lobato and Joao Goncalves are the leading figures of the party that look into incorporating the Chega! Report recommendations into the party’s policy and operation, regarding the 1999 incident. PSD also seeks to protect universal human rights, pluralism, participation, creativity, social justice, the rule of law, equality, human rights and the rights of women, children and minorities. PSD also opposes the death penalty and abortion.

12) PST – Partido Socialista de Timor (Socialist Party of Timor)

Avelino Coelho da Silva, the leading architect of this Marxist-Leninist party established in the 90’s in Indonesia among student and labour movements. A splinter group of FRETILIN, PST is dedicated to the construction of a socialist, classless society in Timor Leste, to liberate the country from all forms of colonialism, imperialism, paternalism and exploitation with primary concern on the situation of workers and farmers. Securing six parliamentarian seats, PST has vast international networks with a range of political organizations and trade unions from Australia, Indonesia, Portugal, South Korea and Western Europe.

13) PUN – Partidu Unidade Nacional (National Unity Party)

Previously a Finance Minister under the UNTAET administration, Fernanda Borges is the lead figure of this new party established in late 2006. As a new party, PUN claims to have 100,000 members in all districts and directly elected 426 delegates from 131 villages in 8 districts for their inaugural party conference. As a new Christian centrist party, PUN has a strong focus on strengthening equality and democracy, and a commitment to human rights and Christian values. Similar to UDT’s stance, PUN believes that their role is to counter the influence of communists, communism and their destructive influence in Timorese politics.

14) UDT – Uniao Democratica Timorense (Timorese Democratic Union)

Established in 1974, UDT currently hold two seats in Parliament with Joao Viegas Carrascalao as the leading figure. Initially the largest party in the history of East Timor, UDT is now struggling to adapt to the current flow of the social and political situation after the independence. Dating back 30 years ago, UDT founders include president Mario Carrascalao (he later became the Indonesian appointed governor of East Timor), Augusto Cesar Mauzinho (then Mayor of Dili), Francisco Lopes da Cruz (a former senior adviser to the President Suharto) and Domingos de Oliveira (currently UDT Secretary General), were predominantly public servants in the Portuguese administration, landholders, Catholic and anti-communist. In a joint communiqué with FRETILIN in 1975, UDT hardened its position on independence and declared its ‘intransigent defense of the right of the people to national independence’. Shortly after that, UDT broke the coalition and their leaders began fleeing the country.

15) UNDERTIM – Unidade Nacional Democratica da Resistancia Timorense (National Democratic Unity of Timorese Resistance

FRETILIN faction composed mostly of former guerilla fighters and independence activists. UNDERTIM was established in 2005 after disagreement with FRETILIN politburo. Cornelio Gama aka L7 is a high profile guerilla leader who fought with FALINTIL for over 20 years during Indonesian invasion. Being a new party for the upcoming election, it is still early to judge the performance of the party but the ‘blueprint’ outlines a number of domestic policy priorities including keeping Tetum as national and official language along side Portuguese, English and Bahasa Indonesia; creating a new Timorese currency, creating an independent anti-corruption body and provide housing grants to the homeless, among other things which are thought to have been duplicated from FRETILIN’s manifesto.