Subject: The Australian: A warhorse quits Timor's new fight

The Australian August 26, 2000

A warhorse quits Timor's new fight

Old rivalries will mark East Timor's continued political renaissance, reports Jakarta correspondent DON GREENLEES in Dili

GRAVEL-voiced and permanently unshaved, Jose Ramos Horta is arguably the East Timorese political leader most familiar to international audiences. For years, the Nobel peace prize winner was the most recognisable public face in the fight for East Timor's independence from Indonesia.

But yesterday he declared his own political battle over: he wants to play no role in party politics or the new nation's first government. "Frankly I have no political ambitions," he told The Australian. "I hope by August 29 I will be out of the political scene. I intend to present my resignation for good."

August 29 is the final day of a 10-day congress in Dili of the National Council of Timorese Resistance (CNRT) – the loose umbrella group of political parties that set aside their differences to fight for independence. Mr Ramos Horta is its vice-president.

His decision to bow out of the CNRT leadership, eschew party affiliation and rule out a place in the future administration runs against the trend in East Timorese politics.

A year after the August 30 independence referendum, East Timor's political parties are coming alive and beginning to position themselves for what will be a keenly fought contest at elections 12 months away.

Old parties are reasserting their identities and new parties are being formed. So far, the political elites want to keep the CNRT together to preserve a sense of national unity while deciding on the hard matters of writing a constitution and drawing up an electoral system.

But all agree the artificial unity ends with elections that will pave the way for the UN to be replaced by an East Timorese administration.

The congress of political parties that began this week has illustrated several features of the political scene: a desire to establish independent government as quickly as possible; the strengthening of party identity; an anxiety to prevent old political rivalries reigniting civil conflict; and, a consensus that Xanana Gusmao is the best candidate to be the country's first leader.

With the issue of independence finally resolved, the political leadership is confident that a vibrant democracy can be established in East Timor without the distrust that sparked a civil war prior to Indonesia's 1975 invasion.

Mari Alkatiri, a member of the joint UN-East Timorese interim cabinet, maintains the bloody 1975 conflict between the left-wing and pro-independence Fretilin and the conservative Timorese Democratic Union (UDT) was manufactured by Indonesia as a pretext to invade.

"I have always refused to accept that what happened in East Timor was really the creation of the political parties," Mr Alkatiri, a Fretilin leader, says. "What happened was the result of an Indonesian strategy to annex our country."

The respected Bishop of Dili, Carlos Belo, who was co-winner with Mr Ramos Horta of the 1996 Nobel Prize, is confident the parties have the wisdom not to repeat past mistakes.

"I think they have learned the lessons from the past," he says. "They are more moderate and the people also know already who they are."

Mr Ramos Horta, active for Fretilin during the civil war, resigned from the party in 1989, following the example of Mr Gusmao. He predicts the old party lines will remain in a boisterous, although tolerant, political milieu.

"The process will be led from political parties with their respective agendas, sometimes overlapping, sometimes in conflict," he says. "I trust they can manage those agendas."

Foreign analysts say no party is likely to win an outright majority. Despite Fretilin's earlier confidence, it will face strong opposition from a new social democrat party being formed by the popular ex-governor Mario Carrascalao. Even Apodeti, which campaigned for integration with Indonesia, is expected to contest elections on a new platform.

No one can be sure that this renewed political competition among a Dili-based elite won't degenerate into civil strife.

But the political leaders – most of whom were around in 1975 – aren't likely to be indulged by the population or the international community if jousting between the parties comes at the expense of national development.

In the past year of UN rule, there has been a gradual awakening to the reality of East Timor's abject poverty.

Despite some dreaming about a thriving tourist trade in a country that has little infrastructure for visitors, the new government is going to have to manage on about $60 million to $70 million a year, provided in substantial part by foreign aid.

For the winners, the spoils of office will be few.


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