Subject: LUSA: 14 Parties Take Part in First Election Campaign Debate

17 Jul 01 19:56 East Timor: 14 Parties Take Part in First Election Campaign Debate

Representatives of 14 of the 16 parties contesting East Timor's August 30 elections took part Tuesday in the campaign period's first debate, which was moderated by Jose Ramos Horta.

The debate was held the auditorium of the transition administration's information department in Dili, with the notable absence of the PDM and ASDT. Representatives of the other 14 parties nevertheless used the occasion to present their respective election platforms.

The proceedings were opened by Ramos Horta, foreign minister in the transition cabinet and a 1996 co-laureate of the Nobel Peace Prize, who recalled that "for the first time in history", the political parties were meeting together before free elections to present "their ideas to be broadcast live".

The day-long debate was being broadcast by radio UNTAET and is to be retransmitted Wednesday by the territory's TVTL television.

After a small introduction of "less than a minute", as Ramos Horta emphasized, the parties began responding to questions put forth by a group of East Timorese journalists.

During the initial phase, and besides questions about each party's platform, most debate concerned the issue of violence and problems that may arise after the August 30 election.

East Timorese voters will elect in the ballot the 88 members of a constituent assembly whose main duty will be to draw up the future national constitution.

Speaking in the lingua franca of East Timor, Tetun, each of the representatives guaranteed that their respective party would accept the results of the August election. They also reiterated their commitment to "peace and stability".

Ramos Horta used his position as moderator to challenge the representatives, querying for example about the differences separating the Christian democracy of both the PDC and UDC/PDC. He added that he was "likewise confused" about the social democracy of the PSD and ASDT and charged that the PNT nationalist party's vice president had "spoken like a member of Fretilin (the historic pro- independence party)".

During an interval in the debate, Ramos Horta explained to media that with 16 parties, he needed to "maintain a good sense of humor" in order to "find the nuances necessary to explain the differences to voters".

He said that at the start most parties had opted mainly for "rhetoric and generality", but emphasized that it was more important to know "where they are going going [sic] to get the money" to fulfill promises than to understand their platforms.

"Unfortunately I believe that only two or three parties have made an appropriate study. The others have used a lot of irresponsible demagoguery", he added.

Strict rules governed the debate, with the party representatives barred from using insulting language or speaking out of turn. Nor were they allowed to grant interviews during the proceedings or "abandon the discussion arena".

Special sessions with media begin next week, with a representative of each of the 16 parties daily taking part in an expanded debate with both East Timorese and foreign journalists.

The official campaign period for the August 30 elections began last Sunday.

JBC -Lusa-

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