Subject: New president needs support to reform troubled ETimor: analysts

New president needs support to reform troubled ETimor: analysts

DILI, May 13 (AFP) -- Incoming East Timor president Jose Ramos-Horta's chances of achieving major reform in the troubled tiny state hinge on the outcome of next month's parliamentary elections, analysts said.

The Nobel laureate won Wednesday's presidential poll in a landslide, raising the hopes of impoverished East Timorese struggling for a better life five years after independence from occupying Indonesia.

Ramos-Horta immediately pledged to reform the fractured military, strengthen the economy and unite the country when he replaces charismatic former guerrilla leader Xanana Gusmao as president later this month.

But the role of president is largely ceremonial, leaving Ramos-Horta with few powers to implement the substantial changes that he says East Timor desperately needs, said Timor expert Damien Kingsbury.

"He basically has two roles, one is a symbolic head of state and the other is that he has power of veto over legislation passed in parliament," said Kingsbury from Australia's Deakin University.

Ramos-Horta must await the outcome of parliamentary polls in June to determine if he can work effectively with a newly elected government and prime minister to introduce change, Kingsbury said.

"That's still the main game," said Kingsbury of next month's elections.

Favourite to win the powerful post of prime minister is Gusmao, a hero for many East Timorese because of his exploits against Indonesian forces, and a close ally of Ramos-Horta.

"It (his chances of introducing change) all depends on how well Ramos-Horta can work with the new government," said Sophia Cason from Brussels-based thinktank the International Crisis Group.

"If it's a Fretilin government then he might face difficulty. But if Xanana is elected prime minister then there shouldn't be any conflict," said Cason, an East Timor analyst based in the capital Dili.

Ramos-Horta is banking on Gusmao and his new party winning a majority of seats in June over the ruling Fretilin party, although the Nobel Peace Prize winner has pledged to work with Fretilin leaders and support its members, analysts said.

Formed as a resistance movement and a symbol of East Timor's struggle for independence, Fretilin suffered a disastrous defeat to Ramos-Horta on Wednesday, and faces a tough task to win back voters for the June poll, Kingsbury said.

Although Ramos-Horta was a founding member of Fretilin, he resigned in the late 1980s and ran on Wednesday as an independent, finishing with 69 percent of the vote, compared with 31 percent for Fretilin's candidate.

The defeat is a sign of the leftist Fretilin's weakening stranglehold on the parliament that it has dominated since the state gained independence in 2002, analysts said.

"I think Fretilin .. can no longer claim that they are representing the people because they have lost the people," said Kingsbury.

"And it's going to be an uphill battle to claw back that ground at the parliamentary polls," he said.

Cason agreed, adding many East Timorese were disillusioned with Fretilin's current leaders who were closely linked with last year's deadly unrest.

Fretilin leader Mari Alkatiri was forced to resign last year as prime minister after he sacked 600 army deserters who claimed discrimination, a move that triggered firefights between military factions that degenerated into deadly gang violence.

More than 30,000 people remain displaced in Dili, fearful of returning home.

Analyst Lili Romli, from the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, said Ramos-Horta, who pushed East Timor's struggle for independence on the world stage, could encourage the international community to continue to provide assistance to the fledgling country.

But it was unclear whether he could resolve East Timor's many domestic problems, including restoring security, she said.

"This is where Xanana comes in. The Xanana-Horta combo is needed for running of domestic policies and to maintain international relations."

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


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