Subject: IPS: East Timor: Perseverance Wins the Day

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IPS: East Timor: Perseverance Wins the Day

Inter Press Service May 10, 2007

East Timor: Perseverance Wins the Day

Mario de Queiroz

LISBON - In the late 1970s, diplomats at United Nations headquarters in New York got used to seeing a discreet young man plying the hallways and conference rooms, trying to drum up support for what seemed a lost cause in a tiny country that few had even heard about.

"Nice to meet you. My name is José Ramos-Horta and I represent East Timor, a former Portuguese colony that was invaded by Indonesia in December 1975," was how he would introduce himself to diplomats and foreign correspondents from around the world who knew little or nothing about the tragedy that had cost the lives of one-third of the population of his country.

The responses ranged from "Timor? Where's that? Portugal had colonies near Indonesia? I had no idea," to "Yes it's a terrible tragedy, but it's already happened, and Indonesia is not going to pull out of your country."

Three decades later, against all predictions, the efforts of the persevering young man with a doctorate in international relations finally bore fruit. In 1999, the Indonesian army was forced by the international community to pull out, and in May 2002, East Timor became an independent nation.

Added to the success of his country is the success of his political career. His triumph in Wednesday's presidential elections came as no surprise. What was not expected was the magnitude of his landslide victory. With about 90 percent of the votes counted, it was announced Thursday that he had taken around 73 percent, beating out his rival Francisco "Lu-Olo" Guterres of the Fretilin party, who won 27 percent of the vote.

Ramos-Horta, who is currently prime minister, will take office as president on May 20 in Asia's newest country, whose territory of 15,000 square kilometres forms half of the island of Timor in the Indonesian archipelago, and which has a population of 1.1 million.

The future president took a conciliatory tone towards Guterres, saying his main tasks would be to unite the Timorese people, work for the poor, and resolve the latest conflicts, which last year triggered violent clashes.

Democracy has won, said Ramos-Horta, who congratulated Guterres and Fretilin for a "well-run campaign."

When asked by IPS in a telephone interview whether the outcome could lead to a climate of instability provoked by his rival's party, Ramos-Horta said emphatically that "This is an important step forward in the consolidation of democracy in my country and it is also a victory for Fretilin, a party of which I was a founder."

"It must be made very clear that Fretilin did not lose," he stressed.

Analysts attribute Ramos-Horta's triumph not only to his national and international prestige, but also to the backing he received from the current president, legendary resistance leader José Alexandre "Xanana" Gusmão.

While the exiled Ramos-Horta was working tirelessly as the voice of the Timorese resistance abroad during the 1975-1999 Indonesian occupation, Xanana Gusmão and a handful of guerrilla fighters, who numbered no more than 160 at their peak, waged war against 22,000 Indonesian occupation troops in the island's dense jungles.

Xanana Gusmão, meanwhile, was described by the press and analysts as a "poet-revolutionary" with the charisma of Argentine-Cuban guerrilla leader Ernesto "Che" Guevara, who had become an almost mythical icon of revolutionary struggles around the world.

Ramos-Horta was born in Dili, the capital of the then Portuguese colony of Timor on Dec. 29, 1949, to a Timorese mother and a Portuguese father -- a noncommissioned naval officer who was exiled to the Pacific island in 1933 after participating in an uprising against the dictatorship of Antonio de Oliveira Salazar.

In fact, Ramos-Horta was already active in the independence struggle against Portugal during the colonial years. As a young man in 1970 and 1971, he was exiled by colonial authorities to Mozambique, another Portuguese colony, accused of "subversive activities" against Portugal.

After the Apr. 25, 1974 coup by the leftist Portuguese army captains who overthrew the Salazar dictatorship, he and other leaders in Timor founded Fretilin (the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor), which on Nov. 28, 1975 proclaimed the small country's independence.

Just 25 years old, Ramos-Horta was sworn in as foreign minister of East Timor, and his first mission was to travel to U.N. headquarters in New York to present his country's plight.

He was preparing to address the U.N. General Assembly when Indonesia invaded East Timor on Dec. 7, 1975. The invasion and occupation left a death toll of 210,000, out of a population at the time of 680,000.

A high point in his career came in 1996, when he and the Roman Catholic bishop of Dili, Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo, were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

By then, he had already distanced himself from Fretilin, and was acting as representative abroad of the National Council of Timorese Resistance (CNRT), which was headed by Xanana Gusmão.

In 2006, Ramos-Horta was considered a possible candidate to succeed Kofi Annan as U.N. secretary-general, until in an interview with IPS he cleared up the doubts, stating that he was not interested in the post "for now."

Lisbon issued one of the first official reactions to the results of the Timorese elections Thursday.

With the caution required by the fact that the official outcome has not yet been announced, Portuguese Foreign Minister Luís Amado said that if Ramos-Horta's victory is confirmed, East Timor will have a president who is a "figure of global stature, at a time when (the country) needs the international community to strengthen the development of its democracy."

Portuguese journalist and analyst Adelino Gomes, who has dedicated a large part of his career to Timor, said the current leaders must show "a special ability to build consensus," because "we are talking about a society that is just beginning to learn what democracy is about."

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Global Insight Daily Analysis May 11, 2007

Election 2007: Ramos-Horta Wins Crushing Victory in East Timor's Presidential Contest

Tanja Vestergaard

Global Insight Perspective

Significance

The vote for Ramos-Horta is an unequivocal call for change in the small island state following five years of rule by the Fretilin, which is widely seen as having failed to deliver the progress and development pledged by the party and blamed for the unrest that erupted last year.

