Subject: BBC: East Timor chooses political system

Also - CNN: Timor assembly approves new constitution

BBC Website Saturday, 9 February, 2002, 11:36 GMT

East Timor chooses political system

The path to independence has been a violent one.

East Timor's parliament has approved a draft of the constitution it will adopt when it becomes formally independent in May.

Officials said the charter envisions a parliamentary system supported by a largely symbolic president, and is loosely based on the Portuguese political arrangement.

The final document is expected to be adopted in early March and made effective on 20 May when the fledgling territory assumes full statehood.

East Timor voted in 1999 for independence from Indonesia, which invaded the former Portuguese colony in 1975.

The territory has been under UN administration since the vote.

Draft details

The draft constitution divides power between the executive, legislative, and judiciary, and provides for a politically neutral military.

It stipulates that the predominantly Catholic country will have no state religion and guarantees press freedom.

Following a long debate on the appropriate official language, Portuguese and Tetum, the local language, have been chosen, with English and Bahasa Indonesia to be used as working languages.

East Timor's 88-member assembly approved the draft resolution by 65-0 with 23 abstentions and absentees.

Later this month officials will tour the country to gather public opinion on the draft before it is finally adopted.

East Timor's new president is due to be elected in April. The prime contender for the post is the charismatic independence leader, Xanana Gusmao.

Laureate 'thrilled'

Jose Ramos-Horta, who won the 1996 Nobel peace prize for helping to alert the international community to East Timor's plight, said the approval of the constitution was an historic achievement.

"I'm absolutely thrilled, not only for the content of the draft - which is one of the most progressive in the world - but because it is our first independent constitution," he said.

Between 100,000 and 200,000 East Timorese are believed to have died during the 25-year occupation by Indonesia and at least 1,000 people were killed before and after the 1999 plebiscite.

Timor assembly approves new constitution

February 9, 2002 Posted: 0806 GMT

DILI, East Timor -- East Timor has taken another major step towards nationhood after the territory's constituent assembly gave its approval to a draft of the future nation's constitution.

The document is expected to receive formal approval next month and come into effect on May 20 when East Timor emerges as the world newest independent nation.

"The system we have chosen is loosely based on the Portuguese system," assembly deputy speaker Arlindo Marcal told the Associated Press.

Under the new constitution the president's role is defined as largely symbolic, heading up a parliamentary system of government with the head of state dependent on the support of the political parties.

It states that the predominantly Catholic country will not have an official religion, guarantees freedom of the press and will be defended by a politically neutral armed forces.

Following an extended debate on which language East Timor should adopt, the constitution states that Portuguese and local language Tetum will be the country's official languages.

English and Bahasa Indonesia will be used as working languages.


The approval of the draft charter will be followed by a five-day national consultation period later this month during which suggestions for changes will be invited.

After that the assembly will consider proposed amendments before formally approving the new national constitution.

A month later, on April 14, the territory will vote for its new president, the final step on the territory's long and often bloody path to independence.

East Timor, a Portuguese colony for more than three centuries, was invaded by Indonesia in 1975.

After years of often brutal Indonesian rule the territory's 700,000 people voted overwhelmingly in favor of independence in a United Nations sponsored referendum.

That vote sparked a violent backlash from pro-Indonesian mobs who went on the rampage, backed up by members of the Indonesian military laying waste to much of the territory.

Although the violence was eventually brought to an end with the arrival of an Australian-led intervention force, aid agencies say East Timor will remain dependent on assistance from the international community for many years to come.

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