Timorese voters will go to the polls twice this year to elect the nation’s president and parliament for the third time since achieving independence in 2001. The elections, scheduled respectively for March and June, promise to be the most significant to date for Timor Leste, also known as East Timor. The 2002 elections followed the flush of independence from Indonesian rule, while the 2007 polls were overshadowed by the previous year’s political and civil unrest that led to the resignation of then Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri. This year’s elections will define the country’s direction over the next five years during which the United Nations Integrated Mission to Timor Leste and the Australian-led International Stabilization Force (ISF) will both withdraw and national leaders will face critical development issues.
Until this year, the presidential election was viewed mainly as a precursor to the more important parliamentary vote. However, the appeal of the presidential role is unprecedented among political groups and has attracted a wide pool of candidates. Regarded as a largely ceremonial position, the office has limited executive authority but does serve a critical oversight function to the National Parliament and has the power of final approval over the Prime Minister’s appointment.
The incumbent president and presidential nominee, Jose Ramos Horta, has successfully raised the profile of the office and challenged its constitutionally limited reach. To an extent, Ramos Horta has politicized the office, increasing both the symbolic and material power of the president during his five-year tenure. This may, however, ultimately contribute to his downfall at the ballot box at the upcoming poll. This year’s presidential race is among 12 candidates, more than double the number that contested the 2007 poll. Ramos Horta, former defense force chief Jose Maria Vasconcelos (known by his nom de guerre, Taur Matan Ruak, or “Two Sharp Eyes”), and Fretilin party president Francisco “Lu Olo” Guterres are the three front runners. Lu Olo won the first round of the 2007 presidential election without a clear majority and Ramos Horta secured the second round with 69% of the vote.
Full Article: Asia Times Online :: Race to the top in East Timor.