February 9th 2002

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Articles from this issue:

Cover Story: Water - Australia's most urgent priority

Canberra Observed: Simon Crean faces a horrible year ahead

South Australia: Close contest looms in SA Election

A tale of two legacies

Straws in the Wind: Old crooks and new / Paying the piper

East Timor: Opposition warns of Fretilin power grab

MEDIA: ABC TV 'Media Watch' - Who polices the police?

Letters: Public servants defended

Letters: Population: asset or disaster?

Letters: Harris Scarfe retailing business

DEVELOPMENT: Privatisation and the national debt: what is to be done?

Comment: Terrorism, refugees and the the populist resurgence

The new Vietnam: Ho Chi Minh and The Colonel

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East Timor: Opposition warns of Fretilin power grab

by Peter Westmore

News Weekly, February 9, 2002

Leaders of Opposition parties in Dili, capital of East Timor, have warned that Fretilin, the left-wing party which won a majority of votes in Constitutional Assembly elections six months ago, intends to hold on to power for five years, before holding elections for the National Parliament.

The warning was made by representatives of several political parties, called the Group for the Defence of Democracy, Peace and Stability in East Timor, which represents the main opposition parties in East Timor.

The group was headed by Manuel Carrascalao, who served as president of the interim legislature, which drafted the timetable for independence, with presidential elections due to be held on April 14 this year. East Timor will become independent a month later.

The Group called for elections to the National Parliament to be held in conjunction with the presidential elections, and warned that attempts to delay elections for five years could provoke a crisis in East Timor.

They have been supported publicly by Nobel Prize winner, Bishop Carlos Belo of Dili.

The call was rejected by Mari Alkatiri, the Fretilin Chief Minister, who confirmed that Fretilin wanted the period between the election of the Constitutional Assembly, whose primary function was to draft the constitution, and the next election for the National Parliament, to be five years.

The process of drafting the new constitution, which commenced last September, will be completed before the presidential elections, which are certain to be won by Xanana Gusmao, the former leader of Fretilin who resigned from the organisation last year.

The new constitution will establish a single chamber of parliament, but substantial executive power will be vested in the elected President.

The relationship between the elected president and the Fretilin-controlled parliament will be one of the first tests of the stability of this new government.

In elections for the Constitutional Assembly last year, Fretilin won over 57 per cent of the vote, with three other parties, the Democratic Party, the Social Democratic Party and the Timorese Social Democratic Association winning about 8 per cent each. The balance was won by smaller parties.

The UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, has announced that the UN will maintain a mission in East Timor after independence in May.

"Close partnership between East Timor and the international community will remain essential for the continued stability and development of the country," Annan said in a report to the UN Security Council. He added that handing over operational responsibilities to Timorese authorities "as soon as is feasible" during the next two years will be vital as UNTAET’s successor mission takes over and the United Nations gradually downgrades its presence.

The gradual transfer of responsibilities will entail a larger role for the East Timor Defence Force and East Timor Police Service as the UN pulls out.

The defence force and police are being trained by the Portuguese - prompting accusations by the recently retired Chief of Staff of the UN Transitional Administration (UNTAET) that UNTAET had become "dominated by whites and Westerners".

The head of UNTAET, Sergio de Mello, a Portuguese-speaker from Brazil, rejected the charge; although it is undoubtedly widely accepted in East Timor.

Security concerns along East Timor’s border with Indonesian West Timor and the border’s demarcation are also issues that are expected to influence the UN’s decision on how fast and by how much to reduce UNTAET security forces.

The Constitutional Assembly recently set a March 9 deadline for completing and approving the new Constitution.

All 152 sections of the draft Constitution must be considered by then. The most contentious is the final section, which allows the Constitutional Assembly to determine when elections will be held for the National Parliament.

As the decision is expected to be made by majority vote, it seems likely that Fretilin will succeed in delaying elections for the National Parliament.

In another development, Japan is to send 700 soldier/engineers to East Timor to help with reconstruction and the maintenance of roads and bridges in the territory.

The deployment is expected to take place from March, a senior Japanese foreign ministry official said recently. The deployment will be funded from a commitment of $US100 million ($195 million) to East Timor.

The Japanese decision is welcome, as the roads in East Timor have had insufficient maintenance since the Indonesian withdrawal in 1999, causing serious disruption to communications in some areas.

In light of the absence of postal and telephone services in most areas, roads have a vital role in holding communities together.

The announcement preceded the recent four day visit by Xanana Gusmao to Japan, where he was hosted by the Japanese Foreign Ministry and Japan’s international development agency.

  • Peter Westmore

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