Subject: RT: Interview: Campaign rhetoric heats up ahead of Timor vote

Received from Joyo Indonesian News

INTERVIEW - Campaign rhetoric heats up ahead of Timor vote

By Carol Pineau

DILI, East Timor, March 18 (Reuters) - Independence leader and presidential candidate Xanana Gusmao is no longer a national leader, East Timor Chief Minister Mari Alkatiri said ahead of April 14 elections.

"Xanana has decided to run as a candidate of nine small political parties. The moment he chose to be candidate, he lost his quality as a national leader. Xanana will realise he made a wrong choice," Alkatiri, whose post roughly equates to prime minister, told Reuters in a weekend interview.

East Timor's first presidential campaign got underway last Friday, but with Gusmao heavily favoured to win, it appears the battle is less a race between Gusmao and opponent Francisco Xavier do Amaral than a struggle for power between Gusmao and majority party Fretilin, founded by his long-time rival Alkatiri.

Fretilin holds 55 of the 88 seats in a Constitutional Assembly that has opted for a constitution calling for a parliamentary system with a strong prime minister and substantially reduced presidential powers.

The structure could make it tough for Gusmao, who had headed Fretilin until 1988, to get policies through once the election is over.

East Timor's first president will take power on May 20 when the country gains official independence.

The territory has been under UN administration since 1999 when the people voted overwhelmingly for independence from Indonesia. The ballot prompted massive violence as pro-Jakarta militia went on a rampage, killing hundreds and burning buildings and homes.

Gusmao declined to run a presidential race as a Fretilin candidate. He preferred to be nominated by minority parties, though he maintained he was independent from them and made them sign an agreement saying as much.

"Until the day that Xanana decided to run with the other political parties, people still believed (he) was a Fretilin member. Now it is clear. That is why I think he will realise that he made a very bad choice," Alkatiri said.

International experts predict that if Gusmao is to stretch his would-be presidential powers or to reduce Fretilin's hold on the constitutional assembly, he must show he has a strong mandate.

"After the elections on the 14th, we shall see...I am sure he will win, but not with the majority he expected," said Alkatiri.

"For his credibility, Xanana has to win big. He has to be careful about abstentions, people not participating in the vote," East Timor Foreign Minister Jose Ramos-Horta said recently.

He defined success as winning more than 80 percent of the vote with a 90 percent or better turnout.

Despite winning an overwhelming majority in last year's national assembly elections, Fretilin decided not to field a candidate in the presidential election.

"Our main concern and preoccupation is stability and peace. If we had decided to have a candidate, then it would really create a lot of problems," said Alkatiri.

As for Xavier do Amaral, also once a Fretilin member, Alkatiri said the two men enjoyed good relations and the candidate "deserves our respect."

For now, it is not clear whether Fretilin will gear up its substantial local networks to fight against Gusmao, though they do appear to be trying to level the playing field.

"We have been educate people that they are free to choose. Both the candidates are from Fretilin, both are no longer Fretilin."

Gusmao himself seemed to be aiming in Fretilin's direction on Friday when he said: "The big parties cannot and must not think that their rights are worth more than the rights of smaller parties or that they are above the rights of other citizens."

Regarding whether the differences would make for a difficult cohabitation, Alkatiri said: "This country is not dependent on one person. From the side of the government, we know our power in the constitution. I think Xanana needs to read carefully the constitution to know what he can and cannot do."

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