|Subject: WP: Timorese Look Past Monday's Elections
Date: Sat, 12 Jun 1999 10:18:46 -0400
From: "John M. Miller" <email@example.com>
Received from Joyo Indonesian News:
The Washington Post Sunday, June 6, 1999
Timorese Look Past Monday's Elections
August Referendum on Independence Overshadows Historic Indonesian Vote
By Atika Shubert Special to The Washington Post
VIQUEQUE, IndonesiaThe square in this remote town in the troubled province of East Timor is festooned in yellow party flags and a cheerful reminder is posted at the headquarters of Indonesia's ruling party, Golkar: "Don't forget to make your choice on June 7!"
Golkar's local legislative candidate in Indonesia's first attempt at a free and fair election in more than 40 years is Eurico Guiterres, the commander of a pro-Indonesian militia who perfected his leadership skills in an assault last April on Timorese independence activists that killed 12.
One local resident, Edina Gomes Amaral, 32, can't resist openly laughing at the prospect. "Why should we participate in elections? What will they do for us?" she said. "The only candidate for Viqueque is a well-known murderer and you want us to elect him?"
Most Timorese are concentrating on the U.N.-monitored referendum in August that will determine whether the troubled territory will gain independence, 23 years after Indonesia invaded this former Portuguese colony.
There has been an increase in violence by pro-integration militias threatened by the prospect of independence.
[On Saturday, the first wave of 1,300 anti-riot police took up positions in East Timor. They will assist the 5,000 regional police and Indonesian soldiers in seeking to halt the violence between nationalist militias and separatist rebels.]
With paramilitary leaders like Eurico on the ballot, there is little surprise that many East Timorese say they would rather not vote Monday. Only 50 percent are registered and, residents say, many are civil servants pressured by nationalist groups into voting for Golkar.
About 2,000 East Timorese rallied last week in their capital, Dili, to support presidential frontrunner Megawati Sukarnoputri, who has said her party does not support the Aug. 8 ballot and may seek to reverse the tripartite agreement signed in May by Indonesia, Portugal and the United Nations. Local party members here said that turnout shows that East Timorese may be ready to choose autonomy over independence, but only if Megawati leads the new government.
"I'm in favor of a delay, because if we look at the timing, we have an election on the 7th of June, then we have a referendum on the 8th of August," Megawati said in a recent interview. "I favor that the parties involved come to an agreement for a resolution and to set the actual date for when the referendum should be held, after the new [parliament] meets."
Provincial party leader Ronny Hutagaul said, "Megawati says, 'Look at the real problem. Develop East Timor first and respect human rights. Let's treat each other as equals.' "
Independence leaders disagree. They say people sympathize with Megawati for her long-standing opposition to former president Suharto, saying her stance was central in bringing an end to his 32 years of authoritarian rule last year.
People are confused, however, by Megawati's East Timorese supporters campaigning for independence. Using posters of jailed independence leader Xanana Gusmao, supporters frequently scream "Long Live a Free East Timor!" as they campaign.
"If Mega can't accept a popular decision by the people, then she shouldn't be participating in these elections," said Leandro Isaac, a senior member of the independence group Council for East Timorese Reconciliation. "She's very contradictory and her statements don't ring true in the eyes of democratic people."
Ironically, pro-integration leaders, many of whom formerly backed Suharto, are finding themselves supporting Megawati's policies. When Suharto's protege and successor, B.J. Habibie, decided in January to offer East Timor wide-ranging autonomy or cut the territory loose, Megawati denounced the policy as invalid.
"Megawati supporters that want independence are on the wrong track," said pro-integration spokesman Basilio Araujo. "She could call off negotiations and everything could change."