Subject: Horta a Good Choice But Challenges Lie Ahead: Analysts

also: SCMP Editorial: Asia can help East Timor stand on its own two feet

New ETimor PM a good choice but challenges lie ahead: analysts

DILI, July 9 (AFP) -- East Timor's new prime minister Jose Ramos-Horta is the candidate best placed to unify the traumatised nation but the Nobel laureate could still face opposition and challenges lie ahead, analysts warned.

President Xanana Gusmao announced on Saturday that Ramos-Horta, 56, would lead the half-island nation until elections in early 2007, ending weeks of political paralysis.

The post became vacant when Mari Alkatiri stepped down on June 26, as pressure intensified on him to wear the blame for violence between rampaging rival security force factions that left at least 21 people dead in May.

The bloody unrest forced 150,000 people from their homes, the vast majority of whom remain in refugee camps, unsure of their safety despite the presence of more than 2,200 Australian-led foreign peacekeepers.

Ramos-Horta, who tirelessly campaigned for East Timor's independence from Indonesia on the international stage and won a Nobel peace prize for his fight, had been widely tipped as a likely choice by Alkatiri's ruling Fretilin party.

Although he is a political independent and not a party member, he helped found the decades-old party.

Australian analyst Damien Kingsbury, from Deakin University, said Ramos-Horta's diplomatic skills would help bring calm to Asia's poorest nation.

"It's a very sensible decision. He is well-respected, well-liked and he is capable, and that alone would seem to make him a very good choice," he told AFP, adding that Ramos-Horta would also be able to maintain East Timor's international profile.

"He has good international links and in terms of maintaining...

cordial relations with key countries such as Portugal, Japan and Australia, he will be good," Kingsbury said.

The analyst said he did not expect a backlash from Fretilin, which nominated him along with several of its senior ministers for the post, because the party probably realised it needed to choose him if it wanted to stay popular.

"Fretilin, I think, was feeling a bit shell-shocked and if it didn't come up with Horta as a possibility, then it would have been negligent."

Ramos-Horta's strong relationship with Gusmao -- who did not get on well with Alkatiri -- "will mean greater coherence and cooperation" between the presidency and cabinet than under the former premier's rule, he added.

Joao Mariana Saldinha, a commentator from the Timor Institute of Development Studies, warned that Ramos-Horta still faces some opposition and will have a tough few months ahead.

He noted that Major Agusto "Tara" Araujo, a rebel soldier who has reportedly said he does not trust Ramos-Horta, was planning to organise protests in the capital next week, according to the daily Suara Timor Loro-sae.

"Demonstrations are coming back next week. Let's see what he does in the first place" about these, Saldinha said.

He also noted that Ramos-Horta would need to focus on pressing security issues -- with refugees still stuck in camps -- as well as high unemployment and preparing for elections.

"Whether he can deliver will depend on who will be in charge of the key ministries of economy, infrastructure and agriculture," he said.

A member of Fretilin's reformist wing, Aderito de Jesus Soares, said Ramos-Horta would need to work quickly to unite different groups.

"It really depends on how he brings different groups including the (Catholic) church to the table," he said, noting that some Alkatiri critics, saw Ramos-Horta as working too closely with the former premier's supporters.

"Let's see whether he can convince opposition as well as Fretilin," he said.

Ramos-Horta needs to work successfully with Alkatiri's allies in Fretilin -- who form the dominant faction -- in order to have an effective parliament and pass electoral amendments ahead of the polls, Soares told AFP.

The appointment of Estanislau da Silva, an Alkatiri loyalist, as a deputy prime minister was a good compromise, he said.

Ramos-Horta, da Silva, and second deputy prime minister Rui Araujo, another Fretilin minister, are expected to meet before or on Monday and a new government is to then be sworn in.

Ramos-Horta is not expected to make a statement until Monday, his spokesman said Saturday.


South China Morning Post Sunday, July 9, 2006


Asia can help East Timor stand on its own two feet

Jose Ramos Horta's first task as the new prime minister of troubled and isolated East Timor is to guide Asia's newest nation towards a fresh start. Political and ethnic turmoil and gang violence have threatened to turn it into a failed state just four years after it won a struggle for independence from Indonesia.

Mr Ramos Horta was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his fight in exile to free East Timor from Indonesian occupation. Now he faces an even greater battle - to pave the way for national reconciliation ahead of elections due next year and rekindle the hope and optimism with which his people freed themselves from oppressive Indonesian rule.

Accepting the peace prize 10 years ago, Mr Ramos Horta said that when East Timor won independence it would not need an army. He was forced to abandon that dream when Jakarta-backed militias went on the rampage after a vote for independence in a referendum.

Ironically, disgruntled soldiers from the army he did not want sparked the unrest that has split the nation since March, leaving more than 20 people dead and tens of thousands homeless. Mr Ramos Horta has played a leading role in conciliation during the crisis by listening to the grievances of the soldiers and militants, while the hugely popular president, Xanana Gusmao, has tried to restore order with the backing of soldiers and police, mainly from Australia but also from Malaysia, New Zealand and Portugal.

After the granting of nationhood in 2002 and the departure of United Nations-mandated peacekeepers, the fledgling government has struggled to alleviate poverty and unemployment and to provide basic infrastructure.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard has rightly said that East Timor must eventually solve its own problems. Meanwhile it will continue to need help. After nationhood it slipped off the international radar.

Many pledges of aid remain unfulfilled. The country will struggle to meet day-to-day needs until the revenue from oil and gas concessions in the Timor Sea comes on stream early next decade. Much greater assistance is needed and more must come from the region. Malaysia's 200-odd peacekeepers, vehicles and machinery are a token regional contribution. Even after stability is restored a security force must stay in place.

Asians have an abiding interest in seeing that East Timor stands on its own feet. Disintegration would leave it vulnerable to humanitarian crisis, crime and even terrorism.

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

Back to July menu 
World Leaders Contact List
Main Postings Menu