Subject: SMH: Fretilin accused of dirty tricks but Gusmao a shoo-in

Sydney Morning Herald March 30, 2002

Fretilin accused of dirty tricks but Gusmao a shoo-in

By Jill Jolliffe in Gleno, East Timor

Mr Gusmao on the campaign trail. Photo: AFP

Just two weeks after a lopsided campaign began for East Timor's presidential elections due on April 14, there are signs that it may be turning dirty.

The favourite candidate, Xanana Gusmao, this week toured the countryside alone because of the illness of Xavier do Amaral, his sole opposing candidate, who was in hospital with a heart condition before the race even began. Despite this compelling advantage, he has accused the governing Fretilin party of sabotaging his campaign.

Mr Gusmao claims Fretilin is urging people to abstain from voting, or to spoil their ballot papers to reduce his vote.

Although the former guerilla commander is an overwhelmingly popular figure in East Timor, his campaign was not endorsed by the leadership of Fretilin, by far the most popular party. It won 57.3per cent of the vote in parliamentary elections last August.

The Fretilin victory was gained on a platform of supporting Mr Gusmao for president of the new nation, which will become independent on May 20. However, the party has neither backed him nor stood its own candidate for the United Nations-supervised poll.

In the mountain district of Gleno on Wednesday Mr Gusmao drew a crowd of about 5000, mostly from farming families dependant on the coffee industry, plus a few die-hard former guerillas.

"The buyers are not giving a just price for our coffee," said Bonifacio dos Reis of nearby Hatolia. "Xanana didn't promise anything but he did say he'd do his best to raise the issue."

Speaking after the meeting, Mr Gusmao said he was happy with the support he was receiving, but criticised two Fretilin leaders, Mari Alkatiri and Francisco Guterres, who had said their priority on election day will be to go the beach.

Mr Gusmao described their attitude as "irresponsible for leaders of a democracy-in-the-making", and said his staff had been informed also of a doorknock campaign urging voters to spoil ballot forms.

"It is an electoral offence to urge people not to vote or to spoil their ballot papers," he said, adding that his staff is trying to document evidence.

A Gusmao staff member predicted Fretilin's leaders would privately direct supporters to vote for Mr Amaral, whose Timorese Social Democratic Association won only 8.7per cent of the vote in last year's elections. Most Fretilin supporters are expected to ignore this and vote for Mr Gusmao.

Under the new constitution approved by parliament on March 22, East Timor has opted for a semi-presidential system. If Mr Gusmao is elected president he could in theory dismiss the government.

He has publicly opposed a constitutional clause under which the Fretilin government extended its own term of office by five years, but said in Gleno he would not use his powers to dissolve parliament.

"I am not trying to usurp power," he asserted. "The constitution will be my bible. I will be watching every move, and veto legislation if it curbs liberties, but that's all."

Back to March menu

World Leaders Contact List
Human Rights Violations in East Timor
Main Postings Menu

Note: For those who would like to fax "the powers that be" - CallCenter is a Native 32-bit Voice Telephony software application integrated with fax and data communications... and it's free of charge! Download from