JOSE BELO and MICHAEL SAINSBURY. Timor-Leste’s new leaders warn president

Former presidents Xanana Gusmao and Tuar Matan Ruak scotch unity government talk

Overwhelmingly Catholic Timor-Leste could be heading for more political strife despite a coalition headed by independence hero Xanana Gusmao having a clear win in May 12 elections.

Gusmao has warned President Francisco “Lu Olo” Guterres against using his veto powers to block future legislation of his Alliance for Change and Progress, known as AMP.

Guterres is from the rival party Fretilin, which Gusmao’s running mate Tuar Matan Ruak vowed to oust from administering the special economic zone of Oecusse, a small exclave surrounded by Indonesian territory in the island’s west. Fretilin leader Mari Alkatiri is president of the Oecusse special economic zone. Fretilin will make no comment until the result of the election is officially declared.

“Here in AMP we have two former presidents, myself and Tuar Matan Ruak, and I also helped the current president to win his election last year,” Gusmao said.

However, I supported him to be president of the republic, not president of the Fretilin party.

“If he vetoes AMP legislation he has to base it on legal and political argument.”

He said Guterres should act in a way that was consistent with being President of the Republic of Timor-Leste and not in a partisan way as president of Fretilin.

Michael Leach, professor of politics at Melbourne’s Swinburne University, told ucanews.com that the nation’s ‘budget system’ was in a list of things that require a super-majority in the legislature to reverse a presidential veto. A super-majority requires a two-thirds vote rather than a simple majority.

“There is some possibility the Supreme Court could find that doesn’t mean budget law, but it seems likely that you’d need a super-majority,” Leach said.

Timor-Leste is without a new budget for 2018 after a political deadlock saw the previous Fretilin government fail to garner enough votes to pass any legislation after being sworn in last September.

The impasse led to this month’s early election

Leach said he thought Timor-Leste would first have what he called a “rectification budget” for the rest of 2018 and that Guterres would not veto it.

“However for the new 2019 budget we could see the veto come into play,” Leach said.

Gusmao dismissed suggestions that his AMP coalition could be expanded into a ‘unity’ government by including the smaller Democratic Party and/or the Democratic Development Forum, which between them hold eight seats in the 65 seat legislature.

Final determination of the government could still be some weeks away as some counting, and checking of several hundred votes, continues.

Once the results have been ratified by the Supreme Court, the president’s role is to invite the winning party to form a government.

AMP sources said that Gusmao was likely to resume the premiership he relinquished in 2015.

Gusmao told journalists that the people of Timor-Leste should be congratulated for the way they voted.

“They have shown a good social conscience to assume responsibility for the future of the nation,” Gusmao said.

He also praised state electoral officials for the efficient way they managed the election process.

“Even though there were some issues of electoral irregularities, when these were raised they recognized the issues and the problems were solved,” Gusmao said.

This article first appeared in ucanews on 17 May 2018

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