Subject: Female presidential hopeful preaches peace

Asia: Female presidential hopeful preaches peace

Jill Jolliffe

Dili April 4

A colourful cavalcade of youths careers around Dili in trucks and on motor-bikes in support of the only woman among eight candidates in East Timor's upcoming presidential election.

Lucia Lobato is an articulate 41-year-old with a proven track record as an opposition Social Democrat deputy.

Her message in this country that has seen so much unrest and violence is a simple one - let's work together to achieve peace.

"Women have been the big victims of this year-long crisis," Lobato told supporters during her last campaign rally yesterday, ahead of Monday's vote.

"It's brought no peace, no love, yet women aren't violent.

"Our children are very affected. We need a woman in power."

East Timor's political powerbrokers tend to dismiss Lobato as far from a serious contender.

But she has the support of many women, and backing in the country's populous western districts. Yesterday's Dili rally attracted 1,500 cheering, flag-waving supporters.

Lobato also has some influential friends.

Among those who attended the rally was first lady Kirsty Sword Gusmao, the wife of outgoing President Xanana Gusmao, who brought with her a good-luck hug and a bouquet of flowers for the women's candidate.

To win Monday's presidential race outright a candidate must win 51 per cent of the vote - an unlikely result give the number of candidates, and the strength of support for the three front runners.

They are Francisco 'Lu-Olo' Guterres of the governing Fretilin party, prime minister and Nobel laureate Jose Ramos Horta, and former student leader Fernando Lasama Araujo of the Democratic Party.

Fretilin is the historic party of liberation, and won a parliamentary majority of 58 per cent in 2001 elections. But it is expected to suffer a decline due to its association with last year's violence.

Lobato claims some of her campaign rallies in the countryside attracted crowds of 6,000-7,000, and believes Ramos Horta is "out of the race" after poor attendances at his rallies in the western towns of Ermera, Maubisse, and Ainaro.

Bernabe Araujo, an Ainaro resident contacted by phone, confirmed there had been "very few" people at the prime minister's rally there.

A letter issued by fugitive soldier Major Alfredo Reinado - urging voters not to support Ramos Horta or the Fretilin candidate because they supported an Australian attack on Reinado's headquarters in March - seems to be having an effect.

"You can't ignore that he has influenced people," Lobato says.

"He has lots of support.

"Everywhere I go people always ask: 'What will you do about Alfredo?'"

Her associate Mario Carrascalao, president of the Social Democrats, echoes the sentiment.

"The influence of Alfredo is enormous, enormous," he says.

Lobato stresses that voters can decide for themselves.

"People think we're still ignorant, as in 1974-75, but we're different," she says.

"Ramos Horta was a great diplomat, but he has failed as prime minister."

Lobato is one of three candidates of western origin who last month agreed to redirect supporters' votes to whoever reaches the second round.

Lasama is considered most likely to succeed, but Lobato holds a small glimmer of hope that she can achieve her dream of a woman leading a peaceful nation.

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