As campaigning came to a head for the second and final round of East Timor’s presidential elections, it appeared that Fretilin was starting to panic at the prospect of losing. Fretilin’s media barrage reflects bringing in outside advisers, strategists and writers, notably from Australia.

Ironically, Australia has also been one of the primary targets of invective at Fretilin’s rallies; the concern here is that should Fretilin lose the presidential race, that Australians in East Timor may be targeted by angry Fretilin mobs.

If there is a positive element, however, to what has become a war of words between the Fretilin and Ramos Horta camps, it is that a rhetorical fight is much better for democratic development than having politically aligned gangs attacking each other.

Knowing it is facing an up-hill battle to win the presidency, Fretilin has also been using a ‘door-knocking’ technique. This is fine as a general electoral method, but in some areas, in particular the coffee-rich area of Ermera, this has been in tandem with intimidation.

There have been several well documented accounts of villagers facing food shortages being threatened with having rice aid stopped if their village does not support Fretilin, and further threats of violence should Fretilin lose. The continuing presence of guns in the hands of pro-Fretilin gangs in Ermera also continues to cause deep concern.

Also disturbing has been the appearance of ‘ninjas’, or masked men appearing in the night and making explicit threats. This tactic derives from the Indonesian occupation, when such ‘ninjas’ were harbingers of death. The threats also derive from the Indonesian period, when the population was so traumatised that threats alone became an effective method of compelling compliance.

But it is not only Fretilin that is compromised in this campaign. Jose Ramos Horta is a favorite of the Australian Government. But, he too employs thugs, notably associated with the quasi-religious, quasi-criminal Sagrada Familia (Sacred Family) in Baucau, and former Fretilin hit-squad leader and turncoat Railos in Liquisa.

No doubt, both contestants will claim irregularities should they not win on Wednesday, but it does seem that the bugs that plagued the first round of voting have now been largely resolved. The result should be an accurate one, if not from an entirely fair process.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey