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Cablegate: East Timor's Strongest Opposition Party Gaining Momentum

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ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 050554Z OCT 06
FM AMEMBASSY DILI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 3013
INFO RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK PRIORITY 0695
RUCNARF/ASEAN REGIONAL FORUM COLLECTIVE
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RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHDC
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC
RUEHDT/AMEMBASSY DILI 2344

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 DILI 000491

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TAGS: PGOV KDEM ID TT
SUBJECT: EAST TIMOR'S STRONGEST OPPOSITION PARTY GAINING MOMENTUM

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1. (SBU) Summary: East Timor's strongest opposition party, the
Democratic Party (PD), held its national congress on September
29 - October 1, reelecting the incumbent leadership. The
congress demonstrated that PD has emerged as a well-organized
and well-funded party with a strong base among the younger
population that is increasingly alienated from the ruling
Fretilin party. Moreover, PD appears to be forging closer ties
with President Xanana Gusmao and Prime Minister Jose
Ramos-Horta, which if solidified could represent an unparalleled
challenge to Fretilin's hold on power. While not at this point
planning a coalition with other opposition parties, they are
sustaining strong ties with both the Timorese Social Democratic
Association (ASDT) and Social Democratic Party (PSD) and
anticipate forming a national unity government with these
parties if election results warrant. Of concern is the extent
to which PD's strongest support base is in the western
districts, while Fretilin is stronger in the East; if neither
are able to effectively campaign as truly national parties,
their competitive dynamic could contribute to the calcification
of the East v. West tensions that have recently plagued the
country. End summary.

2. (U) The Democratic Party (PD) held its national party
congress September 29 - October 1 in Dili. Attendance at the
congress reached 1,800 making it by far the largest party
congress to date. Of these, 1,185 were delegates with the right
to vote, including representatives of the 13 districts, the
party's women's organization (Democratic Women's Organization -
OMD), the party's youth wing (Democratic Youth Organization -
OJD), national leadership, and founding members. Elections were
conducted by a secret ballot. Leadership lists required 200
supporting signatures from the delegates in order to be
submitted. A total of four competing lists were submitted, but
all included the same candidates for President and Secretary
General, the incumbents Fernando "Lasama" Araujo and Mariano
Sabino Lopes respectively. The only differences among the lists
were the candidates for vice presidents and vice secretary
generals, new positions in the party leadership. The newly
elected vice presidents are: Adriano do Nascimento, Joao
Boavida, and Jose Nominando "Buras". The newly elected vice
secretary generals are: Francisco Burlako, Eusebio Guterres, and

SIPDIS
Samuel Mendonca.

3. (U) Despite the uncontested nature of the leadership
election, the reelection of party president Lasama is of note
given some of the controversy that surrounded him during the
recent crisis. Although he publicly denied it, Lasama was seen
to be closely associated with the National Front for Justice and
Peace (FNJP) which organized the June demonstrations against
former Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri. Although this association
may have some benefits in mobilizing support for the party in
the western districts where FNJP is strongest, many party
supporters have been unhappy with the connection. Additionally,
his management of PD has often been criticized as weak and
lacking direction and even some strong party supporters do not
see him as a viable candidate for national leadership. In
additions to concerns about the strength of leadership,
observers have been critical of the party for failing to present
substantive ideas regarding how it would govern differently, a
weakness that plagues all of East Timor's opposition parties.
PD currently has no platform, but began discussion on platform
contents during the congress and has plans to issue it in the
coming weeks.

4. (SBU) Nevertheless, the congress was a clear demonstration of
how far PD has come since its founding shortly before the 2002
elections. Although it has lacked the ability to push an agenda
at the national level, PD coordinators in the districts have
been working hard to build support over the last year and this
effort appears to be paying off. The party already has strong
resistance credentials and appears to be benefiting from a loss
of faith in Fretilin among many former resistance fighters and
clandestine movement participants, especially in the West. The
congress was well organized and well funded. According to

DILI 00000491 002.2 OF 003


sources within the party, it is receiving significant financial
support from "friends" in the US, Australia, Canada, and several
Asian countries including Indonesia. The support from Indonesia
is apparently coming from the community of long-time supporters
of East Timor's independence, particularly those who supported
the Indonesian-based Timorese youth organization, Renetil.

