Subject: Ambassador Guterres abandons FRETILIN leadership bid

East Timor: Ambassador Guterres abandons FRETILIN leadership bid

Dili, May 18 (Lusa) - Ambassador José Luis Guterres withdrew his bid Thursday to replace Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri as leader of East Timor's ruling FRETILIN party, virtually assuring the incumbent's re-election.

Guterres told Lusa he was dropping out of the race for the post of party secretary-general because of a decision earlier Thursday by the party congress for the vote Friday to be taken by a show-of- hands instead of the customary secret balloting.

"On principle, I do not want to use techniques that I disagree with and take part in a game whose rules I already know not to be the most appropriate for the election of national leaders", said Guterres, Dili's ambassador to the United States and the United Nations.

He described the move as FRETILIN's "return to methods used by typical Leninist parties".

Guterres was the only known challenger in the leadership race that will be decided Friday, the end of the three-day party congress in Dili.

There was no immediate reaction from Alkatiri.

The party's deputy secretary-general, José Reis, told Lusa he did not know why Guterres had desisted, but suggested the challenger might have been surprised at the level of support enjoyed by Alkatiri.

"They had said they had 80% of the delegates, and I think they were disillusioned with the outcome of the work" at the congress, Reis said of Guterres and his supporters.

The nearly 600 delegates also unanimously approved the party's 102 statutes Thursday in a 14-hour marathon.

The motion for the party leadership balloting to be conducted by a show of hands, proposed by nearly 200 delegates, was approved by a comfortable majority.

Thirty-four delegates opposed the move and 57 abstained.

In comments to Lusa, delegate Faustino Costa, the head of parliament's Foreign Affairs Commission, forecast that Alkatiri would win re-election Friday in an atmosphere of "feasting" and "acclamation".

Guterres, a self-described political "moderate", had mounted his challenge in the wake of last month's deadly rioting in Dili.

He had accused Alkatiri and his government of being out of touch with ordinary Timorese and had promised to bring greater transparency and democracy to Dili's corridors of power.

The Timorese prime minister had said he would leave office if defeated in the FRETILIN leadership race.



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