Alkatiri Recalls Turbulent Decade

The Jakarta Globe

August 29, 2009
Ezki Suyanto

East Timor’s Mari Alkatiri Recalls Turbulent Decade

As East Timorese celebrate the 10th anniversary of the referendum that
led to the country’s independence, the Jakarta Globe presents
contributor Ezki Suyanto’s interview with the nation’s first prime
minister, Mari Alkatiri, 59, at his residence in Farol, Dili, at the end
of last month.

When you stepped down in 2006, you said there had been intervention from
outside. What did you mean?

I have no doubt. I still have no doubt. It’s clear to me that there was
a conspiracy. It started in mid-2005 when the Australian media began to
damage my image. The Australian government at that time was really a
conservative government.

It was clear that they were aware that after 2006, with oil and gas
revenues, I could do much better for this country. So this had to be
stopped and they succeeded in getting sympathy and support from inside
the country, even from Xanana [Gusmao]. The crisis was an internal
confrontation between the prime minister and the president of the

The president and the police were against the government because he
failed to get support from the F-FDTL (Timor Leste Defense Forces, also
known as Falintil) which also covers the police.

Is it the reason you say you do not want to be prime minister anymore?

A strong government needs a strong political party behind it. So it
would be much better to have the leader of the party working full time
for the party then to be too busy in the government. It does not mean
that I won’t help the government, of course I’ll do it. I have made it
clear to the central committee that I am not ready to go back, that the
party needs to be strong.

Fretelin is the majority party and has a simple majority in Parliament
with 29 percent of the seats. Why isn’t Fretilin in power?

It is a very peculiar situation in this country, in which some people do
not respect the will of the people. The leaders think that they are
stronger than the will of the people.

Leaders like Xanana Gusmao and Ramos-Horta think they are stars who will
be stars all the time.

Recently, you initiated a referendum for another election. Why?

I made the suggestion. We will introduce a bill for discussion at the
Parliament. This is constitutional. We cannot just sit and do nothing
until (election year) 2012. We do not recognize the legitimacy of the
government, but above all the situation is very bad, particularly in the
economy, and corruption is everywhere.

Even though we are pushing for an early election, we have to do it
through legal and constitutional means. You cannot really repeat the
2006 scenario, using violence as a tool for political gain. We need to
put an end to this culture of violence, to have peace and a culture of

We have been doing campaigns and we go to grassroots meetings, spreading
this message: no more violence. We need to respect our constitution and
our laws.

Ten years after the referendum and seven years after independence, what
is your reflection on East Timor?

Up and down. We started on the right path but had a lot of problems.
People are unaware that development takes time. Combatting poverty
cannot just be done overnight, and we had to face the crisis in 2006.

The mistakes are not of those at the grassroots level, but of the
leadership. Some leaders dream they can do better in a short time, and
that is the reason we really had to face the crisis. Now, we are
regressing, particularly in institution-building as people start to
dismantle everything that had been carefully constructed.

Now, we have to face a lot of problems, such as rampant corruption, for
the simple reason that the system that was built has been really
destroyed by the current government. We got our independence, but we
could have done much better, particularly two or three years afterward
when we got money from oil and gas resources.

How long will East Timor depend on the international community?

The United Nations can stay here for not more than another two years,
but for foreign troops and police, it is time to leave. We needed them
in 2006 when troops and police were in conflict. If you have the army on
one side and police on the other, you cannot do anything.

I invited foreign troops to come, but now there is no longer such
confrontation, so it’s time for them to leave. Some police and army
trainers can stay.

There’s still a long way to go in developing this country, yet you have
refused loans from groups such as the International Monetary Fund. Why?

I was always aware that sooner or later we would have revenue from oil
and gas, so what are the loans for? It would only generate corruption. A
state is like a big company. You need to improve the quality of your

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