Power Talks Begin In Timor


East Timor's Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao looks set to lead a new coalition government for the next five years after his National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT) party secured more than 36 per cent of the vote in the nation's parliamentary election on Saturday.

The month-long parliamentary campaign period was peaceful, as were the two rounds of presidential elections in March and April, all considered to be major tests of stability in East Timor ahead of the withdrawal of the UN peacekeeping mission later this year.

Provisional results suggest the CNRT will hold 31 seats in the new parliament, just a few shy of the 33 seats needed to form a majority government, meaning a post-election coalition will need to be formed.

Fretilin, the opposition party to have held the most seats in parliament from the 2002 and 2007 parliamentary elections, is likely to hold 24 seats in the new parliament after receiving about 26 per cent of the vote.

Of the 19 other parties to run in the election, only two are expected to pass the 3 per cent threshold needed to secure seats in the parliament; Frenti-Mudanca are expected to get two seats with 3.11 per cent of the vote and the Democratic Party (PD) eight seats with 10 per cent of the vote.

The National Electoral Commission will announce the national tabulation results in a few days, and clarify the exact number of seats for each party. In the meantime, negotiations are underway to build a coalition to lead the country.


Xanana supporters. Photo by Meagan Weymes.

CNRT general secretary Dioniso Babo Soares said the party was happy with the result but disappointed not to have won an absolute majority, with internal party discussions expected to take place over the next couple of days.

"We're trying to think what we can do next, and so a coalition is possible but we need to have a deep discussion with potential partners."

Fretilin is yet to publicly comment on the result or any negotiations.

The result leaves the third most popular political party, PD, in a powerful position for negotiations, potentially holding enough seats to form a government with either CNRT or Fretilin.

PD campaigned with the backing of the popular former president Jose Ramos-Horta but failed to gain a significant increase on the party's vote in the 2007 election. The party is a part of the current ruling coalition, led by Gusmao, and has indicated it would be willing to work with the CNRT again.

PD vice president Lurdes Bessa said there were two strong opinions within the party, pushing on one side for support of Fretilin and on the other for continued support of CNRT.

"If you want me to be honest I think PD will end up supporting Xanana, there are too many emotional links with him," Bessa told New Matilda.

One week before the election Ramos-Horta told journalists in his beachside home he wanted to see Gusmao leading a "national unity" government involving both Fretilin and CNRT.

"My personal view, and my view does not have to prevail, is that I would like to see Xanana as prime minister for the next five years, but leading a strong government of national unity that involves Fretilin."

Ramos-Horta said PD had also indicated they would be a "loyal partner to Xanana".

"I cannot dictate to the party, but if they listen to me, and as they have indicated in the last few weeks of our conversations, they would support Xanana," he said.

Frenti-Mudanca, a breakaway faction from Fretilin that supported CNRT during the election campaign, could also play a role in a coalition government.

Both PD and CNRT have indicated a decision could be made within days of the national tabulation, but after the 2007 parliamentary election the negotiation period lasted five weeks.

While in the 2007 vote Fretilin received the most votes, the CNRT was able to form a coalition government called the parliamentary majority alliance (AMP) with three smaller parties including PD.

Fretilin refused to recognise the AMP government and mob violence broke out, with hundreds of homes burnt down in the aftermath of the result.

So far the election period has been peaceful, but the Timorese police general commander Longuinhos Monteiro said police will be on high alert until 11 August to ensure there is no repeat of the problems of 2007.

"From now forwards until the forming of a government we will still execute our operation plan to make sure we guarantee the stability and tranquillity of our people."

If stability prevails throughout the election period and a government is formed with a meaningful opposition, the 3000 strong UN peacekeeping mission will start withdrawing in October, and be gone before the end of the year.

Xanana Gusmao and family. Photo by Meagan Weymes

Head of UNMIT Finn Reske-Nielsen said there could be disappointment and tension in the aftermath of the election, depending on the result, but remained confident there will be no repetition of the problems of 2006.

"I can only hope the political leaders will continue to convey these messages to their followers, that whatever you do, don't resort to violence."

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.