“Viva Doutor Lu Olo!” (Long Live Doctor Lu Olo!), shouted the raucous crowd who had gathered at the Central Committee of FRETILIN in Comoro, Dili on 13 January 2012 to hear Francisco Guterres Lu Olo, the current President of FRETILIN, confirm that he would be running as a candidate in this year’s March 17 presidential elections. I couldn’t help but smile at the symbolism of combining the term “Doctor”- a title recognising Lu Olo’s completion of his law degree - with “Lu Olo”- a code name from the resistance, particularly given that some people in the 2007 presidential elections had unfairly cited his lack of formal qualifications as a reason to vote against him in the second round. Not that Lu Olo would care that much anyway whether you called him Doctor Lu Olo or Lu Olo as he knows better than most that it is what you do and not a title that defines you as a person.
Lu Olo’s emergence as a national leader following the restoration of independence provides a very interesting lesson in leadership. History has shown, on many occasions, that there is no set formula no magic combination to explain what makes a successful leader. Some people are born natural leaders, others become leaders after intensive training and others still evolve into successful leaders as they deal with the trials and tribulations, the successes and failures, of life. Lu Olo’s leadership story falls very much into the last category as a person who matures and his character strengthens with the passing of time.
However, to understand Lu Olo, to understand the journey that has made the man and why he is one of the frontrunners in this year’s presidential elections, one has to go back to that fateful day in 1975 when Indonesia invaded Timor-Leste. At the time, Lu Olo was 21 years old and a primary school teacher at St. Terezinha College in Ossú. He was forced to flee to the mountains where he joined an army platoon under the command of Lino Olokassa. He was to spend the entire Indonesian military occupation (1975-1999) in the mountains as a resistance fighter and a political activist, surviving the annihilation and encirclement campaign of the late 1970s and the Indonesian military assaults of the early 1980s where many of his friends and family members were killed. His first wife, Clotilde Maria de Fatima, was killed on 15 November 1981 in Builó in Viqueque, an event that was to scar him so badly that he only remarried after independence.
During his time in the resistance Lu Olo held various positions within FRETILIN such as secretary for the eastern coast region in Matebian (1976), delegate commissar for the eastern point sector (1978) and national political commissar (1984). In 1987 when the resistance was re-structured with the creation of the National Council of Maubere Resistance (CNRM) and the appointment of Xanana Gusmao as CNRM’s leader, Ma’Huno was appointed the Secretary of the Directive Commission of FRETILIN- the highest political organ of the party- whilst Lu Olo, Ma’Hodu and Nino Konis Santana were appointed as Deputy Secretaries.
In the years that followed the formation of CNRM, Xanana Gusmao (1992), Ma’Hodu (1992) and Ma’Hunu (1993) were captured by the Indonesian military and either sent to an Indonesian prison, as was the case with Xanana, or released into the civilian population under tight surveillance, as was the case with Ma’Huno and Ma’Hodu. Then in 1998, Konis Santana, who replaced Ma’Huno as the leader of FRETILIN in 1993, died from illness.
It remains little known that following Santana’s death in 1998 Lu Olo wrote to the External Delegation of FRETILIN requesting that the leadership of FRETILIN be transferred to the External Delegation. The request was refused by Marí Alkatiri, the leader of the External Delegation, and not for the first time the External Delegation made it clear that leadership of FRETILIN- no matter how difficult the circumstances- was to remain in Timor-Leste. As if to reinforce this point, an extraordinary conference of FRETILIN was convened in Sydney in 1998 and Lu Olo was elected as the General Co-ordinator of the Presidential Council of FRETILIN, the highest position within the party at the time.
In early 1999 Lu Olo made a dangerous trip to Dili where he stayed for three months in various safe houses to re-organise FRETILIN. As the situation became very tense, due to the large movement of Indonesian troops, Lu Olo returned to Waimori, Viqueque where he continued to lead FRETILIN. On 30 August 1999, the day of the independence referendum, Lu Olo voted in Liaruka, Ossú and then moved to the FALINTIL cantonment in Remexio where he was to remain until the departure of the Indonesian administration from Timor-Leste.
