Ramos Horta calls on powerful friends

Weekend Australian Saturday, April 7, 2007

Ramos Horta calls on powerful friends

Stephen Fitzpatrick, Dili

JOSE Ramos Horta has made a final and powerful
bid for the East Timorese presidency, appearing
alongside current leader Xanana Gusmao and Bishop
of Dili Ricardo da Silva in a Good Friday appeal for votes.

More than 500,000 registered East Timorese voters
will elect their new head of state in the
country’s first independently run polls on
Monday. A second runoff election is due next
month if, as expected, none of the candidates attracts a majority.

Legislative elections, which could see the
dominant Fretilin party ousted from government
and Mr Gusmao replacing Mr Ramos Horta as prime minister, will follow mid-year.

Mr Ramos Horta’s move yesterday to enlist two of
the nation’s most important symbols — its heads
of state and church — could prove decisive.

Hero resistance leader Mr Gusmao spent 20 years
in the jungle leading the armed resistance
against Indonesian occupation, before being
captured and serving jail time in Jakarta; and
Bishop Ricardo represents the majority of this
former Portuguese colony’s dirt-poor Catholic population.

Mr Ramos Horta has in recent days been playing up
a perceived antagonism between the church, an
institution that still governs the rhythms of
daily life for most East Timorese, and the
Marxist-based Fretilin party, which was a key
political element — though not the only one —
in the 24-year anti-Indonesian resistance.

”This Sunday is resurrection Sunday, and on
Monday we will see the resurrection of democracy
for East Timor,” Mr Ramos Horta said, after
statements by Mr Gusmao and Bishop Ricardo urging a peaceful election.

There have been scattered violent incidents in
recent days between groups of various candidates’ supporters.

The bloody public unrest last year, in which
dozens were killed and seriously injured and
which resulted in Fretilin prime minister Mari
Alkatiri being replaced as the head of government
by Mr Ramos Horta, is lately being characterised
by all sides as the fault of their various opponents.

There was no single cause but most observers
agree that a confluence of political ambition
from a range of players lay at its heart. Many of
those players remain intimately connected to the presidential struggle.

Only three candidates are thought to have a
chance: Mr Ramos Horta; Fretilin party head and
parliamentary president Francisco Guterres; and a
distant outsider, Democratic Party chairman Fernando de Araujo.

Policy has played a secondary role to personal
point-scoring in much of the campaign, and the
strategic support of Bishop Ricardo and Mr Gusmao
for the latter’s long-time ally, Mr Ramos Horta,
attracted criticism from the Fretilin camp yesterday.

”It’s easy to understand the symbolism of having
them together — it gives out the message that
this is the favourite,” the Fretilin candidate,
Mr Guterres, said at his home in the leafy harbourside Dili suburb of Farol.

”But for me as a Catholic, this is holy week, a
time to reflect seriously on religious life, not
to manipulate religion in support of politics,” Mr Guterres said.

He also criticised Mr Ramos Horta’s use in
campaign materials of a photograph depicting the
Nobel Peace Prize laureate meeting Pope Benedict XVI last year.

”Do people know whether they are voting for the
Pope or for Ramos Horta?’ he asked.

Fretilin has been criticised from both within and
without for the authoritarian style of its
leadership, which includes Mr Guterres and Mr Alkatiri.

East Timor’s political landscape is littered with
minor opposition parties, including several
formed as breakaway movements from Fretilin in
the seven years since independence.

Should Mr Guterres succeed in his bid to become
president, a reinvigorated Fretilin is likely to
then propel Mr Alkatiri back into the prime
minister’s office after the mid-year legislative elections.

But some believe that failure for Fretilin at the
presidential polls could lead to crumbling
support for the country’s most powerful political
organisation, paving the way for Mr Gusmao’s ascent to the prime ministership.

In what had the appearance of an early concession
of defeat, dark horse Mr de Araujo and fellow
candidates Lucia Lobato, Joao Corrascalao and
Manuel Xavier do Amaral complained bitterly
yesterday of electoral commission irregularities.

They alleged scrutineer identity cards produced
by the commission were incomplete and had been
issued too late, leaving the powerful Fretilin
machine in a stronger polling-day position.

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