Sydney Morning Herald
Church blesses presidential candidate in Tim
Lindsay Murdoch in Dili and agencies
April 5, 2007
THE Catholic Church has made a surprise intervention in East Timor's
presidential election, signalling its support for the former student
activist and political prisoner Fernando "La Sama" de Araujo.
In a blow to the eight other candidates, including the Nobel laureate
Jose Ramos-Horta, the church's representative on the National
Electoral Commission, Martinho Gusmao, said yesterday Mr de Araujo
had the "character" to lead East Timor out of crisis.
Father Martinho told journalists in Dili that priests and bishops in
more than 200 churches across the country would not nominate a
preferred candidate during masses on Easter Sunday, the day before
the vote. But that later, outside church walls, priests would be free
to tell worshippers who they believe is the best candidate to replace
Xanana Gusmao, who has not nominated for re-election. More than 95
per cent of East Timor's 1 million people are at least nominally Catholic.
While Father Martinho stressed Mr de Araujo was his "personal" choice
for president, his decision to back him will strongly influence what
priests say on election eve.
Father Martinho made his comments despite being on the 15-member
election commission, the independent body that is supervising the
conduct of the election. He denied his stand was a conflict of
interest."We enjoy the freedom to express whatever we want," he said.
Mr de Araujo, who heads the Democratic Party, also has the backing of
the fugitive rebel leader Alfredo Reinado, a cult hero for many
Timorese, who has for weeks eluded Australian soldiers hunting him in
the rugged central mountains. Reinado, who is wanted for murder and
armed rebellion, released a statement last week saying that Mr de
Araujo would bring "peace and justice" to the country, after violent
upheaval last year that left 37 dead and forced more than 100,000
people from their homes. Three candidates have emerged as
frontrunners in the election, the first to be organised by East Timor
since the country gained independence in 2002.
The ruling Fretilin party's Francisco Guterres attracted more than
5000 supporters to a rally on the last day of campaigning in Dili
yesterday. Thousands also attended rallies for Mr de Araujo and Mr
Ramos-Horta. United Nations police were called to stop a number of
rock-fights in the city which resulted in several injuries including
to two police.
Xanana Gusmao yesterday called for the release of money from the
nation's $US1 billion ($1.3 billion) Timor Sea oil revenue fund,
saying his people are living in misery while the nation saves for its future.