Gusmao set to return as head of Timor-Leste coalition govt

Former prime minister of Timor-Leste Xanana Gusmao last month announced he had formed a new coalition. PHOTO: REUTERS
Former prime minister of Timor-Leste Xanana Gusmao last month announced he had formed a new coalition. PHOTO: REUTERS

DILI (Timor-Leste) • A six-party coalition in Timor-Leste is ready to form a government led by independence hero Xanana Gusmao, it told President Francisco Guterres in a letter, according to the coalition's spokesman.

Mr Gusmao, 73, the first president and a former prime minister, last month announced he had formed a new coalition controlling 34 of Parliament's 65 seats and said he would prepare to form a new government.

"This coalition must offer itself as an alternative to ending political impasse" as its goal, the spokesman, Mr Antonio da Conceicao, said yesterday.

The nation has faced a new round of political instability since the collapse of a coalition supporting prime minister Taur Matan Ruak, who goes by the popular name rather than his birth name of Jose Maria de Vasconcelos.

The prime minister quit last month, having repeatedly failed to pass a budget for this year after the largest party in his coalition, the National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction - founded by Mr Gusmao - withdrew its support. The failure to pass the budget caused financial problems for the country, with new programmes and increases in ministerial budgets forbidden, and the government relying on monthly extensions of its 2019 budget.

Mr Ruak had been backed by a three-party coalition, the Alliance of Change for Progress.

But there has been periodic political deadlock and growing tension after Mr Guterres, who belongs to the opposition Fretilin party, rejected some ministers proposed by Mr Gusmao, over accusations of graft.

Mr da Conceicao said the decision to install Mr Gusmao, who held the prime ministerial post from 2007 to 2015, was up to Mr Guterres.

Mr Gusmao was at the forefront of efforts to end Indonesian rule after Jakarta annexed the territory in 1976, and was imprisoned during the rule of then Indonesian President Suharto.

Indonesia agreed to a referendum in 1999 which resulted in a violence-plagued vote for independence in the former Portuguese colony, before it became an independent state in 2002.

Asia's youngest democracy has been beset by political instability in recent years, hampering efforts to reduce poverty, stamp out corruption and develop its rich oil and gas resources. The energy sector contributed about 60 per cent of gross domestic product in 2014 and more than 90 per cent of government revenue.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 11, 2020, with the headline 'Gusmao set to return as head of Timor-Leste coalition govt'. Print Edition | Subscribe