BACK DOOR Newsletter on East Timor .........home .........August news

"A return to conflict in the aftermath of the election is a remote possibility. Simply put, however ingenuous this may sound, the uniqueness of East Timorese postconflict election, itself is a guarantee for peace and security. In other words, the risk of going back to bullet from ballot is minimal if not non-existence." Joao Boavida
See also: BD: Peoples' Participation / Participação Dos Povos / Partisipasaun Politika

August 2001-election:
Voting Behaviour, Outcome and Post-Election Role for the International Community


Joao Boavida

1. Introduction

Elections held in the end of a "civil war" are usually known as "postconflict elections." Their objectives often include (1) to install a legitimate and democratic government, (2) to help restore the nation's confidence, (3) to consolidate a fragile peace agreement reached between two-long standing political warring factions, and (4) to constrain the authoritarian or totalitarian rule of those in power.

Most postconflict elections were held in a situation of political misgiving, unresolved refugee situation, breakable cease-fire and destroyed infrastructure, to name but a few. The outcome as seen in most cases has been either all or some of the following instances: (1) a successful exit for the international community, (2) no long-term solution to predominant political questions, and (3) a deadly and expensive cycle of ballot to bullet and back to ballot. Cambodia, Bosnia, Liberia, Angola, Nicaragua and El Salvador are among many other cases in point.

However, the upcoming August 2001-election in East Timor seems fundamentally different from the postconflict elections held elsewhere and or in conventional circumstances. Its uniqueness is evident in that: (1) it is a non-civil war postconflict election, (2) it is a constituent assembly election, (3) there is the absence of political warring factions, and consequently (4) there is no peace agreement needing strengthening between two conflicting parties.

It is hoped that the above introductory note provides a background to the uniqueness of the forthcoming August 2001-election and possible International Community's role as assumed, suggested, and emphasized in this paper. Some common approaches to voting behaviour and specific explanatory variables are used to articulate the argument as described below.

2. General Approaches:

In normal circumstances, as systematic surveys have shown elsewhere, there are three main approaches to voting behaviour: These are the rational, sociological and party identification approaches.

The rational approach maintains that voting decisions are based on whether the principles of a political party match and meet one's own issues of preference. Hence, voting choices in this case, are based on parties' platforms and on whether voters are satisfied with parties' s policy position vis-à-vis their issues identified, before a decision is taken independently of outside influence. A rational individualist voter is illustrative of this approach. However, this model does not apply to the approaching Timorese election because voting decisions will be mostly emotionally and family driven with base on the two remaining approaches - sociological and party identification as discussed below.

The sociological approach contends that social cleavages motivated by various issues of social, political and economic nature often lead to the formation of different political parties. In the Timorese case parties such as PD, PDC, PARENTIL, PDM, PSD, PPT and PL fit in this model. Voting decisions are determined by whether political parties' platforms represent the concerns of a collective group membership. Group membership is the decisive factor and ethnic, language or youth-based social groups are an illustrative case in point, though in East Timor thus far there are no ethnic-based parties.

The party identification approach holds that a 'radical' party once it has the support of the masses its system and structure tend to persist for a long period to safeguard such popular support. By the same token, its supporters are often the conservative electorate or conventional voters who often meet political changes with great resistance. Fretilin, UDT, APODETI, KOTA and PTT belong to this model. In this approach it is the voter's long-standing emotional ties that influences voting choices because of historical, family and factional reasons. Voters in this model will not waiver their votes even if there are parties with relatively better policies. Long-standing supporters of a historical grassroots-based political party are a good example.

3. Explanatory variables

There are three explicit variables, which are worth considering for the purpose of this paper: age, social class and rural/urban variables.

3.1. Age Variable:

The Timorese electorate can be divided into two main different categories reflective of their respective social and political experience: The under 35 years old-group and the over 35 years old-group, or the pre-1975-invasion generation and the post-1975-invasion generation. It is assumed here that the two age groups will vote differently according to their respective social and political background as they have lived it during the pre-invasion, occupation and post-occupation periods. Most voters under 35 years old will likely choose parties which were formed as a result of social cleavages, whereas voters over 35 years old will be inclined to vote for historical parties.

3.2. Social Class Variable:

Unlike in industrialized societies where social class is mainly based on wealth and property ownership, social division in East Timor is for the time being a cleavage based on language proficiency. In other words, social cleavages are manifested by way of whether formally educated individuals and groups are able or unable to speak a combination of any of the following languages: English, Portuguese, Indonesian and Tetum. If this theory is coherent, it follows that voters who command English and or Portuguese languages besides Tetum will most likely vote for Fretilin, PSD and UDT, whereas those whose language skills are limited to Indonesian and Tetum with some degree of English will vote for PD, PARENTIL, ASDT, PL to name several.