5. (U) The PD congress particularly demonstrated the party's
strength among the younger generation. Much of PD's leadership
and membership has its roots in Renetil and the party has
successfully maintained its connections to this base.
Participants at the congress were dominated by the 25-45 year
old generation which has been largely alienated by Fretilin's
older Portuguese-speaking leadership. Notably, while the PD
congress proceedings were carried out in Tetum, the documents
including the party statutes were written in Indonesian, the
language in which most of the younger generation received their
education. Beyond Renetil PD seems to be successfully reaching
out to other youth constituencies as well as the broader
western-based opposition network. One example is congress
delegate Joao Becora who is the leader of a youth group in the
Becora neighborhood of Dili that has been involved in some gang
activities. Becora is known to be very close to dissident armed
forces (F-FDTL) Major Alfredo Reinado and his group arranged the
security for the congress.

6. (SBU) In addition, PD appears to be forging closer informal
ties with President Xanana Gusmao and Prime Minister Jose
Ramos-Horta. Party sources confided to Embassy staff that
Gusmao contributed significant financial support for the
congress, although he was keeping this under wraps. There was a
sense at the congress that Gusmao may eventually be convinced to
overtly associate himself with PD or with a broader grouping of
opposition parties as the leader of a "national unity"
opposition campaign. Despite some loss of popularity and trust
in Gusmao resulting from the recent crisis, he still wields
enormous popular influence and it is widely acknowledged that an
opposition campaign with his public support would represent an
unparalleled challenge to Fretilin.

7. (SBU) There is also a general, though informal, consensus in
PD that if the party wins the coming elections they will ask
Ramos-Horta to continue as Prime Minister. Ramos-Horta
continues to emphasize his intent to resign from government
service once his current mandate ends in May 2007, but many
observers believe that he is open to this prospect and in fact
would likely welcome it. His speeches at both the PD congress
and the ASDT congress the previous week were of interest in that
they indicated increasing tensions between himself and Fretilin
and greater optimism regarding the opposition. At the ASDT
congress, held in Dili September 22-24, he left out any
reference to Alkatiri when discussing the founding of ASDT
(which was the precursor to Fretilin, founded by himself, do
Amaral and Alkatiri). His speeches at the PD congress
emphasized the need for the "new generation" to start
transitioning to lead the country and in reference to the
current crisis indirectly swiped at Alkatiri when he said, "I
might not be intelligent, but I haven't participated in the
distribution of weapons."

8. (U) The leaders of ASDT and PSD, the two other opposition
parties with comparable representation in Parliament (PD has 7
seats, ASDT and PSD each have 6 seats), were also in attendance
at the PD congress. They were warmly welcomed and prominently
featured. There has long been talk of the three parties forming
a coalition for the 2007 elections, and there was much informal
discussion at the congress regarding this possibility. However,
sources in party leadership reiterated their previous position
that they will not form a coalition in advance of the elections,
but will operate on the basis of a "gentlemen's agreement" to
focus their criticisms on Fretilin and not each other. Once the
election results are in they will turn to addressing how they
will work together, possibly forming a coalition government at
that time.

DILI 00000491 003.2 OF 003

9. (U) Comment: PD's base in the western districts is notably
stronger than in the East. Fretilin on the other hand, retains
greater strength in the East and has been quite actively
mobilizing to sustain and increase this support base. This
raises a concern that the 2007 election campaign could devolve
into a regionally based competition with the potential to
calcify East versus West tensions. Countering such a dynamic
will require the parties themselves to conduct their campaigns
with a focus on broad national issues, measures to ensure that
each party can freely campaign in all areas of the country, and
implementation of national reconciliation dialogue efforts
reduce East-West tensions. End comment.
GRAY

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