Subject: GLW: CNRT holds national congress

Green Left Weekly, Issue #419 September 6, 2000


DILI - From August 21-29, members of East Timor's seven political parties participated in the congress of the CNRT (National Council for Timorese Resistance), which debated a wide range of recommendations and proposals for the development of Timor's political system between now and the elections to be held in 2001.

The congress involved, for the first time, political parties such as the Socialist Party of Timor (PST) and the Christian Democratic Party (PDC) that had not previously been members of the CNRT. It was reported that Xanana Gusmao had insisted that this congress involve all the pro-independence political parties.

Each political party - Fretilin, PST, Timorese Democratic Union (UDT), PDC, KOTA, Apodeti/Pro-Referendum and Timorese Labour Party - had 10 delegates at the congress. Only the PST, Fretilin and PDC elected their delegates; the other parties appointed theirs.

There were another 382 delegates who represented Timorese NGOs, women, youth and the regions. Foreign NGOs were excluded from participating in the congress. After an address by Pat Walsh from the Australian Council for Overseas Aid, a number of delegates expressed anger at the role of NGOs and the lack of resolution of the situation of refugees still in West Timor.

On the first day of the congress, five commissions were set up to discuss issues such as the constitution and the economy. Following extended all-night sessions, each commission presented recommendations to the final session of the congress which were voted on by delegates.

Other topics discussed included the transitional administration; national politics including reconciliation, economy, environment, restructuring, investment and natural resources; security and national defence; international cooperation and relations; and a new constitution and system of government.

The congress recommended that diplomatic relations be established with Indonesia. It also recommended that the transitional government lobby for an international tribunal to bring to trial those responsible for the human rights atrocities. At the ceremony marking the anniversary of the referendum the following day, Australian foreign minister Alexander Downer said that the most important task for an independent East Timor was the establishment of good relations with Indonesia.

Observers of the conference included representatives from the World Bank and the IMF.

An afternoon session was devoted to allowing delegates to put questions directly to the representatives of the parties. One woman raised the issue of domestic violence, but was frustrated by the answer that there were more serious questions of violence to be resolved before the question of violence against women could be dealt with.

New structures

On the first day of the congress, a motion was passed to disband CNRT and elect a presiding committee for the congress. During the congress discussions took place to decide what new structures should replace CNRT. A new name was also proposed, Timor National Congress. In the end a compromise was reached, namely CNRT/National Congress. Two new leadership structures were established, a presidency and a permanent council.

Debate erupted over the proposal for a presidency, comprising a president and two vice-presidents, not members of any political party, to be elected by the congress.

The recommendation for two vice-presidents was seen by many as a way of accommodating differences in the political spectrum of East Timor. Fretilin put a proposal that there be no vice-presidents.

As debate grew heated, Xanana Gusmao resigned as head of CNRT, followed by the resignation of Jose Ramos Horta. After a furore, these two were persuaded to withdraw their resignations, and the debate continued, the proposal for two vice-presidents eventually being accepted.

At the end of the congress Gusmao was elected president. Jose Ramos Horta and Mario Carrascalao, formerly governor of East Timor under Indonesia rule, were elected vice-presidents. Fretilin offered no candidates, while the PST nominated its president, Pedro da Costa Martires.

The Congress also agreed to the establishment of a permanent council comprising the leaders of the seven political parties. Several commissions were established to provide support to the council in implementing decisions of the congress.

The roles of the president and vice-presidents will be consultative and not decision-making. At the end of the election, Gusmao stepped forward and read out the names of the seven parties, asking their representatives to step to the front of the congress. He then asked them to link hands in friendship and unity and asked the congress to take note of the new leaders of the country.

Before the congress, Horta and Carrascalao had indicated that they would set up a social democratic party. It is not clear what will happen now to this idea.

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