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East Timor's first president, politician and elder statesman

Deaken Speaking - March 7, 2012

Damien Kingsbury – (Unknown) 1937-6 March, 2012. East Timor's first president, for just 9 days ahead of Indonesia's invasion in 1975, Francisco Xavier do Amaral, has died in Dili at the age of 74 of complications caused by advanced cancer.

Do Amaral, affectionately known in East Timor as 'Grandfather', was born in Turiscai in the Mambai-speaking mountainous central region of East Timor. The son of a liurai, or local 'king', he was educated at St Jose Jesuit seminary in Macao where he qualified for the priesthood. However, do Amaral chose instead to work in the Dili Customs House where he became a popular, politically active intellectual. With Nicolau Lobato and current president, Jose Ramos-Horta, on 20 May 1974, do Amaral founded the broad-based anti-colonial Timorese Social Democratic Association (ASDT), at Ramos-Horta's urging becoming its president.

On 11 September 1974, ASDT changed its name to the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor (Fretilin), reflecting the influence of African liberation movements, with do Amaral continuing in a leading role and visiting Mozambique in 1974. Fretilin, like ASDT, was a democratic socialist organisation, but was increasingly influenced by Marxist-oriented students returning from study in Portugal.

Following a brief civil war in August 1975 between Fretilin and the conservative UDT, during which the Portuguese governor withdrew, and in light of increasing Indonesian attacks across the border, East Timor proclaimed independence on 28 November 1975. As amongst Fretilin's best educated and most senior members, do Amaral was appointed as president. Indonesia formally invaded East Timor nine days later, on 7 December.

Do Amaral fled to the mountains with Fretilin troops and civilians but, by 1977, following Indonesia's intensive military campaign resulting heavy casualties, he argued in favour of sending civilians back to occupied areas. The majority Fretilin view was that civilians should not be separated from the military struggle.

Disagreement over strategy reflected a growing rift between Fretilin's moderates and more doctrinaire Marxists. As a result, in September 1977, 'counter-revolutionaries' were purged from the party, with some being executed. As a result of proposing a compromise arrangement with Indonesian forces, do Amaral was stripped of the presidency and imprisoned by Fretilin. Two months later do Amaral was succeeded as president by Nicolau Lobato, who a year later was killed by Indonesian forces near Dili. Lobato was succeeded by current Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao.

Do Amaral spent a year imprisoned under harsh conditions and, due to Indonesia's military campaign, was constantly moved about. He later claimed that Fretilin dared not execute him, as it had other 'traitors', but that he was slowly starved.

At the height of Indonesia's campaign of 'total encirclement and annihilation', during the battle of Remixio in August 1978, do Amaral was abandoned, being quickly captured by Indonesian forces.

Do Amaral spent the next 22 years in Bali and Jakarta, working in the home of General Dading Kabualdi, who was responsible for East Timor. Then Colonel Kabualdi had ordered the murder of the 'Balibo Five' journalists in October 1975.

Do Amaral was occasionally brought out for propaganda purposes, including being announced as East Timor's deputy governor in 1979. After Xanana Gusmao was captured in 1993, both he and do Amaral were video-taped together calling for an end of resistance to Indonesian rule. Gusmao later said that the intention of acceding to their captors' request was to ensure that Gusmao could stand trial and use that occasion to promote the resistance.

Do Amaral next appeared during Indonesian stage-managed talks in 1993 near Cambridge, which were intended to thwart UN attempts to have the East Timor issue resolved, and again the following year. Do Amaral was released from service by General Kabualdi's children around 1995, moving to a small shack in Jakarta.

With the resignation of President Suharto and Indonesia under economic pressure, it agree to the UN supervised ballot on independence in 1999. Do Amaral returned to East Timor on 4 February 2000. 'Rehabilitated' by Fretilin, in 2001 do Amaral reformed the ASDT as a Fretilin splinter party. ASDT went on to receive strong support from native Mambai speakers in do Amaral's home district of Manufahi.

Acknowledging that he could not win but saying that democracy required more than one candidate, Do Amaral good naturedly stood against Xanana Gusmao in the 2002 presidential elections. Having a strong traditional following, Do Amaral received 17.31 per cent of the vote, mostly from Mambai speakers, with Gusmao taking a compelling 82.69 per cent.

With formal independence in 2002, do Amaral's ASDT supported the Fretilin government but, on 14 March 2005, amidst a growing political crisis, he resigned from parliament citing government failures, breaking his alliance with Fretilin. His resignation was part of a series of events that contributed to a breakdown of public order and, in 2006, civil conflict, the collapse of the government and international intervention led by Australia.

In the subsequent 2007 elections, do Amaral again stood as a presidential candidate, securing over 14% of the vote. In coalition with the smaller Social Democratic Party (PSD), ASDT polled just over 18% in the 2007 parliamentary elections, taking 11 of 65 parliamentary seats.

Since 2007, ASDT has been part of the Xanana Gusmao-led AMP government, with two ministers in the cabinet. Despite the alliance, relations between do Amaral and his party and the Xanana Gusmao-led AMP government were poor. There has been a series of disagreement over allegations of corruption and mismanagement going back and forth between Gusmao and ministers.

As a result of these disputes, in 2010, do Amaral said ASDT would split with the government and join with the opposition Fretilin party at the 2012 elections. Based on the 2007 elections results, with its partner PSD, this alliance would bring a Fretilin-led coalition to within one seat of a parliamentary majority.

Do Amaral was diagnosed with cancer in 2011 and his condition was deteriorating when he re-nominated to contest March 17 presidential elections. The party had begun to fragment upon learning of do Amaral's condition and may struggle without his charismatic leadership. President Ramos-Horta said that ASDT members who had pushed do Amaral to run for the presidency, knowing he was critically ill, had 'no moral integrity'.

East Timor's parliament sat in an emergency meeting last Thursday night (1 March) to remove section (26) of the Electoral Law which stipulated the calling of fresh nominations and a new election date upon the death of a nominated candidate, allowing the 17 March and subsequent elections to proceed as planned.

Fracisco Xavier Do Amaral married Lucia Soares in 1974 but separated soon after. He did not re-marry and had no known surviving family members.