Timor-Leste has just elected a new president and will hold parliamentary elections on 30 June 2007. Successful elections could strengthen political institutions and thus be an important part of nation-building for a country badly shaken by civil unrest in 2006, its fourth year of independence. Issues that arose in the presidential campaign are still very much alive - in particular, national sovereignty (the reliance on international peacekeepers); use of Timor Sea revenues; and justice for the 2006 violence. But personalities rather than party platforms are likely to determine the outcome of the parliamentary contest, and no one is offering concrete solutions to the country's many problems.
The 2007 vote for president was the first national-level election conducted according to Timor-Leste's own laws and the first run by Timorese authorities. Eight candidates stood in the first round on 9 April, but because none won a majority, a run-off election was held on 9 May between Francisco Guterres "Lu Olo" from Frente Revolucionária de Timor-Leste Independente (FRETILIN), the party in power since before independence, and José Ramos-Horta, Nobel peace prize laureate, former foreign minister and, since July 2006, prime minister. Ramos-Horta won the second round with nearly 70 per cent of the vote.
This was the first chance for the people of Timor-Leste to register their opinions at the ballot box about FRETILIN, and the verdict was resounding disapproval. Many consider its poor showing to be a vote against former Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri and other FRETILIN leaders and say that unless there is a change in the leadership, the party will do even worse in the June parliamentary contest.
The presidential results indicate that a new party headed by former President Xanana Gusmão, Congresso Nacional De Reconstrução de Timor-Leste (CNRT), is likely to win 20 to 25 per cent of the vote and then ally with several smaller parties to form a parliamentary majority and the next government.
Many of the wounds from 2006 remain. Although the presidential elections were largely peaceful, accusations and inflammatory rhetoric may feature heavily in the parliamentary campaign in a way that could heighten tensions and lead to more violence. The shooting deaths of two CNRT supporters under disputed circumstances in Viqueque on 3 June is a reminder of the danger.
A CNRT-led coalition government would be forced to be more consultative and transparent than its predecessor. It might also be less cohesive and less competent in economic management - the latter a strength of the Alkatiri government. More democratic decision-making would certainly contribute toward resolving issues from the 2006 violence but good technocratic skills are needed as well, and they are likely to be in short supply.