MANILA, MAY 18, 2007
The Filipinos should congratulate Nobel Peace Prize lau­reate Jose Ramos-Horta on his election as president of East Timor. Also to be lauded are the people of Timor Leste for taking their country one more step closer to permanent stability as a democracy, as a prosperous nation-state and (soon enough, we hope) as a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Although foreign friends, like Australians and New Zealanders in addition to the United Nations itself, were around to help, this election was the first the East Timorese have managed by themselves since it won independence in 2002. Timor Leste’s independence followed a bloody separation from Indonesia whose occupying forces supported violent Timorese factions trying to prevent East Timor’s independence.

Voter participation was high—81 percent of the voting population. This indicates that Timor Leste’s people are eager to create for themselves a democratic government and society.

Ramos-Horta became East Timor’s officially declared president on Wednesday and will be formally sworn in on Sunday. He won 69 percent of the vote in the election, raising hopes that he will bring peace and heal divisions for good.

East Timor is the world’s youngest nation. Like the Philippines, Roman Catholics make up the majority of the 1-million population.

Until only a year ago, it was wracked by civil unrest. UN peacekeepers and local police have been keeping the peace since violence broke out between rival political groups. Killed in the series of fighting were 37 people. Forced to flee from their homes, like our collaterally damaged Muslim compatriots in Sulu, were 150,000 people.

President Ramos Horta’s first work of healing is that of placating disgruntled soldiers who were removed from the army because they had become followers of trouble-making officers.

Horta’s victory devastates Fretilin, which was the chief freedom-fighting force against Indonesian occupation and has ruled East Timor since the country gained independence five years ago.

Led by deposed prime minister Mari Alkatiri, the Fretilin party will surely slug it out with Horta’s prodemocracy coalition again in the parliamentary elections on June 30. It will have to amend its present ideology, objectives and tactics that by and large are seen as the cause of much of the unrest that Timor Leste has suffered.

Outgoing president Xanana Gusmao, another former freedom fighter, steps down on May 20 when Ramos-Horta assumes office. Gusmao has formed a party to contest the parliamentary election against Fretilin. He and Ramos-Horta are allies in the coalition. Gusmao and his candidates will not find it hard to beat those of the Fretilin in June.

With a parliament allied to Ramos-Horta and Gusmao, correct planning and hard work for East Timor’s future are assured.

Foreign election observers

President Ramos Horta will surely push for the United Nations to manage the parliamentary elections to make sure that no trouble happens and the rest of the world accepts the results.

The head of the UN mission in East Timor, Atul Khare, described Wednesday’s presidential poll, which was relatively free of violence, as a “very good result.”

If only UN mission people were watching our own midterm elections last Monday, they would have given the same assessment as Khare’s. Alas, our foreign observers were a mixed bag of US-style liberals and internationalist leftists. Some of them, even before they got the facts right and without benefit of learning the background of the places they were observing, had formed their biased and rather ignorant opinions. Their statements were immediately given global exposure by print, radio and TV media.

Now many global media audiences think East Timor is more democratic than the Philippines.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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