Timor needs politicians to put aside differences

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 07 August, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 07 August, 2007, 12:00am

East Timor's fragile peace rests in the hands of the leader of the Fretilin political party, Mari Alkatiri. He may disagree with President Jose Ramos Horta's appointment yesterday of rival Xanana Gusmao as prime minister, but it is essential Mr Alkatiri abides by the decision if Asia's newest nation is to move beyond the violence that has marred its development.

The first parliamentary election in June marked a new start for the impoverished nation, but neither Fretilin nor Mr Gusmao's CNRT party won a majority. With a government still not formed after weeks of political wrangling, Mr Ramos Horta stepped in and chose a new leader.

Breaking political deadlock to ensure East Timor can move forward is one of the president's duties. The move is not, as Mr Alkatiri claims, illegal; if Mr Ramos Horta had not acted, the country's politicians would have continued to fight about politics rather than for the nation's economic and social future.

That the president is a friend of Mr Gusmao, his predecessor and East Timor's independence hero, may seem problematic. There would appear more reason to allege favouritism, given that Fretilin won 21 seats in the 65-member parliament, while CNRT took 18.

This, however, ignores the political alliances that Mr Gusmao has built. Calls for a unity government were ignored and Mr Ramos Horta made good on his threat to intervene.

Mr Alkatiri's objection has sparked minor violence. The unrest is not of the scale of last year, but the threat of violence is constant given the nation's fragility. To stave off the possibility of a fresh outbreak, the Fretilin leader must accept his political circumstances. His party has not been sidelined through Mr Ramos Horta's decision; rather it has been given the important position of providing a democratic balance to that of Mr Gusmao's.

East Timor's politics cannot be about winners and losers. Its politicians have to work together to build a nation of which its people can be proud.