Fran­cisco Guter­res, the for­mer guer­rilla fighter elected as Ti­mor-Leste's pres­i­dent

Faced with a loom­ing eco­nomic cri­sis, Ti­mor-Leste went to the polls in March to de­cide on its fourth pres­i­dent. They chose Fran­cisco ‘Lu-Olo’ Guter­res, a re­sis­tance fighter who has promised re­form but is likely to stay loyal to his po­lit­i­cal pa­trons

Southeast Asia Globe - - Contents - – Euan Black

WHO IS HE?

A prom­i­nent fig­ure in Ti­morLeste’s fight for independence, Fran­cisco Guter­res is also pres­i­dent of the Revo­lu­tion­ary Front for an In­de­pen­dent East Ti­mor (Fretilin), part of the coun­try’s de facto gov­ern­ing coali­tion. Fol­low­ing In­done­sia’s in­va­sion of the is­land in 1975, Guter­res be­came a guer­rilla fighter un­der the nom de guerre

Lu-Olo, which means pi­geon. Tak­ing up his first po­lit­i­cal role within Fretilin in 1978, Guter­res had made two un­suc­cess­ful runs for pres­i­dent since the coun­try gained independence in 2002.

WHY IS HE IN THE NEWS?

This month, Guter­res will be sworn in as the fourth pres­i­dent of Ti­mor-Leste, a largely sym­bolic but po­ten­tially in­flu­en­tial role, hav­ing swept to vic­tory in the first round of pres­i­den­tial elec­tions on 20 March. Guter­res’ win was in no small part due to the sup­port of Xanana Gus­mão, the coun­try’s independence hero and pre-em­i­nent po­lit­i­cal king­maker. With­out the back­ing of Gus­mão in the past two pres­i­den­tial elec­tions, Guter­res re­ceived only 30% of the vote, a num­ber that rose to 57% this time around.

HOW WILL HE AP­PROACH

THE ROLE?

Guter­res marked his vic­tory with prom­ises of im­prove­ments in health and ed­u­ca­tion. But as the coun­try’s

first party-af­fil­i­ated pres­i­dent, he is ex­pected to play a more sub­dued

role than his pre­de­ces­sor, Taur Matan Ruak, who used the post to cru­sade against cor­rup­tion and state mis­spending. “Ruak’s crit­i­cism of the gov­ern­ment will have lost some of its pres­i­den­tial sting, and Lu-Olo can be ex­pected to re­main a loyal party man,”

said Damien Kings­bury, a pro­fes­sor of in­ter­na­tional pol­i­tics at Aus­tralia’s

Deakin Univer­sity.

HOW WILL HIS ELEC­TION CHANGE PO­LIT­I­CAL DY­NAM­ICS

IN TI­MOR-LESTE?

Ruak is ex­pected to run on the new Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Party (PLP) ticket for prime min­is­ter later this year. And

his move is not with­out prece­dent, with Gus­mão be­com­ing the coun­try’s prime min­is­ter three months af­ter

va­cat­ing the pres­i­dency in 2007. Gus­mão is ex­pected to con­tinue in his role as po­lit­i­cal pup­pet-mas­ter for the fore­see­able fu­ture, leav­ing lit­tle room

for Guter­res to rock the boat.

WHAT ARE THE GREAT­EST CHAL­LENGES FAC­ING THE COUN­TRY’S GOV­ERN­MENT?

Ti­mor-Leste’s ma­jor prob­lem is money. The gov­ern­ment is draw­ing

down on its $16 bil­lion petroleum fund faster than it is di­ver­si­fy­ing its econ­omy, and crit­ics say nepo­tism and cor­rup­tion are com­pound­ing

the prob­lem. Oil rev­enue will fi­nance ap­prox­i­mately 85% of this year’s state bud­get. So what will the coun­try do when the oil runs dry? “The chal­lenges are daunt­ing;

few coun­tries have suc­cess­fully evolved from a gen­er­a­tion-long war through a short-lived re­source boom

to achieve sta­ble pros­per­ity,” said Charles Scheiner, an an­a­lyst at La’o Ha­mu­tuk, a lo­cal re­search in­sti­tute.

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