Prime Minister Taur Matan Ruak (R) with coalition partner, Kay Rala Xanana Gusmão, in happier times, 2017 (Image/Tatoli)

DILI, 20 January 2020 (TATOLI) – Timor-Leste’s Prime Minister Taur Matan Ruak said his governing coalition, AMP, “no longer exists” after Xanana Gusmão’s CNRT Party stymied the government’s second attempt to pass the 2020 budget.

Parliament rejected the revised 2020 general state budget (OJE) on Friday night by 15 votes to 13. A single CNRT member, Bendita Magno, voted against the bill, while her other colleagues abstained.

Prime Minister Taur Matan Ruak pictured following his meeting with President Lu-Olo. (Image/TATOLI)

“Unfortunately, the CNRT members have beaten AMP to death” he said Monday, after a meeting with President Francisco Guterres Lu-Olo.

The government withdrew its previous proposal on December 3 following criticism from MPs over the size and priorities of the OJE spending. The latest rejection comes after the budget was reduced by US $300 million in an attempt to satisfy earlier CNRT concerns.

President Lu-Olo said in an address on Saturday that he would not invoke his constitutional powers to dissolve parliament and bring on Timor’s third election in three years. And he backed Taur Matan Ruak to remain in the job.

“There is no decision yet to break the political situation. Thus [I] will have a discussion with all the heads of [the parties] to hear their ideas to go through the political situation, to bring Timor-Leste forward,” said President Lu-Olo.

That call for unity was echoed by opposition party FRETILIN, which helped defeat Friday’s vote. Party Deputy leader Antoninho Bianco, said it was time for the party leaders to resolve the situation.

“This situation can wake all the leaders to…listen to each other and follow each other,” he said after Friday’s vote.

“It’s time to approach each other and bring this nation into the future.”

PM cannot bring forward another budget in 2020: Tilman

Former presidential candidate and attorney Manuel Tilman argues PM Taur Matan Ruak may have to wait until 2021 to bring forward the 2020 budget.

Former MP, Presidential hopeful, attorney Manuel Tilman (Image/Evaristo Soares Martins)

“Article 97 of the Timor-Leste Constitution provides that when a bill is rejected in this Parliamentary session [in the 2020 financial year] they cannot add a new budget in 2020. Only in 2021 can [the PM] introduce a new bill,” Mr Tilman told TATOLI on Saturday.

A budget standoff would have to last 60 days, he said, for the president to intervene, but also that President Lu-Olo is obliged under the constitution to consult with party leaders before any decision about dissolution.

With the 2020 budget in doubt, the Timor-Leste government is subsisting on a month-by-month funding cycle known as the duodesimal system. The system divides the 2019 budget into 12 installments, and as such, doesn’t match the much-larger spending program proposed for 2020.

PM Taur: My Mandate Continues

Prime Minister Taur Matan Ruak remains optimistic he can maintain his job, saying he “continue[s] to have a mandate,” as decided by President Lu-Olo.

“According to the law, if there is no PM to replace me, I can still continue my responsibility as PM. Tomorrow if there is a new PM coming, [then] after tomorrow I am no longer PM, [but] I am ready to contribute whenever, and [following] any decision,” he said.

The Alliance of Change for Progress (AMP) coalition formed government in May 2018 after national elections, comprised of: Mr Taur’s People’s Liberation Party (PLP); former President Xanana Gusmão’s National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT); and the Better Development of Timorese Nationality party (Kmanek Haburas Unidade Nasional Timor Oan or KHUNTO).

But after four budgets presented to the parliament in just the last two years, the PM recognised the political situation is unique.

“[It’s] significant, extraordinary. Only the parliament will hang the PM on the tree. The CNRT deputies are the ones who destroyed AMP.”

“I am very honoured at the invitation to lead the AMP, and especially [for the invitation] from CNRT to lead this government. I appreciate all the support, but I would like to say that I don’t like pressure and threats,” he said.

Read the original articles in Tetum here: Opposition Asks National Leaders to Sit Down Together; PM Taur: “My Mandate Continues Until Another PM” Arrives; PM Taur: AMP No Longer Exists; Government cannot Present New Budget Bill; Tomorrow, the Head of State Invites Leaders to Meeting

Journalist: Cipriano Colo, Julia Chatarina, Evaristo Soares Martins

Editor: Robert Baird, Xisto Freitas

Translation: Nelia Borges

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