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Timor Leste

Timor-Leste stuck with minority govt as Khunto withdraws

Doubts grow as to whether Fretilin-led coalition and returning first PM Mari Alkatiri can survive five years

Timor-Leste stuck with minority govt as Khunto withdraws

President Francisco Guterres (right) and Prime Minister Alkatiri cheer after formation of a new government. (Photo by Thomas Ora)

Timor-Leste faces fresh political uncertainty after the youth focused Khunto Party pulled out of a three-way coalition two days before the Sept. 15 inauguration of the cabinet.

The move casts doubt over whether the now-minority government can last a full five year term.

The government now has to win over members from other parties to vote for its budget, if that gets voted down twice then fresh elections need to be called.

Khunto’s senior adviser Jose Dos Santos Naimori said the party decided it could not work with the leaders of the coalition’s senior partner Fretilin which scored the most votes of any party in the July 22 poll.

But the tiny nation’s new prime minister, Mari Alkatiri who has begun a second term after having led the Catholic majority country from 2002-2006 claimed Khunto had internal problems that needed immediate attention in order not to disrupt the coalition.

"We’ve worked for one month for the coalition, but it had to end as Fretilin does not cooperate," Naimori told reporters on Sept. 14.

That means Khunto will now sit in opposition in Dili along with the National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction and Popular Liberation Party.

Professor Damien Kingsbury from Melbourne’s Deakin University questioned whether Alkatiri’s coalition could last the distance."Now its back to a minority government, between Fretilin and PD [Democratic Party] which, until this latest deal, had a longstanding antagonistic relationship (PD left the government in 2015 after Fretilin was invited to join it), " he told ucanews.com.

"It will be interesting to see how they get along, and how long they last. [It] may be pragmatic enough for it to be workable, if a minority administration can be that." 

Alkatiri who became the country’s first prime minister in 2002 and resigned in 2006 due to political instability, assured the public that the government will last for five years.

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"I guarantee that this government will last for five years," Alkatiri said during a media briefing following the inauguration on Sept. 15.

He also promised to include the country’s finest people to hold important posts based on their competencies, even from opposition parties.

Two former prime ministers are in the first batch of 12 cabinet ministers inducted on Sept. 15.

President Francisco ‘Lu-Olo’ Guterres inducted Alkatiri, 68, as PM; Jose Ramos Horta as Minister of State and Counselor for National Security; and Rui Maria de Araujo as Minister of Health, with one independent politician, Rui Gomes, appointed as Minister of Planning and Finance.

Another 18 cabinet members will be sworn in next month.

Executive director of the HAK Foundation, Manule Monteiro, a seasoned observer of Timor-Leste politics, has confidence in the new government, indicated through the appointment of key people to the cabinet.

"I believe it will last for five years," Monteiro told ucanews.com Sept.19.

He said Alkatiri has applied the principle of "the right man in the right place" by appointing ministers based on their competencies, not on power sharing. This is what the people have waited for."

"If Alkatiri does the same thing with the remaining 18 posts, I think the people will be happy, Fretilin will gain much support, and in no way will it stop in the middle of the road," he added.

Camilo Ximenes, a political analyst from Timor-Leste State University warned that a minority government faces a serious problem when it comes to passing legislation, particularly the state budget.

Article 112 of Timor-Leste’s Constitution states that failure to pass the budget twice in a row, means another election must be held.

"But it can be solved through building strategic and intensive communication with all political factions in parliament," he said.

Bishop Norberto do Amaral of Maliana appealed to Catholics of Timor-Leste, especially the political elite, and the 65 members of the House of Representatives, to unite and ensure stability.

"I urge all political elites to be humble and engage in a common dialogue to solve the basic needs of the people," Bishop Amaral told Jornal Nasional Diario Timor.

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