Timor-Leste – The new unity government

On 16 February President Taur Matan Ruak swore in a unity government following the resignation of former PM Xanana Gusmão, founder and leader of the ruling National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT) party. The CNRT nominated Rui Araújo, member of Timor-Leste’s opposition party, FRETILIN, for the post of prime minister. The net effect of the government reshuffle is that Timor-Leste no longer has an opposition party in parliament.

Gusmão has been the face of Timor-Leste since independence in 2002. As a former resistance fighter he was the main leader of the independence movement against the Indonesian occupation (1975-1999). Gusmão was the first president of post-independent Timor-Leste (2002-2007) and served as prime minister since 2007.

Gusmão’s CNRT party won the 2012 parliamentary election and formed a coalition with two smaller parties – the Democratic Party (PD) and FRETILIN splinter party, Frenti-Mudanca (FM). Together, the coalition government occupied 40 seats in the 65-member assembly. FRETILIN became the single opposition party with 25 seats. At the time, the CNRT explicitly rejected FRETILIN’s proposal to form a broad-based coalition, which led to violent protests by FRETILIN supporters and clashes with security forces in July 2012.

Given that after Gusmão’s resignation President Taur Matan Ruak did not call for fresh parliamentary elections the party composition in parliament remains unchanged. In other words, the newly formed unity government now holds all seats in parliament and, consequently, there is no opposition party that can hold the government to account.

The fact that Gusmão has tendered his resignation does not come as a surprise, however. Gusmão has stated several times not to stay on as prime minister until the 2017 parliamentary electies.

Yet Gusmão’s move to pick his successor from opposition party FRETILIN is, at minimum, extraordinary. During the independence struggle Gusmão and members of FRETILIN were already political rivals. Conflicts between both camps continued and were ‘institutionalised’ during a period of cohabitation (2002-2006) when Gusmão was elected President and the secretary-general of FRETILIN, Marí Alkatiri, Prime Minister.[1] Also as an opposition party FRETILIN waged a political battle against Gusmão’s CNRT coalition government, accusing it of corruption and gross financial mismanagement. So, bringing FRETILIN into government may ease the young nation’s often fraught politics.

PM Araújo is Timor-Leste’s fifth post-independence PM. He served as Heath Minister under the United Nations Transitional Administration (2001-2002) and under the FRETILIN government (2002-2007). After the CNRT won the parliamentary elections in 2007, Araújo worked as a policy advisor at the Ministry of Finance.

PM Araújo’s explanation for the government reshuffle was that Timor-Leste is too small for divisive politics. ‘The pool of talent is very limited,’ he said. ‘We came to the realisation . . . we have to call everybody who is willing and who is capable of contributing to the development of this country to participate in the government.’

The question remains why the top job went to a FRETILIN member and not to a member of one of the ruling parties. Some speculate that political infighting between CNRT, PD and FM about the PM’s position gave way for the new coalition between CNRT and FRETILIN. Only recently, the leaders of the PD and FM declared not to be sure whether to support the new PM.

So whether the unity government will be a stable government is an open question. For instance, what happens if the new Prime Minister and old Prime Minister – now Minister of Planning and Strategic Investment – disagree? Another important question is how the parties in the same government will run against each other in the 2017 parliamentary election.


Structure of the VI Constitutional Government

Prime Minister Rui Araújo FRETILIN
Minister of State and of the Presidency of the Council of Ministers Ágio Pereira CNRT
Minister of State, Coordinating Minister of Social Affairs and Minister of Education Fernando LaSama de Araújo PD
Minister of State, Coordinating Minister of Economic Affairs and Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries Estanislau da Silva FRETILIN
Minister of State, Coordinating Minister of State Administration Affairs and Justice and Minister of State Administration Dionísio Babo Soares CNRT
Minister of Finance Santina Cardoso Independent
Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation Hernâni Coelho FRETILIN
Minister of Justice Ivo Valente CNRT
Minister of Health Maria do Céu Pina daCosta CNRT
Minister of Social Solidarity Isabel Guterres Independent
Minister of Commerce, Industry and Environment António da Conceição PD
Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture Francisco Kalbuady Lay CNRT
Minister of Public Works, Transport and Communication Gastão de Sousa PD
Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources Alfredo Pires CNRT
Minister of Defence Cirilo Cristóvão CNRT
Minister of the Interior Longuinhos Monteiro Independent
Minister of Planning and Strategic Investment Xanana Gusmão CNRT

 

[1] Beuman, L. M. (2013) ‘Cohabitation in New Post-Conflict Democracies: The Case of Timor-Leste’, Parliamentary Affairs, 1-23. doi:10.1093/pa/gst016.

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