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Cablegate: Timor-Leste: Fretilin Settles Into Opposition Role

VZCZCXRO9981
OO RUEHCHI RUEHCN RUEHHM
DE RUEHDT #0379/01 3461517
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 121517Z DEC 07
FM AMEMBASSY DILI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 3782
INFO RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS
RUEHLI/AMEMBASSY LISBON IMMEDIATE 0993
RUEHBY/AMEMBASSY CANBERRA IMMEDIATE 1100
RUEHWL/AMEMBASSY WELLINGTON IMMEDIATE 0887
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO IMMEDIATE 0803
RHMFIUU/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI
RUEHDT/AMEMBASSY DILI 3191

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 DILI 000379

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/MTS AND INR
PACOM FOR POLADS -- AMB CHRISTY

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV TT
SUBJECT: TIMOR-LESTE: FRETILIN SETTLES INTO OPPOSITION ROLE

DILI 00000379 001.2 OF 002


1. (SBU) SUMMARY: FRETILIN's leaders remain optimistic that
Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao's government will be short-lived.
FRETILIN is confident that it can undermine Gusmao's coalition
by frustrating the realization of the government's policy
objectives and highlighting its lack of governing experience.
FRETILIN has thus far failed, however, to rally substantial
public discontent against the government and doubts are growing
as to its willingness and ability to do so . END SUMMARY

EYES ON THE PRIZE

2. (SBU) In August 2007, just after the appointment of the
Gusmao government, former PM Alkitiri told the Ambassador that a
combination of inexperience and unrealizable public expectations
would bring the new government by this month, December 2007.
Although this forecast will be missed, FRETILIN, Timor-Leste's
largest political party, maintains the dogma that it will
reclaim control of the state in the near term, while
conveniently moving the timeframe. The party now points to
early 2008, just after the expiration of a constitutional
requirement that a new parliament not be dissolved within its
first six months. FRETILIN parliamentarians, who continue to
call the new government "illegal and unconstitutional," are
confident that the government will collapse soon after this six
month grace period is over in January 2008.

3. (SBU) The FRETILIN's strategy for retaking power continues
to be to try to foil Gusmao's policy initiatives and highlight
the coalition's lack of governing capacity. Arsenio Bano,
FRETILIN's deputy President, told poloff that his party's
opposition strategy has benefited from high public expectations
for the new government. He noted that Gusmao had "overpromised"
and thus far failed to gain traction in dealing with the PM's
stated priorities: relocating the internally displaced persons
(IDPs) from camps, bringing rebel leader Alfredo Reinado to
justice, and addressing the demands of the military petitioners,
a group of several hundred soldiers who resigned from the
Timorese armed services in early 2006 citing discrimination
along regional lines. Until these priorities are met, the
government is unlikely to make progress in tackling other
development challenges.

4. (SBU) The strategy makes use of three FRETILIN strengths:
its size, its heavy representation among the civil service, and
the identification the party has struck with many of the tens of
thousand internally displace persons (IDPs) living in camps
around Dili. The party controls 21 of 65 seats in parliament.
In three elections for President and the National Parliament
earlier this year, it consistently won around 30% of the vote,
the majority of which came from the eastern districts. With
this solid support base in the eastern districts, FRETILIN knows
that it cannot be excluded from the solution to problems such as
the IDPs (significantly easterners) and even the petitioners
(mostly westerners), for whom any solution must not appear
somehow detrimental to the east. All indications are that
Fretilin intends to use this leverage solely for party
advantage, however, and not to assist in creating durable
solutions.

5. (SBU) FRETILIN's hold on the civil service means that much of
the country cannot be governed without their support. Reforming
the civil service is a government intention but will take time
to accomplish. Meanwhile, Fretilin is charging that replacing
even non-performing bureaucrats is tantamount to politicizing
the bureaucracy. As examples of the government's difficult
position, Bano noted a recent controversy surrounding the
replacement of the head of the Land and Tax office and a much
disparaged government plan to distribute rice to civil servants
as a means of increasing their pay (note: in fact, the latter
largesse was not a government initiative, but was voted into the
2007 transitional budget by the parliament).

