ST Op-Ed: Too Little, Too Late for Ramos-Horta
Mar 23, 2012 01:56 PST
The Straits Times (Singapore)
Wednesday, March 21, 2012
Too Little, Too Late for Ramos-Horta
In many ways, the re-election bid of Timor Leste President Jose
Ramos-Horta was doomed even before he threw his hat into the ring.
The man the world has come to respect and recognise as the nation's
liberation fighter struggled to win over voters from the start and, in
the end, came in a dismal 7 per cent behind former armed forces chief
Jose Maria Vasconcelos, known as Taur Matan Ruak, who finished second
in last Saturday's polling with 25 per cent.
Vasconcelos will face the top vote-getter, Francisco Guterres, known
as Lu Olo, who pulled slightly more than 28 per cent, in a run-off in
Ironically, observers say cracks began appearing in Dr Ramos-Horta's
leadership when he began questioning and criticising Prime Minister
Xanana Gusmao's National Congress for the Reconstruction of East Timor
Party (CNRT) over the budget and nepotism.
"The hallmark of Dr Ramos-Horta's presidency over the last two years
has actually been that he has been a much better and more impartial
president than he had been for the first two," said Jose Texeira, a
politician and spokesman for the Revolutionary Front for an
Independent East Timor party (Fretilin).
"He began to question the government's failure to deliver and
corruption within the government a whole lot more."
But, he said, that put off Gusmao, once a close colleague of Dr
Ramos-Horta during the struggle for independence.
"His downfall has been that he lost the support of the PM, who
switched his support to Taur Matan Ruak," said Texeira.
Ermenegildo Lopes, who leads Bloku Ploklamador, a pro-reform alliance
with five places in the 65-seat Parliament, said: "In a way, the
President's success in speaking out against injustice and his able
performance as a foreign minister and a prime minister before this had
raised expectations that he could do more, push for more legislative
reviews, question more."
The big blow came when CNRT chose to back Vasconcelos about three
weeks before the elections. That left Dr Ramos-Horta, a Nobel Peace
laureate, without an influential ally.
Professor Damien Kingsbury of Australia's Deakin University, a Timor
Leste watcher, said the Timorese have a strong loyalty to political
Thus, when a party like CNRT shifts its support, voters also shift
their support along with it, even though they have a strong bond to
resistance heroes such as Dr Ramos-Horta.
As the president of Fretilin, Guterres has one of the country's
largest groups of supporters.
In the 2007 presidential elections, he won 27.89 per cent of the vote
compared to 21.81 per cent for Dr Ramos-Horta.
But that year, Dr Ramos-Horta had the support of CNRT, allowing him to
win the run-off by a landslide, earning 69 per cent of the vote
compared to just 30.82 per cent for Guterres.
The record number of 12 candidates this time around also hindered the
President's campaign, said Lopes.
Finally, analysts believe that Dr Ramos-Horta campaigned too little,
too late. The incumbent justified his low-key approach by arguing that
the people already knew where he stood on the issues.
His small team of campaigners helped hang banners across the capital
Dili while he spoke in some districts and visited organisations and
schools, among others. But his efforts were eclipsed by Fretilin's
noisy political marches across the capital and Vasconcelo's 180
rallies across the country.
Despite the loss, many agree that Dr Ramos-Horta's political career is
hardly over. He is said to be exploring several options, such as
writing a book on international relations.
"Dr Ramos-Horta is a person of tremendous ability and good will for
our people," said Mr Texeira. "He has certainly done a great deal to
bring the political adversaries in the country together to engage in
"Therein lies his great talent, as a diplomat and conciliator. He has
much to offer both at national and international level. He will
continue to be indispensable in promoting Timor Leste on the
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