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Timor-Leste parties struggle to form government

Minority administration on the cards as former partners remain estranged amid ongoing negotiations

Timor-Leste parties struggle to form government

This picture taken in Dili on July 18 shows Xanana Gusmao when he was president of the National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction party during campaigning for parliamentary elections held July 22. Days after the elections, Gusmao resigned from the presidency of his party. (Photo by Valentino Dariel Sousa/AFP)

Three weeks after its parliamentary election, Asia's most Catholic nation Timor-Leste remains leaderless and could be heading for a minority government.

Fretilin, which won most seats in the July 22 poll, has so far failed to form a government with its former coalition partner — the National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT).

Without the support of the CNRT, rocked by the resignation of its leader and the country's most powerful politician Xanana Gusmao on Aug. 5, Fretilin, with 23 seats is struggling to patch together an alliance to try to reach if not pass the 33-seat target to form a majority in the 65-seat assembly.

Of the four other parties that won parliamentary seats in the July election, CNRT won 22, the Popular Liberation Party grabbed eight, the Democratic Party has seven seats, and Khunto has five.

With the CNRT ruling itself out of an alliance Fretilin is pinning its hopes on the other three.

So far the Khunto party has agreed to join a coalition, the Democratic Party has opted to sit in opposition, while the Popular Liberation Party has offered mixed signals.

Popular Liberation Party chairman, Taur Matan Ruak, has announced that his party would sit in opposition.

Juliano Sapalo Ximenes, a political analyst from the University of Dili, said Fretilin has the chance of forming a minority coalition since the Popular Liberation Party would be "unofficially" in the coalition with Fretilin.

"It's true the Popular Liberation Party will sit in parliament as an opposition party, but it does not mean it will forever be an opponent. For major national interests, such as to pass bills on the state budget, Popular Liberation Party will support the government," Ximenes told ucanews.com.

However, the government would be in a precarious situation if the PLP does not provide full backing, he said.

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Fretilin leader, and another former premier, Mari Alkatiri, told reporters on Aug. 10 that the party had not lost hope of gaining further partners and would look to form a minority government if necessary.

"Fretilin is confident it can form a government," Alkatiri said, adding an agreement could still be achieved before Aug. 22 when the new parliament members are sworn in. 

"I call on all Timorese people to stay calm so to give leaders the chance to discuss about the establishment of new government," Alkatiri told the Timor Post.

Negotiations are still ongoing. On Aug. 14, Fretilin, CNRT, and Popular Liberation Party were back in talks, but reports suggested the CNRT and Popular Liberation Party are still reluctant to strike a deal. 

Efforts to form a new government were thrown into disarray after Gusmao announced he would step down as CNRT leader and called on party members to sit in opposition leaders.

Gusmao said he resigned because the party had lost the people's trust after it lost eight seats in the July poll.

Father Julio Crispim Ximenes Belo, head of Baucau Diocese's Justice and Peace Commission, said Gusmao's decision to quit and call for the party to sit in opposition must be respected.

He said it's a healthy democracy if there are parties that function as opposition, to ensure that the government works in accordance with the constitution and for the good of the people.

However, he said the Catholic Church hopes further negotiations before Aug. 22 would see the establishment of a more stable government.

The priest said the church would pressure the government on two fundamental issues: the needs of the people and clean government.

"One of the main things the church is fighting for is better education," he added, saying the church will also continue to push the government on providing clean water and helping farmers.

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