6. (SBU) Finally, FRETILIN's success in developing support among
many IDPs, some of which began flying the FRETILIN flag outside
of their camps last fall, may give the party a support base it
can mobilize to block a government program to reintegrate camp
members into the general populace. Key camps, some of which
have become hotbeds for criminal gang activity, are located at
strategic points, including the airport, port, hospital and
along the main road connecting Dili with the eastern part of the
country, including Baucau. In a pinch, FRETILIN could attempt
to use its camp supporters to shut down key public services.

PEACEFUL OPPOSITION

DILI 00000379 002.2 OF 002

7. (SBU) While continuing to withhold formal recognition of the
government, FRETILIN thus far has disavowed violent opposition
and has attempted to highlight its role as constitutional
opposition. According to an Australian poloff, FRETILIN, now
that it is out of power, has lost the sources of patronage with
which it has rallied its base in the past, making it difficult
to arrange large-scale protests in the capital. Further, the
party may be hesitant to promote civil disorder outside of their
eastern stronghold where they lack a secure majority of the
population.

8. (SBU) In contrast, FRETILIN leaders have gone out of the way
to show that they are the party that is acting in accordance
with the constitution. FRETILIN played a constructive role in
criticizing and actually making improvements to the government's
transitional budget, passed in October. Party spokesman, Harold
Moucho, told poloff, the party plans to scrutinize the 2008
budget even more closely. Moucho noted that as long as the
government does not tamper with the 2005 Petroleum Fund Law that
locks up much of the country's natural resource wealth in U.S.
treasury bonds, or gives amnesty to Reinado, FRETILIN could
continue to play its opposition role in a peaceful manner.

A COUNTRY STILL DIVIDED

9. (SBU) Despite the improving security environment, political
divisions and personality conflicts among Timor's elite remain
bitter and have the potential to create instability. During its
November 2007 visit to Timor-Leste, the UN Security Council
found that divergences among the political leadership has
negatively affected national unity and polticial stability at
precisely the moment when such qualities are needed to combat
grave problems such as the IDP, Reinado and the petitioners.
Nevertheless, Ana Pessoa, a FRETILIN leader and parliamentarian
suggests elite reconciliation is still possible. She believes
that after experiencing the frustration of government, Prime
Minister Gusmao may open to the idea of political compromise.
Elite reconciliation would probably be supported among party
officials that have maintained strong personal relationships.
Aniceto Guterres, the leader of the FRETILIN bench in
parliament, admitted that he maintains close ties with leaders
from his former party in the AMP. He noted his reservations
about Alkatiri's personality and leadership style, which he
described as uncharismatic, and blamed much of the continuing
crisis on the inflexible positions of the political elite.

10. (SBU) COMMENT: FRETILIN's attitude towards its opposition
role has evolved from the anger and denial we saw immediately
following formation of the AMP government in August. While it
continues to regard itself as Timor-Leste's natural party of
government, post believes that it will not resort to
destabilizing tactics to unseat the coalition in the short term.
Instead, FRETILIN's leaders now believe that the AMP cabinet
will inevitably make missteps, prove itself ineffective, and
perhaps fall victim to intra-coalition bickering and defections.
All this, party leaders hope, will at the very least lead to
public calls for a FRETILIN comeback, and perhaps result in an
early collapse of the government. There's a good deal of
wishful thinking here. Past efforts by the party to organize
legal protest in the capital against the government, once in
late August and again last month, were complete duds. Our sense
is that the Timorese public remains willing to give the
government an opportunity to resolve key problems, improve the
delivery of public services and stimulate the economy.
Government contacts tell us their effort in recent weeks to
reach out to the Fretilin leadership to develop a joint approach
to the IDP problem has fallen on deaf ears. Given the
volatility of Timor politics, we can't rule a surge of
discontent should there be a serious government misstep on
problems such as the IDPs, petitioners or Reinado.
Regrettably, Fretilin leaders may see a continuation of the
nation's distress solely through the lens of political
advantage. End comment.

11. (U) This report was prepared by TDY Political Officer James
Schutzer.
KLEMM

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