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A New Twist - Political Poker Game in East Timor

Updated On: Jun 23, 2006

After defending insurgent leader Alfredo Reinado and insisting that he "was not a rebel'' for wanting Prime Minister Alkatiri to step down, President Xanana Gusmao now makes public the political feud between him and the Prime Minister, telling the latter either resign or be fired.

The President’s decision was allegedly prompted by an Australian TV program alleging  Alkatiri’s involvement in arming militias to kill his opponents. President Xanana said in his letter: "After seeing the 'Four Corners' program, which enormously shocked me," the letter continues, "there is nothing left for me to do except give you the choice: either you resign, or, after hearing the State Council, I will fire you, because you no longer deserve my confidence."

Alkatiri is under a lot of pressure from all quarters. Under the constitution, the president has limited powers to sack the prime minister, but opposition to Mr Alkatiri appeared to also include members of his own party, Fretilin. Many expect the Prime Minister to resign, given that even his own ruling Fretilin party has lost faith in him. On the eve of 22 June 2006, self-proclaimed Fretilin party spokesman Vicente Maubucy Ximenes said to the press: "We asked the president to suspend him as prime minister and form a transitional government while waiting for next year's election".

However, by the evening of 22 June 2006, his party Fretilin did an about turn. The prime minister held emergency talks with members of his Fretilin party, which control 55 of 88 seats in the country's parliament. After the meeting, Fretilin reaffirmed support for Alkatiri as Prime Minister.

With this latest development, Gusmao has put his own moral authority forward and threatened to resign instead.  He was quoted saying  "Tomorrow I will send a letter to parliament to inform them that I will resign from being president of the republic because I am ashamed of all the bad things that have happened," he said in a broadcast address to the nation that lasted for nearly two hours. Gusmao added that he "didn't have a brave face to show the people" after developments in recent weeks.   

Given this twist of events, the political drama unfolding in East Timor is unlikely to end soon. Analysts and the peace-keeping forces will keeping a close watch on how this open split between the President and the Prime Minister will fuel the underlying tensions and impact the young nation.  

Sources:

Timor Leste's Gusmao wants his PM to quit (Straits Times, 22 June 2006)

Timorese President Gusmao to submit resignation on Friday (Channelnewsasia, 22 June 2006)

Fate of Timor Leste PM hangs in the balance (Channelnewsasia, 22 June 2006)

East Timor's prime minister receives support from ruling party (Canadian Press, 22 June 2006)

Pressure mounts on East Timor's prime minister to resign (Jakarta Post, 22 June 2006)

Cloud of uncertainty shrouds Timor Leste (Jakarta Post, 22 June 2006)

Alkatiri will likely resign (Jakarta Post, 22 June 2006)

Timor Leste president asks prime minister to resign (Straits Times, 21 June 2006)

Order to arrest ex-Timor Leste minister (The Straits Times/AP, 21 June 2006)

Protest calls on ETimor PM to step down as warrant issued for ex-minister (Today/AFP, 21 June 2006)

E Timor president tells PM to go (BBC, 21 June 2006)

Timor Leste's PM likely to resign: senior official (Channelnewsasia, 21 June 2006)

Alkatiri's hitmen? (Today, 20 June 2006)

Arrest warrant issued for Timor ex-interior minister (Straits Times, 20 June 2006)

Protest calls on East Timor FM to step down (ANTARA, 20 June 2006)

East Timor prosecutor issues arrest warrant for ex-interior minister (ANTARA, 20 June 2006)