East Timor shows desire for peace

Friday 18 May 2007 - CAFOD hails East Timor's successful presidential elections as a "rebuke" for those committed to violence as a means of solving the country's problems.

An excellent turnout of more than 80% in the presidential election for East Timor shows the will of the vast majority to make progress through democratic means, CAFOD says.

The tiny nation has voted in its second elected president since independence in 2002 - Nobel peace prize winner and current prime minister Dr Jose Ramos-Horta.

He comfortably won the presidential run-off with nearly 70 percent of the votes against parliament chief Francisco Guterres, president of the still-dominant Fretilin party.

But, although the electoral process was peaceful, there have been sporadic outbreaks of violence since the result was declared - although officials insist it is not clear if the fighting was linked to the election.

President for the poor

Andrew Wardle, CAFOD's programme officer for East Timor, says it is important the country - which still faces further elections to choose a new parliament - concentrates on tackling the problems facing its largely poor population.

He says: "Dr Ramos-Horta states that he will be a president for the poor. While his post is largely ceremonial, he will have to work in close co-operation with the new government to ensure poverty is reduced and people have access to basic services and opportunities.

"The expressed will of the people, and their peaceful participation in democratic processes, is a rebuke to those who see violence as a means of resolving the issues facing East Timor."

"The people have set a challenge to the incoming President and the next prime minister to urgently address the challenges facing the country - in particular to deliver real changes and benefits to the lives of ordinary poor people."

East Timor remains one of the poorest countries in the world, with more than 45% of people living below the official poverty line.

Street violence in April-June 2006 displaced more than 10% of the population and led to the removal of the then prime minister, Mari Alkatiri, as well as the arrival of UN and Australian peacekeepers.

However, despite these problems, more than 80% of eligible voters cast a vote in the presidential election, with local and international observers acknowledging it as a generally free and fair process.

Andrew adds: "The international community must give credit for these outcomes to the people of East Timor and to those responsible for running the election.

"The high level of participation and acceptance of the result suggests that East Timorese understand and trust in democratic processes and the rule of law."