East Timor president dissolves Parliament to hold new elections

East Timor President Francisco "Lu Olo" Guterres (centre) said the election date would be determined according to regulations in the Constitution. PHOTO: REUTERS

DILI, EAST TIMOR (REUTERS) - East Timor is set to hold fresh elections after President Francisco Guterres dissolved Parliament Friday (Jan 26), ending a months-long political impasse that plunged Asia's youngest democracy into a post-election stalemate.

Fighting among lawmakers paralysed the former Portuguese colony and has left it on the brink of its worst period of political instability in more than a decade.

Speaking at the presidential palace, Mr Guterres called for new parliamentary elections to put an end to "a serious institutional crisis" and blasted leaders for turning "their backs to each other".

"I am convinced that the people must be called to vote once again in order to help, to overcome the challenge that lies (ahead) in our young democracy," he said, adding that the date for new elections will be set within 30 days.

Mr Guterres' decision comes after nearly four months of political gridlock amid tensions between Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri's minority government and the opposition, centred around the National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction party led by former president Xanana Gusmao.

Alkatiri's Fretilin party, which won the July election by a narrow margin, did not win enough votes to govern alone and formed a minority coalition government.

With only 30 seats in the 65-seat house, it relied on the confidence and support of other parties in parliament, but opposition lawmakers thwarted its attempt to introduce a policy programme and budget.

Some analysts have warned the charged political environment could lead to unrest.

"The political leaders have managed to keep a lid on this so far, but when they get into campaign mode it is going to be much more difficult to control their supporters," East Timor analyst Damien Kingsbury, from Australia's Deakin University, recently told AFP.

Political turmoil has boiled over before in East Timor, which occupies half of an island shared with Indonesia.

In 2006, the country was racked by violence when rivalries among political elites led to open conflict between factions within the security forces and breakdown in law and order.

Some 31 people were killed in armed clashes, gang violence and rioting in the capital Dili until an international peacekeeping force restored order.

Since then, weak state institutions, unemployment and a laggard economy have been the most pressing issues facing the country.

East Timor was invaded by Indonesia in 1975 before it gained independence in 2002 after a UN sponsored referendum.

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