By Michael Sainsbury
Former president and People’s Liberation Party leader Taur Matan Ruak is expected to be named Timor-Leste’s new prime minister this week following a general election last month which saw the opposition Alliance for Change and Progress (AMP) head a coalition with an outright majority.
The poll ended 10 months of political gridlock in Timor-Leste’s 65-seat legislature following an inconclusive July 2017 election that saw main rival Fretilin head an ineffective minority government.
Parliament is scheduled to meet on June 13 after an unexpected delay to swear in the new members, who will then elect a new speaker expected to be veteran politician Arao Noe.
Little is known about him outside the country but Nao is a member of the Congress for Timor Reconstruction (CNRT), the largest party in the AMP alliance.
Following that, the AMP is expected to name its new leadership team.
The alliance is led by the nation’s revolutionary hero Xanana Gusmao, who has already served as president and prime minister and who had initially been expected to take the helm following the election victory.
Gusmao is expected to take a senior role as an adviser to the PM as well as take charge of the nation’s oil and gas assets after recently negotiating a new treaty with neighboring Australia over reserves in the Timor Sea, political sources in the predominantly Catholic nation told ucanews.com.
The elevation of Ruak, 63, to prime minister is the final sign that a long-running battle over the country’s economic development model with his mentor Gusmao is over.
Taur Matan Ruak is the universally used nom de guerre for Jose Maria Vasconcelos, another revolutionary leader who also served as the country’s president from 2012-17.
Ruak succeeded Gusmao as the leader of the revolutionary fighting force Falintil that eventually forced a stalemate with Indonesia, which had been handed control of the half-island nation by the Portuguese when the country’s leftist government abruptly walked away from all their colonial conquests in 1974.
Under Timor-Leste’s heavily Portuguese-influenced constitution, following last month’s parliamentary elections, current president, Francisco “Lu-Olo” Guteres, must consult with all parties who won seats in the legislature
Under the country’s 100 percent proportional representation system, every party that scores more than 4 percent of the national vote gets representation in line with the percentage of their vote.
As a result of last month’s poll, AMP won 34 seats, main rival Fretilin 23 seats, the Democratic Party five seats and the Democratic Progress Party, a collection of smaller parties who combined in order to try and break the 4 percent mark, three seats.
The speaker of the last parliament is supposed to convene the old parliament with seven days to swear in new members, who then elect a new speaker — a job seen as the No. 3 position in the political system.
The last parliament’s speaker is a member of Fretilin, which headed a minority government coalition with the Democratic Party until the political gridlock of being unable to pass a single piece of legislation saw Lu-Olo call fresh elections in March to be held two months later.
His delay in convening parliament and getting a new government, desperately needed to pass budget bills that will allow more funds to flow into much-needed services and infrastructure, underscores the bitterness with which the two main parties fought the election.
There has been lengthy internal wrangling between the parties — the Congress for Timorese reconstruction headed by Gusmao, the People’s Progressive Party headed by Ruak and political neophytes Khunto, a martial arts street gang group that morphed into an unrepeated political force in the July 2017 election.