Subject: SMH: Run to regain the top job turns election into a two-horse race

Run to regain the top job turns election into a two-horse race

Tuesday, August 28, 2001

By Mark Dodd, Herald Correspondent in Dili

He was East Timor's first president, the head of the short-lived Fretilin administration that unilaterally declared independence in November 1975, 10 days before Indonesia invaded the Portuguese colony.

With the rest of Fretilin he withdrew into the mountains. He was later a central figure in a Fretilin split and was jailed and tortured by his former comrades. He was caught by the Indonesians and endured 22 years as a virtual prisoner of Jakarta. Now back in East Timor, and officially cleared of claims of collaborating with Indonesia, Mr Francisco Xavier do Amaral has declared he will contest the country's first democratic presidential election.

It means he will be up against Mr Xanana Gusmao, who at the weekend ended months of speculation by saying he was willing to accept nomination for the position.

Mr do Amaral, 67, said he would run for office to show East Timor was a democracy.

"If the eyes of the world are on East Timor, then I think anybody can run for president. It shows we are democratic."

He would announce his candidacy after Thursday's elections for the Constituent Assembly, which in effect will become East Timor's first parliament. The assembly will draft a Constitution that will decide how the president will be elected.

Mr do Amaral's decision to stand against Mr Gusmao, who is outright favourite to win the presidency, underlines some of the deep political divisions within East Timor.

His party, the Association of Timorese Social Democrats (ASDT), which has strong support around the highlands town of Turiscai, is highly critical of the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor.

He believes it has failed to remain neutral and has provided favourable treatment to Mr Gusmao and his colleague Mr Jose Ramos Horta.

Mr do Amaral, a former teacher and founder of the Fretilin party, was appointed president of the Democratic Republic of East Timor in Dili on November 28, 1975. Only four countries, all former Portuguese colonies, recognised the new state, which Indonesia invaded on December 7, 1975.

Mr do Amaral was expelled from the Fretilin central committee in 1977 after an internal rift over tactics to counter the Indonesians.

He advocated negotiating with the Indonesians and emphasised the use of underground political tactics, rather than relying solely on guerilla war. He was overthrown by a radical faction and jailed and tortured.

Eventually he was captured by the Indonesians, who used him as a propaganda weapon against Fretilin. He was a virtual prisoner in Indonesia before fleeing to Portugal and returning to East Timor last year.

Observers say support for his ASDT in this week's poll could prove a surprise. The party, whose symbols are similar to those of Fretilin, could siphon off a lot votes in what is being regarded as a one-horse race.

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