3.3. Rural and Urban Variables

Although it is a slim possibility that voting choices will vary greatly between urban and rural communities, it is worth noting that the urban electorate is relatively more exposed to means of communication and public information than the rural electorate. This means that urban voters feel more positive about the ballot and fear less of a possible resort to bullet if the result of the election goes against Fretilin. In this sequence, urban voters will vote on any of the cleavage parties as well as on Fretilin.

The rural electorate lacking a consistent political information campaign is concerned with a return to bullet if the ballot favors a political party other than Fretilin. This means that rural votes will favor Fretilin in the interest of maintaining the current peaceful atmosphere.

4. General assumptions

4.1. Over 35-years old and party identification model

The over 35-years old-generation is generally socially and politically conservative. Most voters in this age group will vote for historical parties such as Fretilin, ASDT, APODETI, UDT, KOTA and PTT. As it is apparent, of the six parties just mentioned Fretilin has made headway in terms of grassroots' support and party's organization. This is so thanks to Fretilin's historical name and the ability of its leaders to capture the support of the masses very early in the party's formation stage in 1974. Besides, policy-wise Fretilin was the only party that clearly defended independence at the time. This fact has prevailed and for many East Timorese it has remained a historical reference even though Fretilin as well as all other historical parties were inactive and banned in East Timor during the occupation period.

Today, in the absence of a comprehensive program of political information and the less than adequate and in some cases identical parties' platforms, Fretilin continues to invoke the support of the conservative segment and rural voters in the wider Timorese society. A vote for Fretilin is a choice based on historical reasons.

The revival of the 'name' ASDT as a political party took place rather late in the current political process to mobilize a significant grassroots-support. Consequently, ASDT's current support is based on the loyalty of its leader's immediate extended family members who in turn may be able to enlist the support of their friends and groups in their Districts of limited influence. This support assumption also applies to UDT, APODETI, KOTA and PTT. A vote for any of these parties is a choice based on clan loyalties and family reasons.

4.2. Under 35-years old and sociological approach

The generation under 35 years old is socially more open-minded and less resistance to political change. This goes in particular for those who grew up during the occupation regime and who had benefited from the regime's oppressive policy in education and nationalism.

However contradictory this may sound, the education provided under the occupation coupled with the regime's repressive practices had led to the formation of an 'anti-occupation nationalism' for the under 35 years old-generation as opposed to the 'anti-colonial nationalism' of the over-35-years old-generation. The mutual coexistence of the two contradictory issues is that occupation was practical as long as it fulfilled East Timorese social needs, whereas nationalism was rational as long as it kept live Timorese political hopes throughout the occupation.

The result of the 1999-Popular Consultation however changed dramatically the socio-political environment to accommodate various East Timorese groups with differing social background and political experience. This fact led to a natural development of various group memberships and as the transition process developed social cleavage became increasingly apparent on the basis of language skills and political experiences.

Understandably, the transition process required specific language skills to facilitate the interaction between UNTAET staffs and East Timorese throughout the process. This has meant that the decisive skill for any East Timorese to secure a job within or outside of the UNTAET system has been the ability to speak and write a combination of any of the following languages: English, Portuguese, Indonesian and Tetum.

Obviously, as it has turned out those who only speak Indonesian or Tetum or the combination of the two languages felt that they were being 'marginalized' in the process. This feeling coupled with some degree of personal or group political aspirations have eventually led to the formation of additional different political parties. PARENTIL, PPT, PL, PNT, PD, PDC, PSD and PDM to name several are illustrative of this case. It is worth noting that the formation of PSD reflects more of an elite fragmentation due to political contradictions among members of some historical parties. A vote for any of these parties is a choice made on the basis of social group memberships.

5. Pro-autonomy supporters

Although the number of former pro-autonomy supporters who are eligible to vote and who currently reside in East Timor is insignificant it should be interesting to speculate their voting behaviour, considering that the result of the 1999-Popular Consultation has made autonomy no longer a conceivable political option.

5.1. Under 35-years old

It is assumed that former pro-autonomy supporters under 35 years old will most likely vote for cleavage parties such as PARENTIL, PPT, PL, PNT, PD and PSD. These voters would include individuals and groups who did not hold an outstanding office in the Indonesian civil service during the occupation period. Their vote will be perceived as an expression of solidarity with members of their age groups who like them had lived through the occupation though with different political experience.

5.2. Over 35-years old

Former pro-autonomy supporters over 35 five years old will presumably vote for their personal security. If this assumption holds, it is fair to suggest that most former autonomists in this age group who had formerly enjoyed the social, political and economic benefits of the occupation will vote for any of the following historical parties: Fretilin, APODETI, KOTA, PTT and UDT. However, since the main concern is their personal security, a most likely scenario however ironical this may be, is that they will vote for Fretilin, a party that is currently seen by many as the likely winner.

