Jose Ramos-Horta's Ian Thorpe moment

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Jose Ramos-HortaIt has been clear for some time that 2012 would be a watershed year for East Timor. In addition to marking 500 years since the arrival of the Portuguese and 100 years since the fabled Dom Boaventura led a robust revolt against them in 1912, 2012 also marks ten years since full independence and will see two elections.

The first of these was held last Saturday and involved 12 candidates competing for the presidency. The poll results indicate that the Timorese spirit of independence, exemplified by Dom Boaventura and more recently by the Resistance, has been rediscovered and is alive and kicking. Cashed up with revenue from the petroleum fields in the Timor Sea, proud that it has put the crippling crisis of 2006 behind it, and chafing in harness with the UN, East Timor has decided to go it more alone even to the point of living dangerously.

The UN and international military contingent led by Australia have been asked to leave later this year. It is as though the East Timorese have heard the ghost of Borja da Costa, East Timor's most famous poet, executed in 1975 by the Indonesian military, whispering to them again: 'Why, Timor, do your children doze like chickens ... Awake, take the reins of your own horse.'

The poll count is virtually complete and none of the four leading presidential candidates has won a simple majority. This means there will be a run-off second round on 21 April between the top two vote getters: Francisco Lu'Olo Guterres,  president of Fretilin (28 per cent) and Jose Maria Vasconselos, better known by his Timorese nom de guerre Taur Matan Ruak (TMR), head of the Timorese military until he resigned last year (25 per cent).

Both men exemplify East Timor's tough, independent streak, having fought as guerrillas throughout the 24-year war with Indonesia. The runners-up, who each received about 18 per cent, were Fernando La Sama Araujo, speaker of Timor's parliament, and Jose Ramos-Horta, the incumbent president, who has conceded defeat.

It is the electorate's dumping of Ramos-Horta that is the big surprise. Their rejection of his offer to serve for a further five years is breathtaking and, in my view, living far too dangerously.

Ramos-Horta is a national treasure. His contribution to East Timor's liberation is legendary and as a non-partisan president since 2007 he has worked tirelessly to offset Timor's image as a near failed state by rebuilding unity, rebranding East Timor as a peaceful country and serving as a critical part of its checks and balances.

He is open to criticism including that he has contributed to a culture of impunity and has sometimes exceeded his powers and interfered in issues that are properly the business of government, not the presidency.

But to reject someone of his capacity, authority and track record is the political equivalent of East Timor abandoning its campaign for the gas pipeline from the Timor Sea. How this came to pass will require more research. The short answer seems to be that the electorate got the impression Ramos-Horta, unlike his hungrier opponents, had lost his appetite for the job, and when Xanana Gusmao abandoned him they followed suit.

The choice facing the electorate now is, in my view, straightforward. Although the second round candidates have similar political and military pedigrees, Guterres is better qualified to be president. Since independence he has occupied significant national leadership roles, including heading the country's largest political party and serving as speaker of the parliament for many years. He has recently completed a law degree and can also take some credit for the responsible role played by Fretilin during its recent years in opposition.

TMR is not ready. He has virtually no experience outside the military, which he was in charge of when the 2006 crisis began in its ranks. Many are rightly uncomfortable with the prospect of a recently retired general, Indonesian style, becoming head of a fragile state in which the military already plays an internal security role.

Ramos-Horta is now having an Ian Thorpe moment, contemplating whether he will continue in public life in some way or retire and perhaps live abroad like his fellow-Nobel laureate, Bishop Belo. My hunch, and hope, is that some way will be found by East Timor to utilise his vast experience as an elder statesman.

He has said that he will not endorse either candidate in the second round, but this does not rule out a role in the parliamentary elections which will be held in June after he leaves the presidency in May. The deposed king might turn out to be the kingmaker that Xanana Gusmao was for him in 2007.


Pat WalshPat Walsh has returned to Australia after working for ten years in East Timor, mostly as part of the Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconcilation. The UN recruited him to help establish the Commission and he served variously as its executive director and special adviser. Following the Commission's dissolution in 2005 he served as senior adviser to the Post-CAVR Technical Secretariat. 