The end of Indonesian occupation posed new challenges for Lu Olo who, like many veterans of the resistance, had spent 24 years fighting a common enemy and found themselves having to transition to civilian life. For Lu Olo, there was also the important matter of helping lead FRETILIN’s transition from a resistance movement into a political party, a task made even more daunting by the massive expectations that came with independence and leading a historic party such as FRETILIN.
Lu Olo finally met Mari Alkatiri, the most senior member of FRETILIN on the diplomatic front and one of the founders of the party, in late 1999 and the two immediately began re-organising FRETILIN. On 15 July 2001, Lu Olo was elected President of FRETILIN at the party’s 1st National Congress. Then following FRETILIN’s victory in the 2001 elections for the Constitutional Assembly, Lu Olo became a member of the Constitutional Assembly and was later elected its President. As President of the Assembly Lu Olo presided over the drafting of the Timorese Constitution.
On 20 May 2002, the date of the restoration of the independence, Lu Olo became the first President of the newly formed National Parliament. As President of the National Parliament Lu Olo chaired the Parliament at a time when it approved various laws which established the structure of the Timorese State and ratified various international Conventions and Treaties, in particular the United Nations Conventions on Civil and Political Rights and on Social and Economic Rights and the treaties relating to the Timor Sea. In addition, under Lu Olo’s presidency National Parliament unanimously approved the Law on the Petroleum Fund, arguably the most important law passed since the restoration of independence.
In May 2006, FRETILIN held its second National Congress in a highly charged political environment which had been created by the dismissal in February that year of several hundred soldiers from the army. Lu Olo was re-elected as party President and Marí Alkatiri as Secretary General by 89% of the delegates at the Congress.
Throughout the 2006 crisis which was aimed at destabilising the FRETILIN Government and FRETILIN Parliamentarians, Lu Olo played a key role by working together with other national leaders to prevent a full scale civil war and, as leader of the FRETILIN negotiating team, he was instrumental in breaking the political deadlock which led to the formation of the second constitutional government. Lu Olo remains one of the few national leaders who was not criticised in the United Nations Commission of Inquiry which investigated the 2006 crisis.
In the 2007 presidential elections, Lu Olo competed in the first round amongst a field of eight candidates, placing first with 27.89% of the national vote. In the second round, however, he was defeated by current President José Ramos Horta who won 69% of the vote compared to Lu Olo’s 31%. During the presidential election campaign Lu Olo became the first candidate to declare all his assets and income and remains the only candidate to have done so in any election.
The 2007 presidential election campaign was marked by negativity, with some people targeting Lu Olo for his lack of formal qualifications. Jose Ramos Horta’s campaign team also falsely accused Lu Olo of having a US$700,000 house in Viqueque. However, despite it all, Lu Olo showed great leadership in gracefully accepting defeat and urging all of his supporters to do the same.
Following the presidential election defeat, Lu Olo, together with Marí Alkatiri, led FRETILIN’s campaign in the 2007 parliamentary campaigns which the party won with 29.2% of the nationwide vote. The party, controversially, was not asked by current President Jose Ramos Horta to form government and took up its role as opposition in National Parliament. Lu Olo, as the head of FRETILIN’s parliamentary list, was entitled to take his seat in National Parliament but opted not to do so that he could focus on re-structuring the party, providing younger FRETILIN parliamentarians with the opportunity to take centre stage. In 2011, Lu Olo was voted FRETILIN’s party president for the third successive time in the historic direct elections held by FRETILIN to elect its party leadership.
