DILI, East Timor — Nobel Peace Prize laureate and former East Timorese President Jose Ramos-Horta has waded back into the young country’s politics ahead of parliamentary elections next month, calling the government a total failure in the past decade in crucial areas such as reducing child malnutrition and providing clean water.
Ramos-Horta, joint recipient of the 1996 Nobel prize for efforts to bring independence and peace to East Timor, is not a candidate in the elections but has declared support for the Fretilin party, which led a short-lived minority government that collapsed at the start of this year.
The May 12 vote, East Timor’s second parliamentary election in less than a year, will pit a loose grouping of Fretilin and one minor party against a formal alliance of three parties led by the National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction party of independence hero Xanana Gusmao, a giant in East Timor’s politics who was its first president, from 2002 to 2007, and prime minister from 2007 to 2015.
“If I had been a prime minister for 10 years, I would have focused all those 10 years on quality education, on rural development and that means water and sanitation for the people,” Ramos-Horta said in a recent interview with The Associated Press.
“The study by the U.N. on our social economic indicators, particularly on malnutrition and children’s growth are extremely negative, I’d say total failure over the last 10 years,” he said.
Though partisan, Ramos-Horta’s comments underline the challenges facing East Timor, which for the past decade has focused on infrastructure projects and a dwindling oil fund to boost its economy but has made little progress in addressing poverty in rural areas where nearly 70 per cent of East Timorese live.
The U.N. estimates nearly half the population lives below the extreme poverty line of $1.90 a day and half of the children under 5 suffer moderate to severe physical and mental stunting as a result of malnutrition.
East Timor was occupied for a quarter-century by Indonesia, which invaded in 1975 just days after Fretilin — the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor — declared the eastern half of Timor island independent from Portugal, the colonial power. East Timor gained independence after a U.N.-sponsored referendum in 1999 but reprisals by the Indonesian military devastated the nation. Today, politics remain dominated by a handful of men who were key figures in the so-called “1975 generation.”
Ramos-Horta, who was president from 2007 …read more