The landslide victory of Prime Minister Jose Ramos-Horta in East Timor’s presidential election points to the people’s hope that the Nobel laureate will bring unity and reconciliation to Asia’s youngest nation. Mr. Ramos-Horta shared the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize with Bishop Carlos Belo for their nonviolent struggle against Indonesian occupation. He served as East Timor’s first post-independence foreign minister.
On Sunday, the tiny nation with a population of about 950,000 celebrate the fifth anniversary of its independence as Mr. Ramos-Horta is sworn in as president. There will be general elections in June. Acceleration of a conflict between rival political groups cannot be ruled out. A tough job of healing political and regional divisions awaits the new president.
In a United Nations-organized referendum in August 1999, the East Timorese voted to secede from Indonesia, which had invaded their land in 1975. Still, East Timor has been plagued by political and regional conflicts and a high unemployment rate hovering at 50 percent.
In 2006, soldiers from the western part of the country complaining about favoritism for soldiers from the east mutinied. The highhanded approach to the mutiny by then Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri of the Fretilin party divided the nation, leading to riots, looting and arson. The breakdown of law and order drove more than 150,000 people from their homes. Mr. Alkatiri resigned in June and was succeeded by Mr. Ramos-Horta. In August, the U.N. revised a peacekeeping operation in East Timor.
The results of the presidential elections indicate that the people have dumped Fretilin, East Timor’s biggest political party, which was the main force in the independence movement. Mr. Ramos-Horta and the departing President Xanana Gusmao, who were Fretilin leaders, chose to join hands to oppose Fretilin. In the coming general elections, Mr. Gusmao’s new party will vie with Fretilin. It is hoped that the elections will serve as a chance to create a functioning multiparty system, rather than as a trigger of further political confusion and confrontation.
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