Subject: Tempo: Interview with Xanana

BBC Monitoring Asia Pacific

May 2, 2007

East Timor president believes in ability to resolve crises as PM - paper

Text of report in English by Indonesian newspaper Tempo website on 1 May

[Attributed to Ximenes Soares and Faisal Assegaf: "Xanana Gusmao: No Problem If My Party Loses"]

"I want to be free. I want to write poetry and paint," said Kay Rala Xanana Gusmao in a special interview with Tempo last year. Perhaps he was a bit romantic, perhaps a little tired. What he wanted seemed to be a peaceful future. After all, he did go through an eventful experience before becoming a national icon.

Xanana, 61, is the President of East Timor. He is also a charismatic figure. He looks at the chaotic political atmosphere surrounding the elections and he is no longer the Xanana of a year ago. He condemns Fretilin, whom he is convinced distributed weapons to its followers. Now preparing to lead his new party, the National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT) into the parliamentary elections on 30 June, he has declared his readiness to become prime minister if Ramos Horta becomes president.

He spoke with Tempo at his office at the Palace of Ashes in the Kaikoli area of Dili, two weeks ago, appearing relaxed and genial. He has cut down his smoking from six packs a day to one. Speaking with reporter Ximenes Soares and later Faisal Assegaf, he clarified a number of issues including his reasons for staying involved in politics. Excerpts:

How do you see the latest developments, Lu Olo leading Horta, the candidate you support?

We can look at it from two perspectives. First, perhaps we had wanted to shorten the time so that Horta could win in the first round with the support of all the other opposition parties. But we are also looking at it from another perspective, which is positive because it indicates the dynamics of democracy. Compared to the 2001 election results when Fretilin won with 57 per cent of the vote, this time it did not reach 30 per cent. If I were in Fretilin's place, I would certainly say this is a defeat, because for Fretilin with its organization and political machinery reaching down to the villages and districts, and backed by unlimited funds, the result was still very poor. They may have won now but might lose later. With a lot of money, they can keep handing it out.

Why do you support Horta?

Ramos Horta has been my candidate since 2003, it is nothing new. At the end of each year people from the administration come to offer blessings, and I have consistently told Horta that he is the person who will replace me. In New York, in September 2005, Alkatiri came to my room, saying that the church and the people supported the nomination of Armed Forces Chief, Gen. Taur Matan Ruak, as the next president. I explicitly said no. Not because I like Ramos Horta and he is like my family. My consideration was, because in May 2006 UNMISET (United Nations Mission of Support in East Timor) ended its mission in East Timor. We already have funds and oil. There are many conflicts in the world so the attention of the international community will diminish. Because of this, speaking in the national interest, for the sake of good governance and the people, Horta is the right person to be president. He knows the world, is known by many figures, and understands how to work with international institutions. If Fretilin wants Taur Matan Ruak to be president, it would be better for them to prepare him for 2012 [elections].

But the result of the first round of the presidential elections indicate Horta's well-known name is no guarantee.

I think the answer is that we must work hard. This was a lesson for all of us. I was also surprised by the results achieved by one of the candidates. Overnight or in just a few hours, the candidate gained more than 30,000 votes in just one district. This means that from nothing they shot directly to the moon. Many people have written letters to me, they question something that doesn't make sense. It indicates that the party machinery is running and working. For the new party (CNRT), the challenge is nothing more than hard work.

But your new party has no network, its human resources are limited. How can you believe your party will succeed?

The problem right now is that I am still the president. The party is also new. We are still in the process of officially registering it with the Justice Department and preparing ourselves for a congress. However I have been thinking about soon forming a team of specialists to learn from and study all the different areas comprehensively. Most importantly, in the first year we must correct our mistakes. The CNRT was born to reform and to provide hope, either alone or by collaborating with other parties.

You once said that you wanted to retire from politics. Why did you change your mind?

I thought about going back to politics more and more during the recent crisis. We know that there were weapons distributed. I received information that those who received the weapons would not just be a threat to Fretilin Mudanca (a reformist group within Fretilin) but also the people during elections. From this, I began to see that an extremely dangerous situation existed. What is more, we all know they have a strong influence over the PNTL (the police) and also FFDTL (the armed forces). Given these developments, I thought the situation would not be conducive to change.

If weapons were in the hands of those in power then people would continue to suffer. As president, I tried to follow the constitution. But, based on my experience, the president does not have enough influence and only by holding the reins of a new government can we do much for the people and the nation.

If elected prime minister, would you be capable of resolving the crisis?

I believe so. Some people feel that a good prime minister must have a degree and so on, in order to solve problems. I have always said and given as an example, Suharto as the Father of Development in Indonesia. Of course we must differentiate this from the issue of his dictatorship, human rights violations and other negative things. With regard to Suharto as the Father of Development, the Indonesian people know better than I do. But, it was not he himself who did the work. In order to become prime minister, we must have a clear vision, good ideas; we must delegate power to other people, let them do the work and it will definitely be done. I remember in 1978, when all the senior members of Fretilin's Central Committee and the Falintil commanders more senior than me in the central and western parts [of East Timor] had died, I took over the leadership. But I didn't have to go into the battle to confront the Indonesian soldiers. I just made the plans and determined the strategy.

But perhaps people might ask: when the crisis erupted, there were calls to enact a state of emergency, yet you hesitated in making a decision.

As the first elected president, I must safeguard and ensure that the constitution is respected. This would be a bad precedent in later days. If not, some time in the future, during a crisis, we might dissolve parliament. This of course would not be good for the nation and the state. If there is something I am proud of, it was that I succeeded in defending and honouring the constitution, not by being hesitant but out of respect for the constitution, even though there were strong calls from the representatives of the 13 districts at the time.

Are you returning to politics because you believe no one can replace you?

The younger generation must be aware that dynamics alone is not enough. There must be a combination of experience and maturity. Everyone must now participate. From our experience over the last five or six years, politics has been controlled only by a small group of people. Exclusively for them. This is what went wrong, this is what marginalized us all. As such, the CNRT uses the word reconstruction. This means reconstruction of the mindset, politics, reform, and all of the things that were wrong. Participation by people must be opened up as much as possible. Because of this, we must prepare the conditions to go in this direction. The young must prepare themselves well.

What if your party loses in the parliamentary elections next June?

I don't think it will be a problem. If another party invites us to join a coalition, we will look at the form and joint programmes. Clearly, this is not possible with the Fretilin Party. CNRT could cooperate with other parties so that the coalition is not just to get votes or seats, but most importantly, to provide significant benefits to the people. If not, it would be better to be part of the opposition. If the CNRT doesn't win, it means that the people want to see projects being dominated by just one family. The purchase of police uniforms controlled by one family, weapons for the FFDTL controlled by the same single family, projects to open roads and close roads by that very same family as well, and fuel and rice projects controlled by that one family. If the people feel that this is the best situation for them and for all of us, so be it and elect them.

Source: Tempo website, Jakarta, in English 1 May 07

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