 


Topic tags: Pat Walsh, East Timor, Jose Ramos-Horta


 

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Existing comments

Thanks for a thoughtful piece, Pat. I think the is another take on the result – there always is in a proper democracy – namely that Ramos Horta has done East Timor one more great service by losing the poll so graciously. It is a very dicey prospect to expect incumbents to bow out in favor of the popular will in a fledgling polity. Ramos Horta has lead by example in showing how to do it, and the country will almost certainly be the strong for that precedent.
Tom Clark | 21 March 2012


Great article. Pat Walsh your knowledge on Timor Leste is well respected and many in Timor Leste share your views about JRH. To obtain the number of votes JRH has without party support is commendable. I think he will be a king maker come Legislative elections. JRH's neutrality is followed by PSD a member of the coalition government; its President indicated that neither candidate is certain of a victory. In 2007 most parties followed JRH publicly. Interestingly, although Taur was supported by CNRT, he had endorsement from organisations that transcends the political divide including other political parties and some members of FRETILIN. Thus, TMR's performance is not a true indication of CNRT vote, in my view CNRT should be concerned. Lu-OLO/FRETILIN this election has doubled or more gains in Dili, Aileu, Bobonaro, Ermera, Liquica (nearly tripled) and won Manufahi. There were also gains in Ermera and Manatuto. Although votes were lost in Los Palos and Baucau, LuOlu obtained more votes, surprisingly TMR did not win his native district of Baucau whereas LuOlo (Viqueque) and Lasama (Ainaro) won comfortably. Many FRETILIN in Baucau and Los Palos voted for TMR’s persona rather than political allegiances, given they are FRETILIN strongholds I doubt their vote would be transferred to CNRT. The political climate in Timor is changing. The big surprise could be the Legislative elections.
P | 21 March 2012


Apparently reasonable comments, but it suffers from the colonial view (as Ted Wolfers once said of PNG colonial politics) of politics as simply 'administration'; as though the election of a country's president were just a technical matter, Who is the best qualified candidate? But no, the domestic politics is all important, and that is a Timorese process, not for outsiders to judge.
Tim | 21 March 2012


Hope faith trust and belief are important in the political as well as the personal. I beleive the decison made by the Timor Leste people is a wonderful example of this - a step into a new future - a step full of those virtues already mentioned.

The current President is a hero in anyone's eyes and has had his eyes and his heart focused solely on his people and his country - I wish him well - I salute this hopeful trusting expression of faith and belief by this proud nation - Viva Timor Leste!
Paul Coghlam | 21 March 2012


Thanks Pat for the observation. Looks great article but as timorese and one of your former CAVR colleague i disappointed with your observation said that "TMR is not ready. He has virtually no experience outside the military, which he was in charge of when the 2006 crisis began in its ranks. Many are rightly uncomfortable with the prospect of a recently retired general, Indonesian style, becoming head of a fragile state in which the military already plays an internal security role". Especially about 2006 crisis i will say that it was not only TMR's felt. At that time Lu Olo also the President of PN, Mari is the PM and Xanana Gusmao is the President. Am sad that start judging us Pat. This our timorese process, peoples process and please to not judge our leaders. Thanks
Jose Caetano Guterres | 21 March 2012


Ramos-Horta a "national treasure"? Perhaps since 2007 a tarnished hero of the independence movement; to say nothing about the offensive manner in which he asserts his ego. In 2009 he supported the illegal release from prison of a genocidaire who was responsible for the (6 Sep't 1999) Suai church massacre - to appease Indonesia. Go ask the survivors and the relatives of the victims how they feel about that! In 2010 Horta described foreigners working on peace building projects with Timorese NGOs as "intellectual midgets". In 2011 Horta supported the Timorese Government entering a $300,000 "tourism ambassador" contract with one of his 'friends' - a young Australian model. The terms of that contract were supposed to be kept a secret. Pat Walsh has since '99 been more of a hero for Timor than any of the three so-called "ema bots" (Alkatiri, Xanana and Ramos-Horta).
Mark | 22 March 2012


