Subject: Timor Leaders Vie For Power

The Australian 11 Dec 99

Timor leaders vie for power

Now there is no common enemy, the differences among East Timor's political elites are coming to the surface, reports MICHAEL WARE from Dili

THE uneasy alliance holding the volatile East Timorese political leadership together is showing ever-increasing signs of strain.

For East Timor's political heavyweights and leading lights, now is crunchtime. Real positions of influence and power are up for grabs, and the manoeuvring is under way.

The country's new governing body, the National Consultative Council, a joint agency with the UN administration, meets for the first time today. But the dominant political force in this new island state remains the National Council of Timorese Resistance (CNRT), a loosely formed coalition of markedly diverse political interests.

Its formation in Portugal in April last year was born out of political expediency and a patriotic desire for freedom shared by all who participated.

But the stakeholders in this unique formation arrived at their pro-independence common ground by very different means. Age-old class, cultural and economic divisions had to bridged ­ and some bloody histories put to one side ­ before the CNRT could become the effective and real independence movement it was, working zealously to force the conquering Indonesians to give an opportunity for self-determination.

By their own admission, however, it was never meant to last. And already insiders, willing to exploit the tensions and claiming to act on their masters' behalf, are preparing to begin hiving people off.

Apart from the UN transitional administrator, East Timor's power elite, politically and socially, consists of its minor constellation of international stars, all of whom were instrumental in helping the plight of their people lurch into the global public's mind.

The key figures are Nobel laureates Jose Ramos Horta, who was East Timor's roving ambassador-in-exile for 24 years, a man critical to the marshalling of world opinion against Indonesia, and moral touchstone Bishop Carlos Belo. The other, undisputed force is the charismatic freedom fighter Xanana Gusmao, a man only recently freed from years of Jakarta-ordered imprisonment.

Gusmao's place at the head of the East Timorese political pantheon is unassailed.

No one, not even the hugely popular Ramos Horta, could challenge him (not that there's a push to do so) or they would risk the public's retribution because he is so openly adored.

Ramos Horta is the consummate politician, and contrasts sharply with Gusmao in style. Yet he defers freely to Gusmao's authority and right to ascendancy as the country's virtual president-elect, always placing himself behind Gusmao and offering his unquestioning support. Indeed, even during his Nobel peace prize acceptance speech in 1996 he credited Gusmao with the true struggle in East Timor.

The bond, both political and personal, between the two is said to be strong and genuine. As a pair, they make an unsurpassable team.

However, other forces are included in the CNRT mix.

One of the other major groupings is that represented by CNRT member Joao Carrascalao. His family, including his brothers Manuel and Mario, is formidable and quick to change with the shifting political winds in East Timor.

Under the Portuguese colonial regime the family flourished. In fact it is said that if the pre-existing Portuguese land acts are reinstituted, the family could own anything up to 40 per cent of the country. True or not, that perception is real among the CNRT and the public.

When the colonial masters withdrew in 1975, the Carrascalaos' political party, the Timorese Democratic Union, entered a shortlived civil war with the forces of Fretilin, the party where Ramos Horta and Gusmao built their power bases.

The Carrascalaos sided with Indonesia during the December 7, 1975, invasion and continued to flourish under the occupation, with Mario becoming governor from 1982 to 1992 and a deputy in the Indonesian ruling party Golkar.

However, their views changed and they became strong supporters of independence. Manuel even lost his son, killed by militia thugs during an attack on his house before the August 30 independence ballot.

But the common ground is breaking up. While Joao Carrascalao comes from a family that has known privilege, Gusmao has always been a man of his people. His father was a schoolteacher and he grew up in the mountains surrounding the capital, Dili.

After receiving his education, Gusmao moved to Dili and began working early in life as a chartered surveyor and teacher. He rose to prominence as leader of the pro-independence Falintil fighters before he was captured and jailed by Indonesian forces.

The binding that keeps these CNRT alliances together is, without the shared enemy of Indonesia and with the shape of a future of power in East Timor in the balance, appearing more tenuous than ever.

Joao was once touted as the future deputy president ­ some are whispering that this title was the compromise necessary to make the alliance work ­ but the faceless insiders, depending on whose team you talk to, now say that is out of the question.

A code of conduct to foster transparency in government and public accountability is being drawn up.

For some it is expected to be the weapon with which to remove Joao from the CNRT. But Joao, talking to The Weekend Australian this week, insisted his family's business interests in no way posed a possible conflict of interest.


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