Timor-Leste PM offers to quit amid budget impasse

Taur Matan Ruak submits resignation as new coalition waits to take power
Timor-Leste PM offers to quit amid budget impasse

Timor-Leste’s Prime Minister Taur Matan Ruak (left) speaks with President Francisco Guterres as he files his resignation letter at the president’s office in Dili on Feb. 25. (Photo: Valentino Dariel Sousa/AFP)

Timor-Leste Prime Minister Taur Matan Ruak has submitted a letter of resignation to President Francisco "Lu'Olo" Guterres after the country’s parliament failed to pass the 2020 state budget totaling US$1,668 billion.

The two-star general said he would stay in office until the president formally accepts his resignation.

“Until then, I will continue my duties as prime minister," Matan Ruak told reporters at the presidential palace in Dili on Feb. 25 after meeting President Guterres.

He said he was resigning because a new coalition had been established.

Matan Ruak had led a coalition which included his Popular Liberation Party, the National Congress for the Reconstruction of Timor-Leste (CNRT) headed by former premier and president Xanana Gusmao, and Khunto, a youth party.

However, it ran into trouble when it failed to pass the budget last month after the CNRT abstained from voting on the budget bill, according to reports.

Gusmao has since established a new six-party coalition holding 34 seats in the former Portuguese colony’s 65-seat parliament.

The new coalition signed a pact at the CNRT office on Feb. 22, three days before Matan Ruak submitted his resignation letter.

Gusmao said he believed the new coalition could set aside the political uncertainty engulfing the predominantly Catholic nation.

He said the impasse would seriously damage the country’s economy if allowed to continue. Development projects would be put on hold, making small communities vulnerable, he added.

Archbishop Virgilio do Carmo da Silva of Dili called on “politicians of goodwill” to immediately form a new government to lead the people of Timor-Leste out of the current political crisis.

"The people still believe that their leaders can come as one to provide the best solution to answer the needs of the community," the Salesian prelate said.

The deputy president of the East Timor Bishops' Conference asked people to remain calm and pray the Rosary "so that the country’s leaders can form a new government that can unite all people."

Justino Sopalo Ximenes, a political observer from the University of Dili, explained that although a new coalition had been formed, it could take a while before it can be sworn in by the president.

"That could be a long process," Ximenes said. "First, they have to submit the names of new cabinet members and a prime minister candidate to the president. Then they must wait for the president to issue a decree accepting Matan Ruak’s resignation." 

It is thought that a new government will not be installed until around mid-March at the earliest.

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