Ramos Horta to quit if he loses election
April 3, 2007 - 6:44PM
East Timor's Prime Minister Jose Ramos Horta says he'll quit politics if he loses next week's presidential elections.
The Nobel Peace prize laureate hopes to switch jobs and is one of eight candidates vying to replace independence fighter Xanana Gusmao as East Timor's president in the Easter Monday poll.
Ramos Horta says he's relaxed about the election - the first since East Timor was granted independence from Indonesia in 2002 after a decades-long struggle.
However opponents say he has struggled with poor attendance at his campaign rallies in the nation's west.
Ramos Horta was campaigning in the Fretilin stronghold in Baucau, in the country's east, where he enjoys wide support.
"I'm totally relaxed, I'm not worried about whether I win or I lose," he said.
"If I win the election, I win. If I lose, I win my freedom.
"There's life after president or after prime minister."
He said he would not campaign in the upcoming national parliamentary election, but would quit politics and "enjoy life as a private citizen".
"There couldn't be a more comfortable life than being a private citizen and providing unsolicited opinion," Ramos Horta said.
"I would take the message from the people that they want me to retire, and that I deserve a proper early retirement.
"I would not hesitate to follow that advice and retire for good."
Ramos Horta, who enjoys a high profile in the international community, is campaigning on two issues - "to heal the wounds of the country" and to fight against extreme poverty with promises to provide food, accommodation and education to the poor.
East Timor is one of South-East Asia's poorest countries with many people living on less than $US1 ($A1.23) per day.
"I have been very pleased with the progress in communicating with the people and their response has been overwhelmingly supportive," he said.
"People have known me for a long time and know who I am and what I stand for, that I don't play politics."
Tight security surrounded Ramos Horta as he campaigned metres away from where a rally for rival party Fretilin was held just an hour earlier.
Riot police lined up outside the outdoor rally, in a bid to prevent a repeat of an attack on Ramos Horta's supporters last week in Viqueque where 21 people were injured.
Trucks of youths shouting support for Fretilin circled outside the venue as Ramos Horta delivered a message of unity to thousands of his supporters.
"East Timor is a small country, if we split into two we become a very, very small country," he said to cries of "viva Horta!"
He told his supporters they should vote for the person they wanted as president, describing Fretilin as just a symbol.
"Don't vote because they are a historic symbol of Fretilin; vote because you know that candidate could be a good president for you," he said.
Ramos Horta, who is running as an independent, rated his chance of victory over his biggest rival, Fretilin candidate Francisco Guterres Lu'Olo, as "reasonable".
To win Ramos Horta must overcome the powerful symbolism of the Fretilin logo on the ballot paper, which many in the largely illiterate nation identify with East Timor's long struggle for independence.
Ramos Horta replaced Fretilin leader Mari Alkatiri as prime minister following a wave of violence last year, linked to the sacking of 600 army members, in which 37 people died and 150,000 were displaced.
By Ramos Horta said there was a mood for change in the community.
"People are feeling that the Fretilin leadership has let them down," he said.
"They are extremely disappointed with the issue of weapons distribution to citizens (during last year's crisis) and the failure of the last five years of Fretilin rule to improve living standards of the vast majority of people.
"Above all Fretilin has suffered from a perception of arrogance.
"Definitely there's a need for a new direction."
Ramos Horta vowed to work with any party if elected, and rejected speculation he was aligned to Gusmao's new party, which will oppose Fretilin in the national election later this year.
"I have absolute agreement with the point of view of President Xanana in terms of the issues that I care about such as inclusiveness, tolerance, compassion for the poor," he said.
"On all of those, we agree, so there's no need for any electoral alignments of any sort."
Ramos Horta hoped the rest of the campaigning would be free of violence, after his supporters were attacked last week.
"Unfortunately there are many Fretilin extremist elements who have been behind most of the incidents of violence," he said.
However he said the Fretilin leadership did not condone the violence.
He said the violence was "a show of exasperation" by Fretilin supporters.
"By they do the most damage to themselves by threatening people and inciting violence," Ramos Horta said.
"The people of this country, they are traumatised by violence.
"They will reject any individual or organisation that is seen to instigate violence," he said.
© 2007 AAP