East Timor’s weekend elections expected to end political gridlock

Voters in East Timor will go to the polls on Saturday after President Francisco Guterres dissolved Parliament in January, seen here. (AFP)
Updated 10 May 2018
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East Timor’s weekend elections expected to end political gridlock

JAKARTA: Voters in East Timor will go to the polls on Saturday after President Francisco Guterres dissolved Parliament in January because the minority government led by Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri failed to secure approval for his government’s budget and program.
The elections will be the second in less than a year and are expected to produce a clear winner to end a political gridlock that hampers development for a population of 1.2 million.
It was the first time in East Timor’s 15 years of independence that the Parliament was dissolved, Arif Abdullah Sagran, a former member of East Timor’s election commission, told Arab News in an interview during a recent visit in Jakarta.
The two political blocks are competing to secure at least 35 seats in the 65-member Parliament to form a majority government.
“This will be a hotly-contested election. We will not have political stablity if none of them is able to win at least 35 seats,” Julio Tomas Pinto, a political science professor at the National University of East Timor, told Arab News.
Alkatiri’s Fretilin party narrowly won the July 2017 elections with 23 seats, followed by the National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT), the party led by first president and independence hero Xanana Gusmao, which won 22 seats.
But the two political giants were on opposing sides and the Fretilin formed a minority government with the Democrats, which had seven seats, while Gusmao’s CNRT went into coalition with the People’s Liberation Party (PLP), which had eight seats, and the Khunto party, which had five seats, forming a majority in the Parliament.
Pinto said that the CNRT, PLP and Khunto have been campaigning under a new banner, the Alianca Mudanca ba Progresso, or Alliance for Change and Progress (AMP), and the alliance could win the election if the three parties can maintain the same results as last year’s elections.
He added that public perception seemed to favor Xanana’s CNRT as the winner, while Sagran said support from the grassroots for the Fretilin looked strong.
“But there is no guarantee, we have too much floating mass,” said Pinto, who served as secretary of state for defense from 2007 to 2015.
According to data from the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), there are 784,286 voters and 48 percent of them are women.
The number of eligible voters are roughly the same as last year’s amount, which saw voters not showing up at voting booths.

 

“We hope voters turnout will be higher this time,” Pinto said, adding that democracy in one of the world’s youngest nation was being tested with the upcoming elections, which he said would set an example for the younger generation.
Gusmao and Alkatiri are two of the most prominent figures in East Timor, which gained its independence in 2002 after it voted to end Indonesia’s 24-year occupation in a referendum in 1999.
The two political lions have dominated East Timor’s politics and both served as the country’s president and prime minister. Caretaker Prime Minister Alkatiri, a Muslim leader of Yemeni descent in a Catholic-majority country, served as the country’s first prime minister in 2002-2006, alongside Gusmao who served as the country’s first president in 2002-2007. The latter also served as prime minister in 2007-2015.
Pinto said members of CNRT and its coalition were mainly former resistance guerillas who fought during Indonesia’s occupation while Fretilin members were mostly diplomats who had been abroad advocating for East Timor’s independence.
“However, we don’t want to contradict the two of them because both forces are assets for East Timor. This election will be a test case of our elite’s political maturity,” Pinto said. 

 

“The people are fed up with the elite’s arrogance. When (the opposition) directly rejected the government’s budget without even deliberating, it was clearly harsh politics and I think the people were quite disappointed with that,” said Sagran, who is president of the Center of East Timor Islamic Community, and like Alkatiri is one of the few Muslim figures who have held positions as government officials in East Timor.
Xanana is enjoying a boost in his popularity after he served as chief negotiator during negotiations with neighboring Australia that resulted in the signing of a treaty on maritime borders between the two countries in March. The treaty promises major revenue sharing with Australia from exploitation of rich oil and gas reserves in the Timor Sea.
According to East Timor’s Maritime Boundary Office, the permanent maritime boundaries served as “the final step in realizing full sovereign rights” for East Timor as a newly independent state since the seas which surround the island sustain its people and are integral to their culture and livelihoods.
If CNRT wins the elections, Xanana could assume another premiership but Sagran said Xanana could appoint someone else from within the coalition ranks as prime minister.
Pinto said that the elections could also be a test of the country’s constitution, which he said was adapted from its former colonizer Portugal.
He said there were articles in the constitution that did not have detailed explanation, such as the deadline to propose the second budget to the Parliament if the first one was rejected. This means each party could interpret them in accordance with their own interests.
“We will see if our constitution will really fit with our people or just be a copy from the Portuguese, which is not entirely implementable here,” Pinto said.

Decoder

East Timor

East Timor is a secular country, although the Catholic church has a big influence in the society. Muslims make up about 0.3 percent of the population. The national language is Tetum and the official one is Portuguese, while English and Indonesian are widely spoken. The country’s official name is the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste.

FASTFACTS

East Timor

East Timor is a parliamentary republic and has a unicameral Parliament which serves for a five-year term. It is a half-island nation that covers a 15,007 km square area located on the eastern part of Timor Island. It borders with Indonesia’s East Nusa Tenggara province on the western part of the island and shares a maritime border with Australia to the south in the Timor Sea.