I don't know, Pat. Something that eludes your analysis is the plain fact that for the Timorese people, the man who has always mattered is Xanana. Ramos-Horta's loss was not unexpected or surprising. He's never been too popular with or close to the masses. And you forget that he came in second to Lu Olo in the first round of the 2007 presidential elections. Those elections did not have the 12 candidates that these elections had. JRH was never going to take the presidential elections in one round, or even come in first place in the balloting for the first round. The best that can be said about a Lu Olo presidency is that it will put FRETILIN back in a position of power, given that they've held neither the presidency nor prime governorship since Alkatiri stepped down in 2006. One last thing. The Portuguese did not make landfall of the island of Timor till 1514.
Mauricio | 23 March 2012


To Lu Olo's credit, he is a polite, humble and sober man.

I think your article should have been more critical of JRH. Timor-Leste is now independent. It is high time for the leaders of Timor to stop resting on their laurels and credentials from the resistance period, however laudable they may be. It is also high time for foreign commentators such as you to start taking a more critical view of the key actors, however detrimental that could be for your work and position in Timor. Your swipe at Taur and your lionizing of JRH may be evidence that you may have lost perspective and impartiality.
Maun Kik | 23 March 2012


Thanks for your comment, but unfortunately, you don't know exactly the history of Timor-Leste 500 years ago. We had to many qualified leaders in this country not just our atual president. When Timor-Leste struggle, no countries, even Mr Pat believe that Timor-Leste will become a Nation. Therefore no worry about our leaders. Our actual president, Mr Lu Olo, TMR, Xanana and other are the best leaders that we have known from their past history. Who take the leaders we will support. Thanks
TDL | 27 March 2012


As an East Timorese who is intimately involved in ‘Tim Success” for TMR and closely observed the 2012 Timor-Leste election in general, I found the article from Mr. Pat Walsh, “Jose Ramos-Horta's Ian Thorpe moment” published on (http://www.eurekastreet.com.au/article.aspx?aeid=30596#.T2jpvwmTirY.facebook) very interesting.

I want to counter Mr. Walsh’s points from two aspects. Firstly, I want to argue against Mr. Walsh’s views on Ramos Horta. Secondly, I want to express my disagreements to Mr. Walsh’s point where he judges and compares the leadership qualities and capacities of Taur Matan Ruak and Lu Olo.

On Mr. Walsh Comments on Ramos Horta:

In his article, Mr. Walsh stated that, “It is the electorate's dumping of Ramos-Horta that is the big surprise”. I want to say that it is not correct to interpret that the result of first round 2012 Timor-Leste presidential election, where Ramos Horta cannot make it to second round, does not mean that Timorese (or the electorate’s) ‘dumping’ Ramos Horta. We are not only misjudging but also lowering Timorese intelligence if one assumes that way.

In the universe of the Timorese, we have enough capacity to understand the importance of Mr. Ramos Horta’s qualities and capacities and the roles he can play to contribute to the bright future of Our Country. Yes, he is our national treasure. Whether Mr. Ramos Horta plays a role as president of this country or works as security guard at some office in Colmera does not matter. What matters is that the Timorese knows and understands that, whatever role(s) Mr. Horta plays in Timor-Leste, he does with good genuine intentions for his beloved homeland. Mr. Horta has proven himself, in fighting for freedom of the Timorese, he worked his way up the ladders and stood proudly and equally with some of the most powerful people in the world and with some of the best diplomats in the world. He represents Timorese pride, capacity and intellectualities. The roles he played during the resistance against Indonesia will be written down in Timor-Leste’s history books, with ‘golden ink’. To make the story short, I will say it this way, if an old Timorese men (or women, young men or women) meet Mr. Horta in the middle of the road in Hatubalico for example, I would imagine this old men will take off his hat, put it on his chest, nod to Mr. Horta and say, “bom dia or boa tarde Senhor”. At least this is what I will do.

Mr. Walsh further writes, “[t]heir rejection of his [Ramos Horta] offer to serve for a further five years is breathtaking and, in my view, living far too dangerously”. I understood three messages from this statement. Firstly, Mr. Walsh suggested that (or sound like) Ramos Horta is the only qualified person in entire Timor-Leste to take the role as president. I would like to understand where the capacities and qualities of other (even ordinary) Timorese are placed in Mr. Walsh point of view.

