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New challenges for Timor Leste

DILI (SE): The six weeks following an indecisive election in the tiny nation of Timor Leste on July 21 was a turbulent period during which the various political parties, none of which won sufficient seats in the parliament to govern in its own right, sorted out a few alliances and finally formed a government and, for the first time, a viable opposition.
Aniceto Longuinho Guterres Lopes, from Fretlin, a political party that grew out of the Revolutionary Front that fought for independence from Indonesia, was elected the president of the parliament.
He defeated Hugo da Costa, who was backed by the National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction and the Popular Liberation Party.
Lopes is a former human rights lawyer and recipient of the 2003 Ramon Magsaysay Award.
In his first speech following his victory, he said, “We have to collaborate in dealing with economic issues, health, education, unemployment, and poverty.”
Lopes asked all parties to set their differences aside and work together for a better society. “Parliament is ready to work with the Catholic Church and other religions, and all elements in society,” he said.
However, two days before the September 15 inauguration of the cabinet, fresh political uncertainty arose after the youth focussed Khunto Party pulled out of a three-way coalition.
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 and 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 nation’s second-term prime minister, Mari Alkatiri, claimed that Khunto had internal problems that needed immediate attention in order not to disrupt the coalition.
Khunto will now sit in opposition in Dili along with the National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction and Popular Liberation Party.
Stressing the important role an influential opposition can play in the governance of a country, Fidelis Manuel Leite Magalhaes said that his Popular Liberation Party deliberately chose to be in opposition to ensure that the next government really does work for the welfare of the people and not party interests.
However, the pressure is now on to finalise a deal with Australia by October next year over shared resources in the Timor Sea.
In the week prior to the forming of the new government, an ongoing dispute over natural resources lying beneath the Timor Sea with its larger neighbour, Australia, was settled.
It came as the result of a bit of a gamble, when in January this year Dili told an International Court of Arbitration in The Hague it would terminate a 2006 agreement that gave it control over fishing resources within the disputed seas in exchange for an increase in its share in the Greater Sunrise oil and gas deposit from 18 to 50 per cent.
But the remaining sticking point over the Greater Sunrise enterprise is that Australia wants to pipe gas directly to Darwin for processing, while Dili wants to run the pipeline to the south of its own land and process it there, as it badly needs to develop income and salable products rather than simply relying on selling off the family jewels.
Pelagio Doutel, a researcher at La’o Hamutuk, a Dili-based organisation monitoring government policies, notes that since 2005, Timor Leste has been too dependent on oil as the primary source of revenue and that the new parliament should ensure that the government creates comes up with some new alternatives.
Lopes, who has been in parliament for 15 years, has called on members of the five political parties to improve their work rate and to travel to the country’s remotest areas to identify and understand the real problems faced by Timor-Leste’s largely impoverished people.

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