On July 22, Timorese will once again cast their vote in the country’s fourth parliamentary election since independence from Indonesia in 1999. With the March presidential election now almost a distant memory, all eyes are on the hotly contested parliamentary election. It is interesting to note that despite all the news and controversy surrounding the three front-runner parties, more than 20 parties are registering to contest the election. With former political rivals and revered resistance parties FRETELIN and CNRT locked in a consensus of convenience, it remains to be seen how the coalition government will pan out, with much depending on the ability of newcomer party, Partido Libertasaun Popular (PLP), to make any inroads in challenging the popularity of the two stalwarts.
Yet, despite 15 years of independence under its belt, and the country’s advances in administration and governance, this election is likely to be driven by loyalties and personal charisma rather than issues or a candidates’ proven track record in public service or concrete plans for the country’s future.
The Asia Foundation’s most recent national public opinion poll reaffirms this projection. While over half of all respondents (54%) claim they voted based on “issues” in 2012, compared with ties to a particular party/candidate, an even larger proportion of voters (58%) indicated the main reason to vote for a particular candidate in the upcoming election is their role in the country’s independence movement, compared with only eight percent who cited “previous leadership experience” and seven percent who indicated the “education/qualifications of a candidate.” When it comes to why people would vote for a particular party, a similar trend emerges: while half said they will vote for that party based on its role in the independence movement, only 22 percent will do so based on the party’s own stated programs and proposals.