Subject: RT Analysis: Gusmao, E. Timor's Reluctant But Inevitable Leader

Received from Joyo Indonesian News

ANALYSIS - Gusmao, East Timor's reluctant but inevitable leader

By Joanne Collins

JAKARTA, March 27 (Reuters) - Whether he wants to lead the world's newest nation or not, East Timor's independence hero Xanana Gusmao looks bound to get the job.

A legend among the people and one of the best political talents the territory has to offer, Gusmao is the hot favourite to win the two-man presidential race just over two weeks away.

And despite grumbles about what some see as posturing and irritating ambivalence, most analysts think his charisma and high international profile will be good for the tiny territory as it emerges into nationhood.

"His reputation as a leader goes almost beyond human -- people look up to him like some kind of mythical figure," said Colin Stewart, head of political affairs at the United Nations in East Timor.

But the softly spoken poet and former guerrilla leader often seems a reluctant president-in-waiting who would prefer breeding farm animals and pottering around in a vegetable garden to leading a nation that has endured centuries of foreign occupation.

East Timor has been under U.N. administration since a landslide vote to break away from 24 years of harsh Indonesian rule in August 1999.

The result unleashed a wave of violence by machete-wielding gangs of militia, backed by elements of the Indonesian military, who set the territory ablaze and killed more than 1,000 people according to U.N. estimates.

Gusmao's on-again, off-again attitude toward leading East Timor, which will be declared formally independent on May 20, comes as no surprise to 28-year-old Nuno Rodrigues and his friends.

"He says he doesn't want to lead but we all know Xanana changes his mind many times -- it's a normal thing," said Rodrigues, director of a local education institute.

He believes the 55-year-old Gusmao genuinely wants to lead the people but lacks patience for the daily political fray.


Gusmao's ambivalence and political posturing has ruffled many feathers in the United Nations and among Timor's political elite.

Last year he stepped down as president of East Timor's de facto parliament, the U.N.-appointed East Timor National Council, in protest against what he said was political chaos hampering the territory's drive to independence.

Earlier this month he threatened to pull out of the presidential election over the use of party logos on the ballot.

"Sometimes he acts like a spoiled brat and ironically, everybody looks at Xanana as the consensus person, the one who unites everybody," said one political source.

Gusmao's only rival in the April 14 elections, Francisco Xavier do Amaral, has so far come off as a more accommodating and less petulant candidate, and averted a political standoff over the party logo issue.

But the older and less charismatic Xavier do Amaral will likely present a feeble challenge.

"In the villages of East Timor, from what I hear, he has a very good touch with the people," said head of the National Democratic Institute in East Timor, Jim Della-Giacoma.

"But he doesn't speak in sound bites and people who see him work the villages see him as having political skills but not ones which may look good on CNN."


There is also an expectation Gusmao will knuckle down once elected and accept the responsibility of leadership.

"My feeling is that once he's elected, the ... office will weigh on him to exercise true leadership in building the bridges and consensus as he always did in the past," said Nobel peace laureate and senior minister Jose Ramos-Horta.

Della-Giacoma said the biggest challenge for Gusmao will be to function as part of a democratic government.

"There are going to be a few difficult years ahead and good teamwork from all the institutions of government, rather than relying on one person, will be required," Della-Giacoma said.

But analysts say East Timor's parliamentary system with its limited presidential powers is tailor-made for Gusmao.

"This is a guy who spent more than 10 years in the jungle and six years in prison and who really does not have much understanding or patience for all the details that go into supporting the broader principles," said one Western observer.

Gusmao, born the second son in a family of nine children in the seafront town of Manatuto, spent four years at a Jesuit

seminary in East Timor and also attended Dili High School but never finished.

He is expecting a second child with his second wife, long

time Australian partner Kirsty Sword who he married in July 2000. He also has two children from a previous marriage.

Gusmao bears few grudges against giant neighbour and former ruler Indonesia which sentenced him to 20 years in jail for leading an armed resistance movement.

His enormous capacity to forgive and calming influence on the people will be central to healing the divisions of the ransacked territory.

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