6. Possible Outcome

Based on the ongoing assumptions it is safe to maintain that the initial claim by Fretilin leadership that the party will win 2/3 of the votes is a removed possibility. In the absence of substantial parties' policies coupled with the inability of parties' leaders to influence voters' wants and beliefs, the approaches and variables discussed thus far reinforce the assumption that voting behaviour will be emotionally driven and not rationally based. This means that however fearful the majority is in regards to a possible return to conflict if Fretilin is not favored, all historical parties including Fretilin are susceptible to popular emotional retaliation.

Hence a win by two thirds of seats or 67% percent of the votes by any single party seems unattainable. The most likely ratio of vote distribution in terms of seats vis-à-vis the 88 seats available will be approximately 44:20:10 for three most voted parties and 14 for the remaining parties and independent candidates. However, no matter which party wins, the current socio-political and economic conditions in the country will challenge any party in power.

6.1. A return to war?

A return to conflict in the aftermath of the election is a remote possibility. Simply put, however ingenuous this may sound, the uniqueness of East Timorese postconflict election, itself is a guarantee for peace and security. In other words, the risk of going back to bullet from ballot is minimal if not non-existence. The following points are made to reinforce this specific point:

- The result of a constituent assembly election will not evoke negative reactions from the angry loser because the election is not to install an immediate democratic government (a time-buying factor);

- There is no risk of national disintegration given the absence of dangerous ethnic, cultural and religious cleavages or ethnic-based parties which could undermine the election results by resorting to rebellion and insurrection following the result announcement;

- Electorate's decisions are not reflective of economic voting and consequently there is no government to be punished or rewarded for its economic performance;

- The election is not for strengthening a fragile peace agreement between two warring factions in which the loser may be forced to return to war;

- East Timorese are politically well behaved and tolerant as seen throughout the last two years, a period in which there were no serious political pitfalls in spite of the lack of law reinforcement.

7. Post-election role of International Community

It is sadly true that the process of democratization as seen elsewhere has often paved the way for political elite fragmentation. East Timor is no exception. The formation of 16 different political parties speaks for itself. In this context the International Community is urged to play a supporting role of monitoring and policy designing during the post-election period until and beyond the establishment of the first legitimate government.

In a situation of acute infrastructure destruction and economic dependency coupled with elite fragmentation, the potential for the formation of an authoritarian regime sustained by practices of corruption and nepotism will be highly likely.

An authoritarian government will prompt a negative reaction on the part of under 35 years old-generation and this could possibly trigger serious contradictions, if adequate development programme and comprehensive conflict prevention mechanisms are not in place. The following concerns may help International Community design policies to help move the democratic process along:

- The establishment of an independent body consisting of national CSOs and Internationals should be encouraged to monitor the post-election sociopolitical and economic development;

- National CSOs must be well equipped with knowledge, information and technology to help monitor practices of the government, police, military and the standard of human rights.

- Free media must be supported and developed to complement the work of CSOs in programme of formation and information;

- Political parties as democratic institutions linking the government and society need to be institutionalized to manage sociopolitical contradictions in the interest of sustaining stability and democratization process;

- The foundation for longer-term sustainable development must be secured through rehabilitation and assistance programme, themselves a capacity building programme;

- The presence of CSOs among local and rural communities must be encouraged to restore communities' confidence, itself an important factor for democratization to move along and economic development to take place;

- Women's capacity must be increased not only for political participation but also for ensuring household food security, themselves an important factor in gradually displacing traditional forms of female discrimination;

- The government must be assisted to be able to at least provide the most basic services to its citizens in order to secure a minimum of popular confidence;

- Demobilized combatants must be given an adequate social and economic attention in order for them not to resort to criminal activities;

- National police and military forces must be reasonably equipped and professionally well trained to complement PKF efforts in maintaining security and stability;

- PKF presence may need to be extended for a longer period than anticipated and funding may be reviewed in anticipation of this likelihood.

- Election cannot be the end-result of a democratic process but an instrument of popular empowerment;

8. Conclusion

By way of conclusion suffice it to say that hopefully this paper has contributed with at least some basic ideas as to what policies should be designed to suit the uniqueness of the August 2001-election and the realities of the post-election period as discussed above. However remote is a return to bullet from ballot in the aftermath of the election, the establishment of conflict prevention mechanisms and an independent monitoring body should not be discouraged if democratization is to be secured through the implementation of a multidisciplinary programme of development.

Dili, 27 August 2001

Joao Boavida
Mobile phone: 0419175348

See also:
BD: Peoples' Participation / Participação Dos Povos / Partisipasaun Politika - A collection of recent media releases, reports and articles

BACK DOOR Newsletter on East Timor .........home .........August news
Website:  Email:
Postal address: BACK DOOR GPO Box 59 Canberra City ACT 2601 Australia
Receive FREE weekly email Web-updates: email and include the words "Subscribe BACK DOOR" in the message header. more info