Thwarting the people’s will: preventing the formation of a progressive coalition government in Timor-Leste
The Network for Social Democracy in Asia (Socdem Asia) Statement on the attempt to thwart the formation of a progressive government in Timor-Leste
Socdem Asia is concerned with the political developments transpiring in Timor-Leste. What is transpiring is an attempt by opposition parties to topple the FRETILIN-led government coalition despite their own declarations of remaining as a constructive opposition and to ensure stability in governance.
As it stands, the progressive Frente Revolucionária do Timor-Leste Independente (FRETILIN) has been voted by the people to lead a government during the 22 July 2017 General Elections. While it has not received the absolute majority of votes, it is the largest political party in parliament with 23 out of 65 seats (The smaller Democratic Party, or PD, has joined FRETILIN to form a minority government of 30 members of parliament). As the largest party, FRETILIN has the priority of forming the government as provided by the Constitution of Timor-Leste. Moreover, the second largest party National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT) has publicly declared its commitment to remain as an opposition party and decline any opportunity to form a coalition government. Other parties in the opposition have made similar gestures by declaring that they would be constructive opposition parties. On such grounds, the President of the Republic formally designated FRETILIN Secretary-General Dr. Mari Alkatiri as the new Prime Minister at the proposal of FRETILIN and The PD and after consultations with all the parties with Parliamentary seats as mandated by the Constitution.
Despite their promise to remain in opposition to serve their constitutional role as a check on government, the CNRT, Popular Liberation Party (PLP), and KHUNTO party have scrambled for a last-ditched effort to form their own coalition government. These opposition parties voted against the FRETILIN-led coalition program of government solely on the ground of the governing coalition has no Parliamentary Majority while making no substantial arguments against the program and openly declared their intent to form a government even though a government has been formed.
Even in normal procedures in parliamentary democracies, such a scenario would be out of the ordinary. Minority coalitions are allowed to take the reins of government and prove that their program of government works. This is not the case. No opportunity was given to FRETILIN to make its case of a progressive and democratic program of government. This ploy by the opposition parties is borne of bad faith and is clearly an attempt to prevent FRETILIN from becoming a working government at all costs despite the fact that from 2015-2017, FRETILIN supported the CNRT led minority government while remaining in the opposition for the sake of stability and strengthening the country’s democratic institutions.
FRETILIN’s electoral victory cannot be denied. The people have granted it the authority and mandate as the largest party with the responsibility to form a working government. At every opportunity, the other parties have actively blocked such attempts, contradicting their own admirable commitments not to form a government. This complete u-turn is simple political jockeying at the expense of the people. The Timorese people voted for a progressive, working, and stable government not political drama.
For a small and young country such as Timor-Leste wrangling with a traumatic past of occupation and war, small political upheavals are magnified and harm the people. The Timorese people expect and deserve mature political leadership.
To this end, Socdem Asia calls on all political leaders in Timor-Leste to respect the will of the people of Timor-Leste. The will of the people means that Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri and the FRETILIN-led coalition must continue with its constitutional duty to govern and for the other parties to fully exercise their constitutional duty as check and balance on government as a constructive opposition. Attempts to wrestle power without properly engaging the program of governance by the FRETILIN-led coalition is not in line with the mandate given by the people during the elections.
We also urge the Timorese people to ensure that their decision during the last elections is actualized. Albeit a young country, they have shown their commitment to democracy. Now, they must ensure that their leaders do the same. Their vigilance is needed to prevent attempts to hijack their democratic decision. They voted for a stable and progressive government. This is what they deserve.