Ending months of speculation on the eve of his country’s first democratic elections, East Timor’s charismatic independence leader Mr Xanana Gusmao has indicated he is prepared to stand for president.
As the election campaign that will see the emergence of the world’s newest country enters its final stage, Mr Gusmao, 55, has confirmed to senior international figures his willingness to stand for the presidency. A diplomatic source in Dili said he would publicly confirm details of his proposed political role in days.
But the source, a confidant of the former guerilla leader and founder of the Fretilin political party, said he had told close associates his candidacy was conditional on the elections for an 88-seat Constituent Assembly on Thursday week remaining peaceful.
“He says he is going to put the condition that if they want him to be president of East Timor that not a single drop of blood shall be spilt,” the source said.
Mr Gusmao had been under pressure to stand for the presidency, which most say he is sure to win. East Timor’s de facto foreign minister, the Nobel laureate Mr Jose Ramos Horta, said in Australia last week that Mr Gusmao should end speculation and stand as president.
Mr Gusmao had been concerned that his assuming the presidency would be construed as a reward for his role in ending 24 years of brutal Indonesian rule two years ago.
He had resigned from the National Council, a United Nations-supervised de facto parliament installed after the 1999 referendum on independence and rampage by Indonesian-sponsored militias, saying he had no future political ambitions.
Since then he has played a key role in reconciliation talks with anti-independence militia leaders, and was instrumental in hammering out an accord in which 14 of the 16 political parties contesting Thursday week’s ballot signed a binding pact of non-violence and national unity.
Campaigning has been almost trouble-free, although senior UN officials have accused low-level officials of the dominant Fretilin party of minor voter intimidation in remote rural areas.
Mr Gusmao threatened last week to condemn publicly any political party that condoned violence or intimidation before the historic vote.
“I will prevent there being bloodshed at all costs, by all available means,” Mr Gusmao said on an independent Portuguese radio station, TSF.
The Brazilian head of the interim UN administration in East Timor, Mr Sergio Vieira de Mello, also called on politicians to refrain from trading verbal blows.
“[I urge] zero tolerance by the Timorese people over any whims by political activists or parties employing methods to achieve political goals which the population of this country will no longer tolerate,” Mr Vieira de Mello said on TSF.
More than 900 people, including 252 observers from 40 countries, will monitor the polls.
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