A senior bishop in predominantly Catholic Timor-Leste has appealed to political leaders to promote healthy politics and maintain stability ahead of campaigning for a general election next month.
Voters in one of the youngest countries in the world will be heading to the polls on May 21 for the country's fifth parliamentary election since 2002.
In a statement on April 11, Bishop Dom Norberto do Amaral of Maliana, president of the bishops' conference in Timor-Leste, called on politicians to "take a role in maintaining peace and stability" rather than "attack each other or spread hatred in the presence of supporters."
The prelate also asked political leaders to tell the truth and implement political promises they make during the election campaign.
The bishop's statement comes amid what political analysts call the "heating up" of the country ahead of the campaign to elect lawmakers for the 65 seat parliament which begins on April 19.
A controversy surrounding the presence of President Jose Ramos-Horta at an event in Baucau last week organized by the National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT) Party led by Xanana Gusamo is a case in point.
Rival parties, including the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor Party (Fretilin), strongly criticized Horta.
Antoninho Bianco from Fretilin said that "as a symbol of the unity of the nation and state as well as being the father of the nation, it was inappropriate for Horta to attend the event."
Horta on April 11 clarified that he had not intended to provide support to the CNRT, but meant to express his gratitude for the party backing him for president.
"I haven't seen them in almost a year. Because of that, I came to Baucau to express my gratitude to them," he said.
CNRT and Fretilin are currently involved in a keen contest in parliament over the election of a new Corruption Eradication Commission chief.
Camilio Ximenes, a political analyst from the National University of Timor-Leste, said a bitter exchange of words between the main rivals sends a bad signal ahead of the crucial election process.
He told UCA News that "the government has to be extra careful while taking a stand and making public statements in order to maintain stability and avoid chaos" in the nation.
Timor-Leste has a dark history of political conflicts, and tensions continue between former freedom fighters who fought for the tiny nation's independence from Indonesia.
In May 2018, the country went to the polls just 10 months after an election on July 23, 2017, as the minority government of Fretilin's Mari Alkatiri failed to secure enough support in parliament.
The subsequent election campaign was marred by violence with Fretilin supporters throwing stones at members of the opposition in Viqueque and Baucau, leaving many injured.
In 2006, political violence left five people dead and forced some 21,000 residents to flee the capital Dili.