Secondly, when Mr. Walsh described that it was ‘breathtaking’ for him to accept the fact that Ramos Horta cannot make it to second round, which shows his misunderstandings of the Timor-Leste election processes. For example, if Mr. Walsh understood and followed the 2012 Timor-Leste first round presidential election process closely, it will not be breathtaking for Mr. Walsh to accept the fact that it is possible for Ramos Horta not to make it to the second round. I use a very simple formula for my prediction for final result. Let us put the most popular candidate (TMR) to second round automatically because the lowest expectation for TMR was to go to second round as the second most voted (not the first most voted nor absolute win). This is the most realistic expectation predicted by the TMR ‘Tim Success’. To predict who will go to the second round with TMR is easy because we already know that FRETILIN voters will be around 30% plus and minus 10%. This means that if the majority of 30% of FRETILIN voters vote for Lu Olo, it will take him to the second round with TMR. That means Ramos Horta cannot make it, not only because his lack of support from CNRT but also bad campaign strategies and his misjudgments of his popularity and how Timorese place him in their views. Basically in this election Ramos Horta was ‘shooting in the dark’ therefore one should take this election results easy when Ramos Horta did not make it.

Thirdly, when Mr. Walsh expressed that ‘without Ramos Horta’, “[Timorese People will be] living far too dangerously” suggested that Mr. Walsh does not believe in Timorese capacity and skills besides Ramos Horta. I would like to counter this argument by saying that, with all my respect to Mr. Ramos Horta, without him, the country will move on. Our (Timorese) ancestors have proven that.

Lastly, I would like to congratulate Mr. Ramos Horta for accepting the result of the election very positively and proudly, which proved his high quality and world class leadership and diplomacy skills. His decision to be neutral in the second round of presidential election is the best decision from him so far, from my point of view from the time I started to know him. His willingness to cooperate and work with the new President and his ongoing campaign on peace and stability is a true testament to how much he loves his homeland.

On Mr. Walsh’s Comments and judgment on the Leadership Capacities and Qualities of TMR and Lu Olo:

I want to point out why one should not take Mr. Walsh’s comments on the matter too seriously. The comments and judgments are solely based on his personal emotions, feelings, friendship and his whole relationship with Ramos Horta at personal and professional level. His mistake is that he put Ramos Horta at the center of the ‘game’ while Ramos Horta himself, put Timorese and their whole world at the center. Let compare his statements on Lu Olo and TMR bellow.

For FRETILIN Candidate Mr. Lu Olo, Mr. Walsh positively stated that ”Although the second round candidates have similar political and military pedigrees, Guterres is better qualified to be president. Since independence he has occupied significant national leadership roles, including heading the country's largest political party and serving as speaker of the parliament for many years. He has recently completed a law degree and can also take some credit for the responsible role played by Fretilin during its recent years in opposition”

And for TMR, he negatively stressed as follows, ”TMR is not ready. He has virtually no experience outside the military, which he was in charge of when the 2006 crisis began in its ranks. Many are rightly uncomfortable with the prospect of a recently retired general, Indonesian style, becoming head of a fragile state in which the military already plays an internal security role”

By now, one perhaps already guessed it right on why I said Mr. Walsh opinions on Lu Olo and TMR are based on his personal feelings mixed with emotions. He is negative about TMR because, it is TMR who got the support of CNRT, therefore TMR is one of the reasons why Ramos Horta cannot go further in this election. He said positive things about Lu Olo because Mr. Walsh “thinks” that Ramos Horta will align with FRETILIN for the second round and he is wrong because in the end Ramos Horta declared himself neutral.

I fully agree with Mr. Walsh in giving credit to the four years of FRETILIN Government and Lu Olo’s roles during that time, but it is also important to point out that CNRT and its AMP Government has been running Timor-Leste for five years.
Josh Trindade | 27 March 2012


Pat, stop feeding the JRH ego. The man needs less sycophants and fans, not more.
Malae Bulak | 28 March 2012


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