Even before things got down to the wire in the Missouri Senate race yesterday, I had been thinking a lot about vote counting.
In the location of the ceremony I missed over the weekend, there has been major political intrigue over the past couple of years. At stake is the political future of the “suco” (a political unit the size of a congressional district or a freguesia). Last year, East Timor conducted, on its own, chefe-de-suco and chefe-de-aldeia elections. They were not without contestation, but international observation was rather minimal and many of the outstanding conflicts were not adequately documented in my opinion.
Case in point, this suco at the foot of Matebian. One which the Japanese dug in their heels in World War II, and later was the birthplace of the current head of the Armed Forces, FALINTIL commander Taur Matan Ruak.
For a long time, basically until 1975, the chefe-de-suco was synonymous with the liurai, or the petty kings or lords empowered by the expansion of Portuguese vassalage in the late 19C. (Pretty late for vassals, huh?)
This particular “traditional” liurai lineage, i.e. the one which ruled over the region basing its legitimacy on its vassal relation to Portugal, was driven from power by Fretilin and Falintil after 1975 for being sympathetic to Portugal and basically being feudal rulers. Fretilin’s appointed Chefe during the resistance period up on the Mountain was a respected Falintil commander, they tell me, the guy who taught Taur how to shoot. Obviously after the civilian surrender from the Mountain in 1978, the Fretilin chefe’s tenure came to an abrupt end, and this opening enabled the “traditional” liurai to take power back.
Jump forward to post-1999 East Timor where everything seems a little uncertain. What is certain is Fretilin’s electoral power in 2001. Informal chefe-suco elections took place already in 1999, but the result was not actually sanctioned by government or the international community. The UN and the Timorese put off formal Chefe-de-Suco elections until 2005.
This election was highly contentious in this suco. It seemed half of people saw the Fretilin chefe as the rightful leader of the place, and half saw the opportunity to restore the “traditional” (not too old) order of hereditary liurais.
I stepped right in the middle of this without even knowing it.
The ceremony I was supposed to attend was indeed the foundation of a new political party, sponsored by the sore liurai family, who claims it had been “robbed” the election by a dodgy vote recount. The Fretilin candidate won only after a recount – the supposed margin was a handful of votes.
It also turns out that the Fretilin now chefe-de-suco is one of the katuas who I’ve been chasing after! And that the katuas hosting the flag-raising ceremony distrusts my research and implied on the night of the ceremony that perhaps I was employed by a foreign government?