BJP drive to change names of Mughal-era cities in India opposed

Updated 37 min 26 sec ago
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BJP drive to change names of Mughal-era cities in India opposed

  • Allahabad was established by the 16th-century Mughal ruler Akbar, adjacent to the ancient city of Prayagraj, a revered place for Hindus
  • Prayagraj is believed to be a place for a highly revered Hindu saint, and Ayodhya is allegedly the birthplace of the supreme Hindu deity, Ram

DELHI: Irshadullah, 40, from Allahabad, or what is now known as Prayagraj, finds it difficult to accept the new name of his birthplace — he says that history cannot be changed.
“It’s not the issue of the change of name of a particular place, it’s the question of our existence and history in India,” said Irshadullah, a social worker and political activist from Allahabad, in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh (UP).
His anger and frustration are palpable.
“The only reason why the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) government wants to change the name is that it has been given by the Mughal ruler. This I feel is not only an attempt to obliterate India’s Islamic history but also to create a wedge in the multicultural society in the name of religion,” Irshadullah said.
Last week, in a slew of decisions by the BJP government in UP led by the controversial monk and Hindu nationalist politician Yogi Adityanath, the names of the medieval city of Allahabad and Faizabad were renamed Prayagraj and Ayodhya respectively.
Allahabad was established by the 16th-century Mughal ruler Akbar, adjacent to the ancient city of Prayagraj, a revered place for Hindus. Similarly, Faizabad also cropped up next to the Hindu city of Ayodhaya.
Prayagraj is believed to be a place for a highly revered Hindu saint, and Ayodhya is allegedly the birthplace of the supreme Hindu deity, Ram.
However, Hindu right-wing politicians claim that Allahabad and Faizabad were built replacing Hindu names.
“The Mughal ruler Akbar built the city Allahabad without disturbing the area closer to the river, known as Prayagraj,” Irshadullah said.
“With a name you have history associated with it. When you change it, you tamper with its historicity. The BJP government in Uttar Pradesh and the center, they don’t have anything substantial to demonstrate as their achievement — that’s why they are indulging in this political polarization,” Irshadullah said.
Faizabad-based historian, Prof. N.K. Tiwari of Dr. Rammanohar Lohia Avadh University, said the Mughals never changed the name of any Hindu place of worship.
“From the historical point of view, the change of names of medieval cities is wrong. But the political climate now is such that if you raise your voice you are termed anti-Hindu or anti-national. The whole episode has made me highly uncomfortable,” Tiwari told Arab News.
The opposition parties in UP have called the move “a desperate attempt to hoodwink people before the elections next year.”
“They failed as a government and now they are back on their agenda of divisive politics with vehemence. But people now understand the BJP’s politics,” said Sanjay Tiwari, a local leader of the Congress Party in Allahabad.
But the BJP said the “name change is a normal process.”
“India, which was subjugated twice — first by the Mughals and second by the British — must rediscover its soul. Name change is one way of remembering our past glory,” said Sudesh Verma, a national spokesperson for the BJP.
“Prayagraj or Ayodhya sounds more cultural than Allahabad or Faizabad respectively,” he said.
While talking to Arab News, he denied changing Muslim names. “India cannot be complete without Muslims and other minorities. But it is true that a nation cannot celebrate invaders, rapists and those who forcibly converted using swords and were religious bigots,” Verma said.
Earlier this year, the BJP government in UP renamed Mughalsarai, an iconic railway station in the eastern part of the state, after its founder, Deen Dayal Upadhaya.
Last year, the Yogi government deleted the Taj Mahal in Agra from the list of tourist sites, but after huge protests the regime revised the list.
Now the BJP legislator from Agra Jagan Prasad Garg wants to rename the historic city “Agrawal.” “Agra has originally been the place for the Hindu Agrawal community and the Mughal ruler changed its name to Agra. I demand the restoration of the old name,” Garg told Arab News.
The demand for the name change has come for the historic city of Ahmadabad in the western Indian state of Gujarat, the home state of the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi.
“Changing the name itself is not an issue. Names have been changed in the past also. Bombay became Mumbai, Calcutta became Kolkata because they wanted to correct the pronunciation,” said the historian Prof. Aditya Mukherjee from Delhi-based Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU).
“These changes are being done to demonize the Muslims. The picture is being created that Muslims are foreigners, they invaded India, they did all kinds of crime and, therefore, their name should be changed,” he said.
“One of the essential features of fascism is that it creates the enemy from within. What the BJP is doing is that they are creating an enemy out of Muslims, Christians, Dalits and other minorities,” Mukherjee told Arab News.
“The consequences for this kind of politics would be dangerous for the country. We must fight it. Each one of us — intellectuals, teachers, writers, journalists — we need to fight it when there is time. There is no point in fighting when the damage has penetrated deep.”
Irshadullah refused to change the place of birth in his birth certificate. “It is not easy to adapt to the change, I have with Allahabad so many memories, they can change the name of my city, but I will still call it Allahabad, not Prayagraj.”