The Sydney Morning Herald - Karlis Salna, AAP South-East Asia Correspondent - June 3, 2011
With just over a year to elections in East Timor, it appears almost certain the same political players that have dominated its first 10 years as a nation will again be vying for power.
East Timorese will vote in two elections next year, for the government and the presidency.
But few serious watchers of the fledgling nation believe the 2012 polls will see any new blood ushered in, including the United Nations, which is preparing for the end next year of what has at times been a fractured relationship.
The UN, which will withdraw from East Timor after the elections, is still on the back foot after just two weeks ago having to explain a document that had described Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao as an obstacle to democracy.
Now the political director of the UN mission in East Timor, Gary Gray, says it is almost certain Gusmao, along with President Jose Ramos-Horta and Mari Alkatiri, the leader of the main opposition party and the country's first prime minister, will dominate the political stage for another five years.
"Certainly that's very much the fact. We're still dealing with that first generation," Gray said this week while in Jakarta.
"And it looks like in terms of the election cycle in 2012 that's what we're going to continue to be seeing. Most of the younger people we talk to seem to have their eye on 2017 at this point."
Ramos-Horta, also a former prime minister, continues to give mixed signals about his future.
In April, he gave his strongest indication yet that he will bow out of East Timorese politics altogether when his term in office expires next year.
"I'm almost determined not to seek a second term," he told AAP during an interview in Dili.
"I'm still in the process of listening to people before I make a decision, like Xanana Gusmao, Mari Alkatiri, the bishops, but also friends from the region like the Indonesian president, the Australians, the United Nations secretary-general."
"All of this I take into consideration when I make up my mind in a few months' time, long before the election. But at this stage I feel that I'm confident enough about the country, the way it is and how it's going that I can say it doesn't need me."
But Gray said recent meetings with the three power players suggested none were preparing to depart anytime soon.
"The meetings we've had recently with Mari Alkatiri, President Ramos-Horta and the prime minister, they seem to still be referring to how they're not so old yet compared to a number of other leaders around the world," he said.
"So you don't get the feeling that they're ready to move off the stage at this point."
It's "an issue", Gray said, that others have commented on.
"That maybe when that older generation moves on you would have less conflict, because a lot of these conflicts are rooted in the `74, `75 period still," he said, referring to the lead-up to East Timor's declaration of independence from Portugal, and then the Indonesian occupation.
If the president does go, he will not be going quietly.
Even before the details of the UN report criticising the prime minister were leaked, Ramos-Horta had taken a parting shot at the organisation.
In a scathing assessment of the efforts of the UN, the World Bank, Asian Development Bank and donor countries, the president in April said: "They are the ones that have to answer, look themselves in the mirror and answer" why billions of dollars have been squandered.
"Because if you look at the hundreds of millions of dollars, if not billions, that allegedly have been spent for East Timor, then we wonder where has the money gone?"
"In this regard, 10 years after independence, 10 years after so much money invested by the donor community, the result is dismal."
"They must ask themselves why 10 years later we don't have a first-class road network, why 10 years later we don't have a modern functioning air terminal, why 10 years later we don't have a modern functioning port, why 10 years later we don't have reliable, cheap electricity for the whole country."
The words have since been echoed by Gusmao in a speech two weeks ago marking the ninth anniversary of East Timor's independence from Indonesia.
He said the "international community" had spent almost $A7.5 billion from 2000 to 2008 but there had been no physical development, adding: "Even more poverty was created in our country."
Gusmao singled out the UN mission in East Timor, suggesting it should focus its efforts on conflict zones such as Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Middle East.
"My proposal is this: UNMIT and Timorese experts, offer your services to improve Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and give support to democracy in Yemen, Syria and Libya."
Gray said on Wednesday the Timorese leadership had "some good points in terms of the amount of money that has gone in".
"And it should be a continuing debate, whether we can do these things more effectively."
But while the comments from the country's two most powerful political leaders suggest the relations between East Timor and the UN have become even more fractured of late, Gray said they merely reflect "a measure of success" in the mission.
"It's almost natural that you're going to hear this rhetoric, that it's time for (them) to take back control of these institutions as they did with the police on March 27. So I don't see that necessarily in the larger sense as a negative thing.
"And I think that we're also going to be heading into a very heated electoral campaign where inevitably the UN is going to become one of the issues.
"On the UN side we're certainly used to absorbing those blows and I don't see it as such a serious thing at this point."