Tag: Taur Matan Ruak

East Timor’s present and future leaders keep its ASEAN aspiration alive

Despite their political differences, outgoing and incoming leadership of East Timor said that its bid to become the 11th member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is a mutual goal that they continue to strive.

Outgoing Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri said East Timor’s ASEAN membership is “a very long dream.”

“This is one of the few things that is a consensus between the leadership of Timor Leste, despite the differences,” he said in an interview last month at a hotel near the headquarters of his Fretilin party.

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East Timor Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri with his wife Marina Ribeiro Alkatiri, daughter Nurima Ribeiro Alkatiri and son-in-law Machel Silveira, pose for a photograph after an interview on May 12, 2018. Photo: The Parrot/Ismira Lutfia Tisnadibrata

Alkatiri also described Indonesia as East Timor’s “biggest supporter” in its efforts to join ASEAN.

Indonesia was one of the regional bloc’s founding countries when it was established in 1967, and is regarded as its de facto leader. Indonesia endorsed East Timor’s ASEAN bid when it formally submitted its application in 2011 during Indonesia’s ASEAN chairmanship.

Alkatiri has been leading a short-lived, minority government and the party lost to a three-party coalition led by independence hero Xanana Gusmao’s National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT) in the May 12 parliamentary election.

Gusmao, who is expected to nominate former president Taur Matan Ruak as the next prime minister this week, said East Timor is doing its best to become an ASEAN member.

“We understand some (member) countries think we are not ready, but sooner or later, we will be a member,” Gusmao said in an interview at his party CNRT headquarters.

Singapore, the current chair, has been reluctant to welcome East Timor into the bloc, but has said it looked forward to East Timor meeting the requirements to allow it to become a member.

So far, East Timor has met two of the requirements to be an ASEAN member: The country is located in Southeast Asia and has embassies in all 10 member states.

Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said after hosting an ASEAN leaders’ summit in April that the topic was discussed during the forum, but “there was no extended discussion of the matter in this meeting.”

Luis da Costa Ximenes, director of the Dili-based conflict-prevention NGO Belun said there is a different level of regional engagement with fellow civil society organizations in neighboring countries.

He added that members of the network have been lending support for each other in their advocacy on various issues such as human rights and development.

“There are national East Timor issues, such as illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing that is also a regional issue,” he said.

“Civil societies in East Timor is already part of the civil societies network in Southeast Asia and at this level, we always campaign for East Timor’s admission to ASEAN,” Ximenes said.

Veteran Thai journalist and long time ASEAN observer Kavi Chongkittavorn said it is Singapore that East Timor, which is one of the most democratic country in the region, has to convince to secure support for its ASEAN admission.

“East Timor membership in ASEAN is long overdue,” Kavi said, acknowledging that East Timor officials would still need capacity-building training and other preparations in the political security, economy and social cultural communities, as the other previous new members did before they gained admission to the bloc.

He added that East Timor’s admission to ASEAN is also about the democratic attitude in the region and Thailand, which will assume the next bloc chairmanship after Singapore, would admit East Timor for good.

“East Timor’s membership to ASEAN will increase the democratic weight within the grouping,” he said.

Read the full interview with East Timor’s outgoing Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri in Arab News

East Timor independence fighter set to become PM again

Ballot-counting almost finished in East Timor on Sunday, with a three-party coalition headed by independence fighter Xanana Gusmao leading in the vote, making him likely to be prime minister for the third time in one of the world’s youngest nations.

The Alliance for Change and Progress (AMP) is ahead with 49.41 percent, while the Fretilin party, whose Secretary-General Mari Alkatiri is incumbent prime minister, is second with 34.34 percent, according to data from the Technical Secretariat for Electoral Administration.

As of Sunday afternoon, 607,272 votes, or 98.26 percent, had been counted, but the final result is expected by Monday morning.

With the votes counted so far, the AMP is set to win at least 34 seats in the 65-seat Parliament, while Fretilin is likely to win 23, similar to what it achieved in last year’s election.

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East Timor Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri voted in Dili’s Farol neighborhood on Saturday, May 12, 2018. Photo: The Parrot/Ismira Lutfia Tisnadibrata

The result is expected to end months of political gridlock that has delayed development programs in the country, which voted to secede from Indonesia in 1999 and gained full independence in 2002.

An AMP source said that Gusmao, a former president and prime minister, will reassume the premiership and Taur Matan Ruak, a former president and head of the People’s Liberation Party — which is part of the AMP coalition — will be a deputy prime minister.

Arif Abdullah Sagran, a local political observer, said he is pessimistic that a government led by Gusmao will bring any change to development and social welfare in East Timor.

“Gusmao’s programs were always populist. They looked good only in the short term,” Sagran said, adding that Fretilin will not be much of a challenge to the future ruling coalition.

“The challenge will come from within the AMP, because the three parties that make up the coalition are very different from one another. The only thing that unites them is that they were facing the same opposition.”

Both sides refused to comment on the results until they become official at the end of the month after verification by the High Court.

Arlindo Amaral, a 38-year-old taxi driver who voted for Fretilin, said whatever the election outcome, what matters most is that all parties should be willing to work together to push for development in East Timor.

“The next government should be able to create more jobs, provide better electricity and clean water, and make their campaign promises a reality,” he said.

Youth unemployment remains high at 11 percent, according to the World Bank, and about 65 percent of East Timor’s population of 1.2 million is below 25 years old.

President Francisco Guterres called for elections after he dissolved Parliament in January following the collapse of the Fretilin-led minority government, which failed to secure Parliament’s approval for its budget and program.

The country’s revenue mainly comes from its oil and gas sector, which contributed around 70 percent to gross domestic product (GDP), which in 2016 was $1.783 billion, according to the World Bank.

The story first appeared in Arab News