Can Independence Hero Xanana Gusmao Guide East Timor Out of Political Chaos?

Can Independence Hero Xanana Gusmao Guide East Timor Out of Political Chaos?
East Timorese independence hero Xanana Gusmao, center, waves a national flag in Dili, East Timor, March 11, 2018 (AP photo by Valentino Darriel).

After months of political turmoil in East Timor, a new six-party coalition government led by Xanana Gusmao, a former president and independence hero, and his National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction, or CNRT, is set to take office. The previous government, led by Prime Minister Taur Matan Ruak, collapsed after failing to pass a budget in January. President Francisco Guterres must now decide whether to accept Ruak’s resignation and install the new government. But even if he does, the new CNRT-led coalition could be difficult to manage, says Michael Leach, an expert on East Timor’s politics at Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, Australia. In an email interview with WPR, he discusses the near-term political outlook in East Timor.

World Politics Review: Why has Prime Minister Taur Matan Ruak’s coalition government been unable to pass a budget?

Michael Leach: Following the 2018 parliamentary elections, a three-party coalition government was formed called the Alliance for Change and Progress. But when the new government announced its lineup of Cabinet ministers, President Francisco Guterres of the opposition Fretilin party refused to install nine ministerial nominees, most of whom were from the largest of the coalition partners, the CNRT. Guterres cited judicial inquiries into misconduct or “poor moral standing” of the nominees. As a result, the Cabinet was subsequently dominated by ministers from the two smaller coalition partners, Ruak’s People’s Liberation Party, or PLP, and KHUNTO, which draws its support from disenfranchised youth and has strong ties to the country’s organized martial arts groups.

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