Subject: JP: Alkatiri makes it to the top

The Jakarta Post May 24, 2002

Alkatiri makes it to the top

Pandaya, The Jakarta Post, Dili

After taking oath on May 20, East Timor Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri warned that his government would have to "often take unpopular measures" to keep it going.

He did specify what he meant by "unpopular measures" but he insisted that the action would be necessary to create a solid government.

Alkatiri, who is widely respected for his diplomatic prowess, was showing his determination to establish a strong government that he believed was necessary to lead the world's newest nation to prosperity.

Alkatiri is a leading figure in the "Mozambique connection" in the 24-strong cabinet which is dominated by politicians from his Fretilin Party. In last August's elections, Fretilin won 55 of the 88 seats in the Constituent Assembly that became a full-fledged Parliament on May 20.

Advocates portray him as a brilliant politician and diplomat who tirelessly fought for independence on the diplomatic front. He was among the first of three East Timorese heroes who were assigned to avert Indonesia's impending invasion in 1975.

He has been criticized for going his own way in forming his cabinet dominated by Fretilin politicians. Not only that, his political foes charge that he has formed a Mozambique clique.

Mozambique is a former Portuguese colony in Africa where Alkatiri and many other politicians now holding key positions, such as Jose Ramos Horta and Justice Minister Ana Pessoa, were self-exiled, educated or grew up.

"Mari Alkatiri is clever and he should be given the chance to prove that he is a good prime minister," said Jacob Xavier, a Portuguese educated jurist, theologian and politician.

But his critics are seeing signs of authoritarianism in the way he runs the government.

Mario Viegas Carrascalao, chief of the Socialist Democratic Party, said that Alkatiri was building a dominant one-party system comparable to that of Indonesia's political structure in the Soeharto era by placing his people in key positions in all levels of the bureaucracy.

"I'm afraid he is doing it now," Carrascalao told The Jakarta Post. Carrascalao was a former East Timor governor during the Soeharto regime and like any other bureaucrat, he had to align with Soeharto's Golkar party.

Born on Nov. 26, 1949 in Dili, Alkatiri was raised there with 10 brothers and sisters by his family, the descendants of migrants from Yemen in the 19th century.

He pursued further studies in Angola after he finished his secondary education in Dili and graduated as a surveyor from the Angolan School of Geography. Upon returning to East Timor, Alkatiri started work at the Public Works Department as a chartered surveyor.

In fact his political activism began even before he left for Angola when, together with East Timor citizens, he established the clandestine Movement for Liberation of East Timor on Jan 8, 1970.

The winds of change in Portugal brought him a windfall. After the 1974 revolution in Portugal, the then colonial administrator of East Timor allowed the establishment of political organizations in East Timor. He co-founded ASDT - Associagco Social Democrata Timorense' (Timorese Social Democratic Association) and was appointed deputy secretary-general.

When an even freer political climate developed, ASDT transformed into Fretilin (a political front), on Sept. 11, 1974. The West and Indonesia saw Fretilin as dangerous because of its communist orientation and Russian connections. Only a year later, Alkatiri was elected National Political Commissioner by the Central Committee of Fretilin.

He began to make a name for himself in the international forums when Fretilin sent him and independence activists Ramos Horta and Rogerio Lobato to the diplomatic front to mobilize international support to stop the Indonesian troops' impending invasion of East Timor.

He courted African countries for support. And after Fretilin unilaterally declared independence on Nov. 28, 1975, proclaiming it the Democratic Republic of East Timor, Alkatiri was appointed State and Plenipotentiary Minister for Political Affairs.

As chief of the Fretilin External Department, Mari Alkatiri moved his base to Mozambique where he remained until 1999. His most remembered achievement in the diplomatic front was perhaps when the UN Security Council adopted a resolution condemning the invasion of East Timor.

In recognition of the achievement, Alkatiri was named minister for external relations replacing Horta who was named East Timor's representative to the UN.

Alkatiri, who has pledged to pay special attention to education and health, has repeatedly underlined the need for good relations with its closest neighbor, Indonesia.

Indonesia, he said, is not only vital for economic development but also for the reconciliation efforts between the various factions in East Timor.

"The success of reconciliation is connected to rebuilding relations between Timor and Indonesia. Therefore we will make all efforts to resolve existing problems and we can go forward together with development of the two countries and the region," he said.

On the diplomatic front, Alkatiri pledged that his government would strive to "increase the number of friends" and to have no enemies.

Also high on his agenda was consolidation of maritime borders with Indonesia and Australia because the issue was meaningful for security and sovereignty as well as economic resources.

The first advise came from East Timor President Xanana Gusmao, "The people expect the best."


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