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East Timor's Mari Alkatiri recalls turbulent decade

Jakarta Globe - August 29, 2009

Ezki Suyanto – As East Timorese celebrate the 10th anniversary of the referendum that led to the country's independence, the Jakarta Globe presents contributor Ezki Suyanto's interview with the nation's first prime minister, Mari Alkatiri, 59, at his residence in Farol, Dili, at the end of last month.

When you stepped down in 2006, you said there had been intervention from outside. What did you mean?

I have no doubt. I still have no doubt. It's clear to me that there was a conspiracy. It started in mid-2005 when the Australian media began to damage my image. The Australian government at that time was really a conservative government.

It was clear that they were aware that after 2006, with oil and gas revenues, I could do much better for this country. So this had to be stopped and they succeeded in getting sympathy and support from inside the country, even from Xanana [Gusmao]. The crisis was an internal confrontation between the prime minister and the president of the republic.

The president and the police were against the government because he failed to get support from the F-FDTL (Timor Leste Defense Forces, also known as Falintil) which also covers the police.

Is it the reason you say you do not want to be prime minister anymore?

A strong government needs a strong political party behind it. So it would be much better to have the leader of the party working full time for the party then to be too busy in the government. It does not mean that I won't help the government, of course I'll do it. I have made it clear to the central committee that I am not ready to go back, that the party needs to be strong.

Fretelin is the majority party and has a simple majority in Parliament with 29 percent of the seats. Why isn't Fretilin in power?

It is a very peculiar situation in this country, in which some people do not respect the will of the people. The leaders think that they are stronger than the will of the people. Leaders like Xanana Gusmao and Ramos-Horta think they are stars who will be stars all the time.

Recently, you initiated a referendum for another election. Why?

I made the suggestion. We will introduce a bill for discussion at the Parliament. This is constitutional. We cannot just sit and do nothing until (election year) 2012. We do not recognize the legitimacy of the government, but above all the situation is very bad, particularly in the economy, and corruption is everywhere.

Even though we are pushing for an early election, we have to do it through legal and constitutional means. You cannot really repeat the 2006 scenario, using violence as a tool for political gain. We need to put an end to this culture of violence, to have peace and a culture of democracy.

We have been doing campaigns and we go to grassroots meetings, spreading this message: no more violence. We need to respect our constitution and our laws.

Ten years after the referendum and seven years after independence, what is your reflection on East Timor?

Up and down. We started on the right path but had a lot of problems. People are unaware that development takes time. Combatting poverty cannot just be done overnight, and we had to face the crisis in 2006.

The mistakes are not of those at the grassroots level, but of the leadership. Some leaders dream they can do better in a short time, and that is the reason we really had to face the crisis. Now, we are regressing, particularly in institution-building as people start to dismantle everything that had been carefully constructed.

Now, we have to face a lot of problems, such as rampant corruption, for the simple reason that the system that was built has been really destroyed by the current government. We got our independence, but we could have done much better, particularly two or three years afterward when we got money from oil and gas resources.

How long will East Timor depend on the international community?

The United Nations can stay here for not more than another two years, but for foreign troops and police, it is time to leave. We needed them in 2006 when troops and police were in conflict. If you have the army on one side and police on the other, you cannot do anything.

I invited foreign troops to come, but now there is no longer such confrontation, so it's time for them to leave. Some police and army trainers can stay.

There's still a long way to go in developing this country, yet you have refused loans from groups such as the International Monetary Fund. Why?

I was always aware that sooner or later we would have revenue from oil and gas, so what are the loans for? It would only generate corruption. A state is like a big company. You need to improve the quality of your administration.