Implications

Ramos-Horta's victory sets the stage for himself and current president Xanana Gusmao to consolidate themselves in East Timor's most powerful political positions, with Gusmao running for the premiership in the June general elections, thereby increasing pressure on the ruling Fretilin party.

Outlook

The newly elected president, however, faces numerous challenges, notably in the spheres of economic development and security, but the arduous task is set to be somewhat facilitated by the revenues accruing from the recent extraction of oil and gas from the Timor Sea.

An Overwhelming Victory

East Timor's current caretaker prime minister, José Ramos-Horta, has won a crushing victory in the country's presidential run-off elections held on Wednesday (9 May). Ramos-Horta, who was awarded the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize for his quest to bring peace to East Timor following the 26-year Indonesian occupation, received 286,260 votes, constituting 69% of the total. His contender president of the ruling Fretilin Party Fransisco "Lu'Olo" Guterres won 126,525 votes, amounting to 31%, according to Electoral Commissioner Maria Sarmento, cited by Forbes. Run-off elections were held after none of the eight presidential candidates won an outright majority in the first round held last month, which, however, saw Guterres come in first winning 28% of the vote (see East Timor: 8 April 2007: ). Ramos-Horta's overwhelming victory seems to have been brought about by the candidates, who supported the six defeated candidates in the first round of the elections, having granted their support to the popular current prime minister. After being presented with the results, Ramos-Horta announced his readiness to take on the position as part of a general bid to bring an end to more than a year's turmoil that has engulfed East Timor, which has seen the implosion of its security forces, the eruption of political and ethnic violence and the deployment of more than 2,000 international peacekeepers to restore peace and order to the nascent nation after it gained independence from Indonesia in 2002. Ramos-Horta is to take presidential office on 20 May.

Spokesman for the ruling Fretilin Party Filomeno Aleixo subsequently held that his party would recognise the result amid concerns that violence would erupt if the increasingly unpopular ruling party would suffer a defeat in the elections. Meanwhile, Ramos-Horta's victory received a warm welcome by Australia, New Zealand, Japan and the UN alike. UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon praised the peaceful nature of the run-off elections that saw the deployment of an estimated 1,700 UN police and 1,250 Australian- led international peacekeepers at more than 500 polling stations across the nation in a bid to maintain law and order. A further 2,135 electoral observers had been put in place to monitor the elections, which have been deemed free and fair.

A Call for Political Change

The vote for Ramos-Horta is an unequivocal call for change in the small island state following five years of rule by the Fretilin, which is widely seen as having failed to deliver the progress and development pledged by the party and blamed for the unrest that erupted last year. Ramos-Horta took over the premiership from former president of the Fretilin, Mari Alkatiri, in June last year in a bid to bring an end to the political and security crisis that was threatening to overtake the country after Alkatiri dismissed around one-third of the country's armed forces for deserting. The laid-off troops were mainly from the west of the country, and had gone on strike in protest of poor conditions, as well as discrimination in favour of soldiers from the east. The sacking subsequently triggered clashes between security forces and the dismissed soldiers, who declared guerrilla war on the government. The unrest escalated into looting and ethnic violence between armed gangs. The resulting breakdown of law and order led to the deaths of more than 30 people and spurred 155,000 people­or 15% of the population­to flee Dili for the surrounding countryside. The deployment of an Australian-led peacekeeping force in May last year has intermittently contained the conflict, but low-level violence has persisted. The rebels under Alfredo Reinado's leadership blamed Alkatiri for the unrest, and reports that he had hired armed gangs to eliminate his political opponents ahead of next year's elections subsequently forced him to resign.

Outlook and Implications

It is hoped that Ramos-Horta's victory in the presidential elections will mark the beginning of a new era for East Timor, although the presidency is merely a ceremonial position with real power resting with the prime minister. Ramos-Horta has formed a strong alliance with the outgoing president Xanana Gusmao, who last month announced the establishment of a new opposition political party, the National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT), to challenge the leftist Fretilin in the general election to be held on 30 June. The former independence leader is the most popular political figure in East Timor and his move is likely to see him become the top candidate for the position of prime minister at the upcoming elections. As such, the establishment of the new party and the alliance struck with Ramos-Horta for the two to pursue the country's top political leadership posts can be perceived as a strategic move to increase pressure on the leftist ruling party, the Fretilin. The ruling party has been put in a difficult situation after its leader, Alkatiri, was blamed for the violence that severely destabilised the nascent nation last year as well as corruption and general mismanagement.

The newly elected president now faces numerous challenges notably in the spheres of economic development and security. This includes healing the divisions caused by the recent political conflict between groups from the west and the east of the country, with the latter being a stronghold of the Fretilin. The military remains in shambles and the island state is likely to rely on external assistance for a long time to come. Ramos-Horta has stated his intention to ask for the Australian-led international peacekeeping force to remain until the end of 2007 and the UN police to stay for another five-year period. Meanwhile, unemployment in East Timor has reached a staggering 50%, with about 42% of the country's one million people living below the poverty line. However, the government is set to be greatly aided in its monumental task by significant revenues accruing from the extraction of oil and gas from the Timor Sea. Oil revenues are expected to amount to US$644 million in 2006-07, to be deposited into a petroleum fund set up in 2005, which contains more than US$1 billion and is set to increase by more than US$1 billion per year over the next 20 years.

-------------------------- Joyo Indonesia News Service


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