The Financial Times
Gusmao to stand for PM of East Timor
By John Aglionby in Dili, East Timor
Published: March 26 2007 15:29 | Last updated: March 26 2007 15:29
Xanana Gusmão, East Timor’s president, announced on Monday that he would
join a new opposition political party and contest general elections due
to be held in the next three months.
The move would see Mr Gusmão, a revered former guerrilla leader and poet
who had said he wanted to retire from public life, become the leading
candidate for the more hands-on job of prime minister at the general
Should he win, Mr Gusmão would replace José Ramos Horta, the Nobel
laureate who took over as prime minister of the tiny former Portuguese
colony following a violent crisis last year. Mr Ramos Horta, in turn, is
the favourite to win an election for the largely ceremonial presidential
post scheduled for April 9, although the former foreign minister is one
of eight candidates.
The moves by East Timor’s two best-known leaders are seen as increasing
the pressure on the leadership of Fretilin, the leftist ruling party
whose leader, former prime minister Mari Alkatiri, was widely blamed for
last year’s crisis.
Mr Alkatiri was forced to resign as prime minister last May after being
accused of involvement in communal unrest that left 37 people dead and
saw 150,000 residents of the capital Dili flee their homes. Some 2,500
foreign troops were deployed to restore order.
Mr Gusmão said on Monday that he would join the National Congress for
Timorese Reconstruction, or CNRT, which is expected to register formally
as a party in the coming weeks. It is using the acronym employed by the
1990s umbrella group that led the international fight against Indonesian
rule, which came to an end with a United Nations-sponsored ballot in 1999.
Announcing his decision to remain in politics, Mr Gusmão told a group of
CNRT members that he wanted to end the widespread suffering that blights
much of East Timor’s 1m population following a year of political turmoil.
„When I leave the presidency we will join together for the people’s
salvation because they mustn’t suffer again,” he said.
Mr Gusmão’s announcement came after he was presented with a petition
that CNRT members said had been signed by 6,250 people eager to see the
president remain in politics.
„East Timor needs a strong political party with good leadership, with a
leader who loves people,” the petition said. „That’s why we want you
Xanana. We only trust you.”
Filomeno Aleixo, a member of the Fretilin central committee, on Monday
condemned Mr Gusmão’s use of the CNRT acronym, which remains emotive in
East Timor. „It’s his right to do what he’s doing but it’s unethical
because he’s effectively hijacking a powerful historical symbol – the
name CNRT – that all Timorese know as something completely different
from what he’s using it for,” Mr Aleixo said.