In respect of his civilian life, Lu Olo married Cidalia Mouzinho on 4 May 2002 and the couple now have three sons: Francisco Cidalino Guterres (Olo Kai), Eldino Nobre Guterres and Felizito Samora Guterres. In 2005, Lu Olo commenced his lifelong ambition to study when he enrolled as a student in a law degree program taught by law professors from the Foundation of Portuguese Universities (FUP). The five year law degree is modelled on similar programs run in Portugal and no doubt strengthened Lu Olo’s knowledge of legal processes, law making and policy gained from his tenure as President of National Parliament. Lu Olo completed his law degree and will officially graduate in April 2012.
Much has been made recently of Lu Olo’s law degree without noting the broader significance of someone of his status returning to study. Firstly, in accepting his defeat in the 2007 presidential elections and completing five years of study, Lu Olo was the first leader of national significance to step back from the public domain and take positive steps to make himself a better and more qualified person. In a country where politicians rarely admit to making mistakes and find it hard to leave the trappings of power, Lu Olo’s self reflection and self improvement sets a great example for other leaders and demonstrates that above all he can, and eventually will, walk away from it all. Secondly, Lu Olo became the first veteran of the armed resistance who spent 24 years in the mountains to complete tertiary studies. At a time when the role of veterans is a hot political issue, Lu Olo has shown that there is another role, another way, for veterans of the resistance. Studying may not be necessarily for everyone, but it’s a real option, and it’s no coincidence that other veterans of the armed resistance such as Sabika and Filomeno Paixão as well as veterans of the clandestine front such as the late Francisco Benevides, David Ximenes and José Manuel Fernandes have completed or are completing their law degrees. Thirdly, Lu Olo has set a fine example to the younger generation of Timorese who are struggling in an independent Timor-Leste. It may not solve their problems, but as someone who completed a five year law degree in his fifties after living a difficult life by anyone’s standards, Lu Olo can use his experience to inspire many others.
On the day that Lu Olo announced his candidacy for this year’s elections it was clear to me that he was a far more assertive and confident person than the Lu Olo of 2007. It’s as if the combined achievements in his civilian life in having served as the head of a sovereign organ, having a wife and children to be proud of and getting the education he always wanted have allowed him to insert the final missing pieces in his leadership jigsaw puzzle. (In retrospect, the confidence Lu Olo gained from completing his degree should not have come as a surprise as I had seen a similar transformation in the late Francisco Benevides, who upon completing the same law degree in 2010 at the age of 60 was like a man reborn, reliving his youth in his later years as he commenced his new career as a lawyer. It was inspiring to see Mr Benevides excited about using his new found skills to continue serving a nation and people he had served with distinction throughout his life and I believe Lu Olo would be looking to do the same in his role as President.)
One day someone will paint a portrait of Lu Olo celebrating his life- Lu Olo the school teacher, Lu Olo the political activist, Lu Olo the freedom fighter, Lu Olo the family man, Lu Olo the President of FRETILIN, Lu Olo the first President of Parliament, Lu Olo the university student, Lu Olo the law graduate and so on- and hang it in St. Terezinha College in Ossú where it all began 36 years ago. It says it all really that throughout his life he has refused to drawn attention to his story, to blame others for his failures and losses or to take credit for his achievements and successes. If the great leaders of 1975 who watch us from above were to pick Timorese who epitomised the values and ideals on which this nation was founded, there is no doubt that Lu Olo’s portrait would be held up as a proud example.
But Lu Olo’s story is not just a FRETILIN success story; it is a Timorese success story. As someone who has strong resistance credentials, has successfully transitioned to civilian life and has his best years ahead of him, Lu Olo bridges Timor-Leste’s past, with its present and its future. It’s a rare and powerful combination for a Timorese leader to possess at a time where Timorese society is struggling to define its national identity, to deal with the traumas of the past and to take advantage of the opportunities of the present and future. However, it is too early to talk with any finality about Lu Olo’s legacy and his impact on Timorese society. When the election campaign officially begins on 29 February 2012 Lu Olo will have the perfect platform to showcase his remarkable transformation and put forward a compelling case to become the next President of Timor-Leste.
By Sahe Da Silva