Subject: ABC: Gusmao will act as a brake on powerful government


EAST TIMOR: Gusmao will act as a brake on powerful government

12/04/2002 18:41:01 | Asia Pacific Programs

East Timor's former Fretilin leader, Xanana Gusmao, is expected to win this coming Sunday's election for President. But tensions are already evident between Gusmao, who has proclaimed his role as an independent leader, and the Government led by his former Fretlin colleague, Mari Alkatiri.


DOBELL: After last year's popular vote for the Legislative Assembly, won by Fretilin, now the expected vote for a President who has stepped away from Fretilin. East Timor analyst Jim Dunn says that as President, Xanana Gusmao's formal position is not a strong one... because legal authority rests with the Legislative Assmbly and the government of Prime Minister, Mari Alkatiri.

Mr Dunn says the new President will instead draw moral power from his popular following..

DUNN: "His position is really a fairly - not a terribly strong one. But in his case, it will be strong, because of his personal authority. And because the Timorese people want it and because I think the first years, could be lean years."

DOBELL: Jim Dunn says Xanana Gusmao has set himself to balance the political power held by Fretilin becuase of its dominance in Parliament. Mr Dunn says the tough economic and political issues confronting the new country will produce inevitable tensions between President Gusmao and the government of Mari Alkatiri.

DUNN: "Well, there certainly will be some strains, and there have been already. I frankly think they can manage them. Some will be to do with the fact that Xanana has distanced himself from Fretilin and he wanted to more of a leader, of the Timorese political commmunity in general rather than a leader of Fretilin."

DOBELL: What is the significance of Mari Alkatari announcing that he will cast a blank vote; that he will not formally endorse President Gusmao?

DUNN: Well, I think he's doing the same of thing, really by saying he's not going to suport one side against the other and in fact it's interesting he's not supporting Xavier Do Amaral who after all, was Fretilin's first leader. He's really a fairly respected individual. I don't think he's got a chance of winning."

DOBELL: If there are to be strains, and the constitution gives the power to the parliament and the prime minister, Mari Alkatari, what sort of leverage does that give to President Gusmao?

DUNN: "I think his strength will be the enormous respect he has from the people of East Timor. And the respect he's held in other countries, especially in Indonesia. I think Indonesians like very much the stand he's taken. I mean he's bent over backwards by way of reconciliation to establish a workable and good relationship with Jakarta.

"I think in that sense he does have a lot of personal following in that way."

DOBELL: Is the subtext that Xanana Gusmao is offerikng himself as a brake on an Alkatari government, a brake on the power of Fretilin?

DUNN: Well, I don't think it's just Fretilin, because after all he came from Fretilin. But probably on a brake on a political scene where one party has a big majority. I don't believe that situation will last. I believe in the next election it'll go back to a more even balance.

"But as it stands, Fretilin has 55 of the 80 or so seats and that gives it quite a lot of power. I think in the sense Xanana would see himself as applying a brake, but not so much on Fretilin but on any sort of exercise a majority political control."

12/04/2002 18:41:01 | Asia Pacific Programs

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