May 4th 2002

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: The limitations of American power

When will John Howard step down?

BANKING: Kiwibank takes off in New Zealand

QLD: Philippines banana imports endanger Australian industry, wildlife

Straws in the Wind: Monocultured multiculturalism / Reporting China

LAW: High Court ducks IVF issue

ALP must put forward alternative program: Doug Cameron

Refugee stance defended (letter)

Banks' deceptive conduct (letter)

Tax holidays for multinationals (letter)

MEDIA: Shoot the messenger

The promise - and pitfalls - of free trade

What Gusmao's election means for East Timor

COMMENT: Holocaust taunts misguided

BOOKS: Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News, by Bernard Goldberg

Demons and Democrats: Kim Beazley's view

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What Gusmao's election means for East Timor

by Peter Westmore

News Weekly, May 4, 2002

The massive election victory secured by independence hero and former guerrilla leader, Jose "Xanana" Gusmao, in East Timor's first presidential election, will act as a brake on the Fretilin-controlled government after independence on May 20.

Gusmao's win was expected, but the margin of his victory was uncertain after Fretilin attempted to sabotage him during the election campaign.

In fact, he secured over 82 per cent of the vote, compared to some 17 per cent for Francisco Xavier do Amaral, according to the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC).

Both Gusmao and Amaral are former leaders of Fretilin, but broke with the organisation at different times. Amaral was declared President of the Democratic Republic of East Timor just before the Indonesian invasion in December 1975. He was eventually captured, and spent most of the next twenty years in Djakarta.

Military leader

Gusmao was leader of Fretilin's military arm, Falantil, until his capture by Indonesian forces in 1993. He spent six years in Indonesian prisons and under house arrest before returning to East Timor in 1999, before the vote in favour of independence.

Gusmao last year fell out with the Fretilin leadership, most of whom had returned to East Timor after years in exile in Portugal and Mozambique.

Clearly rejecting their revolutionary rhetoric, he indicated he would not stand for President of an independent East Timor, and only changed his mind when drafted by a large number of smaller opposition parties.

Fretilin leader Mari Alkatiri made no secret of the fact that he did not want Gusmao to be elected President.

East Timor's new constitution outlines a semi-presidential system of government where an elected president can dismiss the prime minister and veto legislation, but in a framework of strong checks and balances that makes cooperation critical.

Alkatiri reportedly cast a blank vote in the Presidential election.

The major problem facing East Timor is the dire poverty which afflicts most of the people. Four hundred years of Portuguese occupation and 25 years of Indonesian rule left the country with a per capita income of $US300 a year and life expectancy of just 50.

The country has a good system of roads, built by the Indonesians, and limited electricity supplies in the major towns. But beyond that, health and education services are desperately inadequate, and services which we would regard as indispensable for a functioning modern society are absent.

For example, there are no street signs, street numbers, postal services or telephone services outside the capital, Dili.

Thirty months of UN Administration, and the expenditure of over $2 billion by the international community, have not established even these basic facilities.

The challenges facing the new nation are therefore formidable.


The second of nine children, Xanana Gusmao was born in a small village in 1946. After attending Dili High School in the 1960s, he spent four years at a Jesuit seminary in Dili, before leaving.

He did three years compulsory service in the colonial Portuguese forces and later worked in the local government department of the colonial administration.

He was a relatively junior members of Fretilin in 1975, and fled into the jungle when Indonesia invaded the territory after Fretilin's unilateral declaration of independence from Portugal.

He eventually rose to become leader of Fretilin's military wing in the late 1980s, until his capture and imprisonment by Indonesia.

While in prison, he wrote poetry and painted, earning the description "poet warrior". It added to the mythological status he attained during his life in the jungle.

Mr Gusmao is now married to an Australian, Kirsty Sword, whom he met while in prison. She worked for an Australian development agency in Djakarta, and had the dangerous job of a courier between Gusmao and Fretilin. He has two children from a previous marriage.

There was widespread international support for Gusmao's election.

Australia, which led the UN peacekeeping force that dealt with the violence following East Timor's 1999 vote for independence, led the accolades.

  • Peter Westmore

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