March 31st 2007

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: Red Star over East Timor

EDITORIAL: Melbourne Cup field in Timor's Presidential election

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Time running out for John Howard?

FINANCE: Concerns over US company behind Qantas takeover

ECONOMIC AFFAIRS: Australia's foreign debt - myth and reality

WESTERN AUSTRALIA: Brian Burke's shadow government

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Why must the show go on? / Another wake for absent friends / Reluctance to condemn Mugabe / Musical chairs / More heat than light


DRUG POLICY: Sweden's success in combating drug use

UNITED NATIONS: Dilemma for pro-abortion feminists

OPINION: The narcotic of narcissism

AS THE WORLD TURNS: Mothers in the military

CINEMA: Where Hollywood fears to tread - Mel Gibson's 'Apocalypto'

THE ARGUS: Life & Death of a Newspaper

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Melbourne Cup field in Timor's Presidential election

by Peter Westmore

News Weekly, March 31, 2007
East Timor's presidential elections will be held on Easter Monday, April 9.

Eight candidates have nominated for President of East Timor, in elections which will help shape the future of the troubled country which has veered towards China and Cuba. The eight candidates represent the main political forces in East Timor.

The current President, Xanana Gusmao, will not re-nominate for the election, which will be held on Easter Monday, April 9. If no candidate wins 50 per cent of the vote, a second round will be held a month later.

The election will be closely watched, as it will show the relative strength of the major parties five years after independence.

Each of the three principal opposition parties in East Timor, which together received 25 per cent of the vote in 2001, has a candidate standing for President. They are:

• Fernando de Araujo, president of East Timor's Democratic Party, who recently visited Australia.

• Xavier do Amaral, founder of Fretilin and first President of East Timor in 1975, who broke with Fretilin and now leads the Timorese Social Democratic Association (ASDT).

• Lucia Lobato, a well-known Dili lawyer and critic of Fretilin, who represents the Social Democratic Party.

Strong support

Each of them has a strong base of support, and none has been discredited by any association with Fretilin or the current government. Additionally, their parties have agreed to swap preferences, giving them a very good chance of winning the Presidential election if or when it goes into a second round.

The last election for President was held in 2002. There were just two candidates, Xanana Gusmao and Xavier do Amaral. Gusmao, who had led the military resistance to Indonesian occupation before being arrested and imprisoned in Indonesia, won convincingly.

Despite appeals from the pro-democracy opposition parties to remain as President, Gusmao has decided not to stand again, and has thrown his weight behind José Ramos Horta, who is currently Prime Minister.

The previous national election was for the Constituent Assembly, elected in 2001 to draft a new constitution. Fretilin won 57 per cent of the vote, and opposition parties won 43 per cent.

At the behest of Fretilin, the Constituent Assembly voted to become the National Parliament, without fresh elections, and Fretilin has ruled the country since independence in 2002.

In 2001, Mari Alkatiri, as Chief Minister in the Provisional Government, said: "I can assure you that we will not have general elections. I am saying this on behalf of the [Fretilin] party which holds the majority in the Constituent Assembly." (BBC Monitoring Service, United Kingdom, October 27, 2001).

The Fretilin candidate for President is Lu Olo, parliamentary speaker and a former Fretilin commander inside East Timor during the Indonesian occupation (1975-99).

The election will be a virtual referendum on Fretilin's government of East Timor since 2002. Since then, poverty has remained endemic and there has been little economic development in the country, while unemployment is extremely high.

Government services (including education and health care) are very poor, and even the electricity supply in the capital, Dili, is unreliable. Most importantly, the security situation collapsed in 2006, when the then Prime Minister, Mari Alkatiri, sacked some 600 soldiers, and when one of his ministers, Rogerio Lobato, armed a death squad to assassinate opposition leaders in what is widely seen as an attempt to seize total power.

The plan backfired when parts of the defence forces and police went into opposition, leading to a breakdown of law and order, and the intervention of international military and police forces, under United Nations auspices.

As a result of the crisis, tens of thousands of people were forced out of their houses, and now live as refugees in tents, without electricity, running water or sewerage. These people are deeply alienated, and have become a source of gang violence.

Whatever its reputation in 2001, Fretilin is widely seen to have discredited itself.

The favoured candidate of the Western media is José Ramos Horta, who spent the years of Indonesian occupation living in Sydney, Dili and Maputo, capital of Mozambique.

A joint Nobel Peace Prize winner in 1996, Horta promised to restore order after being appointed Prime Minister in June 2006, and to quickly put East Timor on the path of stability and development.

Today, East Timor remains as poor and divided as ever. Security is at least as bad as in June last year, probably worse. Horta has alienated many by defending Mari Alkatiri and Rogerio Lobato over the arming of the death squad last year, and by giving communist Cuba and China key roles in the development of East Timor.

Additionally, he has failed to solve the problem of the tens of thousands of internally displaced people, who still live in tents in Dili and elsewhere.

Having visited East Timor early this year, it is clear to me that the people want change. The election of a pro-democracy leader will give East Timor the opportunity of a fresh start.

- Peter Westmore is national president of the National Civic Council.

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