Timor-Leste opposition cries foul as impasse nears resolution

Moves have been made to determine whether the country requires either a new prime minister or fresh elections
Timor-Leste opposition cries foul as impasse nears resolution

Fidelis Magalhaes, parliamentary head of Timor-Leste's opposition People's Liberation Party. (Photo by Michael Coyne)

Timor-Leste's president has convened a meeting of the troubled Catholic Asian nation's State Council for Jan. 24 that is expected to help determine whether the country gets either a new prime minister or faces fresh elections.

Only 10 months have elapsed since the last poll.

But Timor-Leste's minority government Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri appears to have already begun campaigning, indicating fresh elections could be announced within days to break a six-month political stalemate.

The embattled PM, who has not been able to garner a majority of votes to support his government program, the centerpiece of Timor-Leste political policy since the July 22 election, is also facing claims from the opposition that his Fretilin party has blocked proper processes in order allow for his removal.

Parliament president Aniceto Gutteres, the house speaker who convenes parliament and is supposed to convene it at least two days a week, has failed to do so since before Christmas, according to Fidelis Magalhaes, parliamentary head of the opposition People's Liberation Party (PLP).

This means that Alkatiri's government cannot face any no-confidence motion brought by a united three-party opposition, led by the National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT) party of former president and prime minister Xanana Gusmao and also including the PLP and the Khunto party. The combined opposition has a majority of votes in the 65-seat parliament.

Margalhaes said the strategy of Fretilin, via the speaker, was to make sure the critical date of Jan. 22, six months after the election, was reached — at this point, under the constitution, the president can dissolve parliament and call new elections, at a cost of about US $40 million.

The speaker had successfully delayed the plenary sessions in parliament. 

Under Timor-Leste's Portuguese-style constitution, the government must present its program to parliament. This forms the basis of any subsequent budgets. Alkatiri presented his program in September and it was voted down. A second no will automatically result in the dissolution of parliament, giving the president no choice but to dismiss the prime minister.

But Alkatiri has avoided bringing the vote on a second time and no government can get a full budget without the government program voted "yes." In the week before Christmas, the prime minister tried to get some funding measures through before Christmas and failed. The opposition is playing hard ball by voting everything down and keen to force Lu Olo's hand.

In the meantime, Alkatiri visited the people in Maubara, Liquica district, on Jan.19 and presented his administration's program rejected by the national parliament.

He told the people that since the parliament rejected his programs there is tug of war between the government and the parliament, but that is democracy.

"[However] in democracy, whoever has been in power, whether it is five, ten or more than 10 years, cannot seek to come to power again because it will hamper [the] development process," Alkatiri said as quoted by Suara Timor Lorosae on Jan.19.

Alkatiri reminded people to wait for the decision from President Francisco Guterres Lu-Olo this week.

The government was supposed to have submitted another program within 30 days since it was rejected in October last year. But it never happened. Instead, the government came up with a budget rectification bill.

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The opposition parties in parliament accused parliament speaker Aniceto Gutteres of preventing the prime minister of presenting the programs to the parliament. They also accused Gutteres of boycotting a plenary session aimed to discuss and vote on the government program.

However, Gutterres denied the allegations, saying that things did not go as expected because everything was under the control of the opposition.

"I don't boycott the parliament. It is impossible because all the commissions are under their control. All commission presidents and deputies are in their hands," Gutterres told reporters on Jan. 18 as quoted by Suara Timor Lorosae.

Magalhaes also voiced concerned about the timing of a raid by police last week.

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