East Timor President-Elect, Taur Matan Ruak:
TAUR Matan Ruak meaning 'two sharp eyes' in the Tetum language has just won the presidential election according to the quick count by the Timor Elections Committee last Wednesday. After resigning as Armed Forces commander last September, Taur whose real name is Jose Maria de Vasconcelos was convinced he would be president by running as an independent.
Fifty-five year-old Taur has spent half of his life in the jungle. He took up arms in 1975, following East Timor's unilateral declaration of independence from Indonesia. Taur fledto the mountains, joining the rebel Fretilin group. In 1979, he was caught by the Indonesian army but escaped to the jungle 23 days later, rejoining the Fretilin.
In a referendum held by the United Nations in 1999, East Timor chose to be independent, and Taur became commander of the Falintil, the military wing of Fretilin, replacing Xanana Gusmao. When East Timor was finally independent in 2002, Taur took up the post of East Timor's Armed Forces commander, a job he retained until he decided to run for president.
Poverty is East Timor's biggest problem. After 10 years of independence, conditions remained much the same. Although the government holds a US$9.3 billion fund from the sale of its oil and gas, it was unable to overcome the problem of corruption. Three of East Timor's ministers are currently facing legal charges. Taur Matan Ruak recently met with Tempo reporter Jose Sarito Amaral at his office for an interview.
You came in second in the first round, but now you won 61 percent of the votes. Did it shock you?
Right from the start, I had no doubt I would win. I was confident I would win big in the second round. There were many candidates in the first round and the people's votes were divided among each party (fielding candidates). I had no party and no militant supporters. My supporters can be found in all the parties. I ran as an independent because I knew East Timorese wanted an independent candidate, who can embrace everyone and build this nation equitably. I am supported by 24 combatant groups which fought for independence, the veterans, eight political parties and the militias of a few political parties. They include the CNRT, ASDT, Frente Mudansa, PDM, PST, UDT, UNDERTIM, PR and AILEBA as well as others I am unable to mention here.
How do you explain the low voter turnout only 40 percent?
This is regrettable because the election law does not allow voters to vote where they live. This is a problem the government and the nation's leaders must resolve. But I asked everyone, as good citizens, to take part in the election to determine the course of the country. This is because your votes are golden. Don't lose the right to vote. I will resolve the problem so it doesn't occur again.
What should be done to eradicate poverty and the spread of corruption?
I, the craziest military commander in the world, resigned from my military post to save the people. I resigned to eradicate poverty and crime, because the situation was getting worse. I will work with other institutions to find out how to get rid of corruption. This is one of 10 programs which I submitted. This program must be carried out so that people can live in prosperity and not in poverty. I believe that Prime Minister Xanana (Gusmao) will also work on this. Our objectives in the jungle were to ensure the peoples welfare. I don't want people to keep on being poor.
Will you now pass on the prime minister's post to Xanana?
It's not within my authority to appoint people to government. My job as president is to swear-in the government formed by the majority political parties in parliament . I am very sure the people still want him to be with them in building this nation into the future. I would like him and other leaders to continue to be united in building this nation. I don't want them to split. Everything will be determined by the voters in the coming legislative elections in July. But whichever party wins, I will make sure to work with them, moost specifically with Xanana whom I fought with in the jungles for the past 24 years.
Aside from eradicating poverty and corruption, will you bring East Timor to become a member of ASEAN?
This has been our ambition since 1975. East Timor asked to join ASEAN, but it was not allowed. Today, we are independent and we have a better chance of joining ASEAN. I will continue to discuss this with other leaders of East Timor and with the ASEAN member countries. We must show the world, especially ASEAN, that stability, security and our economy will work well. The presidential elections was peaceful and orderly. This will be East Timor's capital in going forward and in taking advantage of opportunities. Relations with neighboring countries are very important, specifically Australia and Indonesia. I will strengthen these relations for the future of the nation.
During the polling and the violence, a number of East Timorese sought refuge in Indonesia. What do you think of the refugees who are still in Indonesia?
Our people in Indonesia are not there of their own free will but because of a conflict. They just wanted to be safe, so I will create the conditions so they can go home to their original homes. They are our citizens. We must welcome them back, to work together in building the country. I will discuss this with the other leaders on how to find the right solution.
Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono will attend the independence commemoration on May 20. How are preparations going?
Tomorrow I will think about this. I will meet with President Jose Ramos Horta to talk about this. I will be inaugurated on May 20 so I don't need to prepare anything yet, because on that day, the people will see the new president and celebrate a special day.
East Timor veterans keep demanding that Indonesia show them where their fellow combatants killed in the war were buried. Will President SBY discuss this during his visit?
We invited Pak SBY to join in the celebration of the people's happiness, of East Timor's independence, not to talk about this issue.
No. 35/12, April 25, 2012