On July 7th East Timorese will take part in the parliamentary elections to choose political parties that are capable of forming the new government. Having elected its new president on 17 March this year, the upcoming parliamentary elections will be a yardstick to measure the ability of the current political parties in East Timor to convince voters of what they would deliver in the next five years if they are entrusted by the people.
This year's elections, will be contested by around 24 political parties. In a country of 1.1 million people with just 650,000 officially registered to vote, winning a majority in the upcoming parliamentary elections will be rather uncertain.
Having observed the political campaign in the last four weeks, what stands out from the recent political campaign is that many political parties still invoke the issues of veterans, justice for victims of 1999, the issues of corruption and management of the petroleum fund, poverty, unemployment, lack of infrastructure, and many others.
Indeed, given the scale of poverty in East Timor right now, it is easy to argue that raising those issues during the election period and assuring voters that these problems will be addressed if winning the elections is seemed to be an attractive theme. It is hoped that raising those issues will attract many voters in particular those who have been marginalized in the last five years.
Hence many tactics and strategies were employed by political parties during the political campaigns. Strategies used by some of the political parties include launching verbal attacks on other political opponents. On the contrary, some were trying to project themselves to the public as being the non-corrupt and cleanest political parties.
Last month during the election campaign in Dili, for instance, President of the Social Democratic Party (PSD) blamed the existing coalition government for being too corrupt despite the fact that he is part of the government and being in charge of the Minister of Foreign Affairs. Similarly, recent ex-president of East Timor, Jose Ramos Horta, also called on voters not to vote for National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT) party led by resistance leader, Xanana Gusmão for its close link with many former pro-autonomy groups – a group that previously opted for the integration of East Timor with Indonesia.
While many have argued that those above issues in any way influence decision of the voters, the outcome of the elections will be also determined by the following factors – political adaptability and quality leadership in convincing voters.
First, today any elected government must be flexible and able to adapt in addressing people's expectations. A vast literature suggests that the inception of globalization at the beginning of 21st century has brought people together. The creation of advanced transportation systems such airplanes, ships vehicles has reduced time and space. In addition, the invention of the internet, computer, satellite dish, and television has in turn also allowed people to share idea which subsequently creating common interest and expectations whether they live in developed or developing countries.
Unlike in the 1950s and 1960s where the world was locked in competition over ideology, in today's world as transformation began to take root, people's expectations also change. People somehow want their government to respond to their expectations.
People expect their elected government to strike a balance. They want their government to address their urgent needs such as access to clean water, health, and education; creating jobs; ensuring food security, protection of the environment; respecting human rights and others.
Ten years of East Timor's independence, poverty is still endemic with high unemployment rate. While Dili the capital of East Timor is teeming with business activities, economically rural communities remain poor. The non-existence of rural infrastructures further impedes the direct participation of people in the development. Thus, addressing these issues is critical to election success for any political party. In order to address those concerns, a political party must possess high degree of adaptability and employ right strategies in responding to these concerns
While all political leaders are vying for powers, only those possessing clear roadmap and right policy will be able to attract more votes than those who simply jump on the political bandwagon. This is due to the fact that if people's expectations are ignored, people will take to the street to make their voice heard. In East Timor such situations can be exemplified in 2002 riots and 2006 military crisis where fighting between armed factions resulted in death and destruction.