Green Left Weekly, Australia’s socialist newspaper
Issue 477January 23, 2002
EAST TIMOR: Campaign launched for new elections
BY JON LAND
As East Timor’s Constituent Assembly draws closer to finalising the nation’s constitution there is increasing debate over whether fresh elections should be held for the proposed Legislative Assembly. Chief Minister Mari Alkatiri is adamantly opposed to such a move, stating that “opting for new elections is openly to want to provoke crises”.
On January 17, United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor chief administrator Sergio de Mello announced that presidential elections would take place on April 14. When questioned on the issue of elections for the legislature, he stated that this was a decision solely for the Constituent Assembly.
Under regulations adopted by UNTAET in March 2001 for the August 30 Constituent Assembly elections, the assembly has the option, in the process of drafting the constitution, to transform itself into the Legislative Assembly.
A universal complaint from election monitors, East Timorese NGO’s and from many of the country’s political parties was that many voters did not fully understand the implications of the ambiguous electoral regulation permitting the Constituent Assembly to convert itself into a permanent legislature.
The call for fresh elections to the legislature has come from both radical and conservative sides of East Timorese politics. Popular leader and president-to-be, Xanana Gusmao, has publicly stated his support for legislative elections, as has religious leader Bishop Carlos Belo. Avelino da Silva, secretary general of the Socialist Party of Timor (PST), told Green Left Weekly that “new elections would serve to strengthen democracy and accountability”.
An alliance called the Group for the Defence of Democracy, Peace and Stability in East Timor (GDDPE) issued a public statement and petition on January 3, calling for the “simultaneous holding of presidential and legislative elections” by May 20 (the date set for the formal transfer of power from UNTAET) or “legislative elections soon after independence, preferably on August 30”.
The GDDPE is headed by Manuel Carrascalao, former head of the National Council, and includes representatives from the PST, the Democratic Party (PD), the Social-Democratic Party (PSD), the Timorese Democratic Union (UDT) plus a number of independents. The PD and PSD form the largest bloc in the Constituent Assembly after Fretilin. In response to the formation of the GDDPE, Alkatiri claimed the group was merely “dreaming of better results than at the last elections”.
Da Silva told Green Left Weekly that the GDDPE plans to continue to lobby members of the Constituent Assembly and organise public meetings and rallies in support of legislative elections.
Left Weekly Updated Jan 22, 2002
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