E Timor needs fresh faces at helm: bishop

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 30 June, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 30 June, 2007, 12:00am

As East Timorese vote for a new parliament and pundits predict a close race between the country's historic leaders, the outspoken Bishop of Dili slams the old guard and calls for a generational change at the top of the political echelon.

'The current main political players have to go. They have failed,' said Bishop Alberto Ricardo da Silva. 'We need new leaders with technical skills and experience.'

To back his statement, the bishop highlighted a scenario that shows an alleged failure by Fretilin, the party that has been in power since 2001. He also expressed little confidence in former resistance leader Xanana Gusmao, who is chairman of the National Congress for the Reconstruction of East Timor (CNRT) and tipped as the next prime minister in a coalition government.

'With Fretilin, the situation has gone from bad to worse. Poverty is very high and people are suffering. The other [party] does not have enough capacity. Some fought in the mountains for years and now want to govern. They cannot,' he said.

'Parties have come to me. But I have seen nothing in what they offer that can change the situation.'

Those parties include the Democratic Party and the Timorese Social Democratic Association/Social Democratic Party duo.

His view was rejected by Fretilin, which has argued it rebuilt the country's foundations and set it on course for economic growth. This despite a lack of money and the fact that 70 per cent of the infrastructure was destroyed by the pro-Indonesia militias in 1999.

And, CNRT stated that it will choose the most qualified people to form a government and launch a pro-poor policy, while listening to advice from the international community.

Both parties have blamed each other for the recent national crisis that saw East Timor perilously close to a civil war, as gangs of disenfranchised youth took to the streets, filling the void left by the disintegration of law and order last year. As the violence lingers, the bishop blamed the politicians for, wittingly or not, feeding the climate of hostility.

'During the campaign they used inflammatory language,' he said. 'The church has tried to work with the gangs, but it is difficult as these groups are being manipulated.'

In a recent survey of gangs and youth groups in Dili, James Scambary highlighted how hundreds of these groups are glued together. Although the author stressed that the problem dates back to Portuguese and Indonesian times, he said that 'the alignment of some martial arts groups with different political factions escalated the current conflict'.

One martial arts group called Korka is officially aligned with Fretilin. Another, PSHT, also known as the Black Ants, is widely identified with the Democratic and Social Democratic parties. The two claim to have 10,000 and 7,000 members. Further groups are close to other parties.

Picking through the ballot and hoping for a better future, Bishop da Silva placed his bet on the Party of National Unity led by Fernanda Borges. 'It has good programmes for the future,' the bishop said. 'I don't think they can win now, but it is good that people start appreciating that there is an alternative.'

Growing pains

East Timor is the newest and poorest country in Southeast Asia

Percentage of the country's population living below the poverty line 40