East Timor’s weekend elections expected to end political gridlock

Voters in East Timor will go to the polls on Saturday after President Francisco Guterres dissolved Parliament in January, seen here. (AFP)
Updated 10 May 2018
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East Timor’s weekend elections expected to end political gridlock

JAKARTA: Voters in East Timor will go to the polls on Saturday after President Francisco Guterres dissolved Parliament in January because the minority government led by Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri failed to secure approval for his government’s budget and program.
The elections will be the second in less than a year and are expected to produce a clear winner to end a political gridlock that hampers development for a population of 1.2 million.
It was the first time in East Timor’s 15 years of independence that the Parliament was dissolved, Arif Abdullah Sagran, a former member of East Timor’s election commission, told Arab News in an interview during a recent visit in Jakarta.
The two political blocks are competing to secure at least 35 seats in the 65-member Parliament to form a majority government.
“This will be a hotly-contested election. We will not have political stablity if none of them is able to win at least 35 seats,” Julio Tomas Pinto, a political science professor at the National University of East Timor, told Arab News.
Alkatiri’s Fretilin party narrowly won the July 2017 elections with 23 seats, followed by the National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT), the party led by first president and independence hero Xanana Gusmao, which won 22 seats.
But the two political giants were on opposing sides and the Fretilin formed a minority government with the Democrats, which had seven seats, while Gusmao’s CNRT went into coalition with the People’s Liberation Party (PLP), which had eight seats, and the Khunto party, which had five seats, forming a majority in the Parliament.
Pinto said that the CNRT, PLP and Khunto have been campaigning under a new banner, the Alianca Mudanca ba Progresso, or Alliance for Change and Progress (AMP), and the alliance could win the election if the three parties can maintain the same results as last year’s elections.
He added that public perception seemed to favor Xanana’s CNRT as the winner, while Sagran said support from the grassroots for the Fretilin looked strong.
“But there is no guarantee, we have too much floating mass,” said Pinto, who served as secretary of state for defense from 2007 to 2015.
According to data from the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), there are 784,286 voters and 48 percent of them are women.
The number of eligible voters are roughly the same as last year’s amount, which saw voters not showing up at voting booths.

 

“We hope voters turnout will be higher this time,” Pinto said, adding that democracy in one of the world’s youngest nation was being tested with the upcoming elections, which he said would set an example for the younger generation.
Gusmao and Alkatiri are two of the most prominent figures in East Timor, which gained its independence in 2002 after it voted to end Indonesia’s 24-year occupation in a referendum in 1999.
The two political lions have dominated East Timor’s politics and both served as the country’s president and prime minister. Caretaker Prime Minister Alkatiri, a Muslim leader of Yemeni descent in a Catholic-majority country, served as the country’s first prime minister in 2002-2006, alongside Gusmao who served as the country’s first president in 2002-2007. The latter also served as prime minister in 2007-2015.
Pinto said members of CNRT and its coalition were mainly former resistance guerillas who fought during Indonesia’s occupation while Fretilin members were mostly diplomats who had been abroad advocating for East Timor’s independence.
“However, we don’t want to contradict the two of them because both forces are assets for East Timor. This election will be a test case of our elite’s political maturity,” Pinto said. 

 

“The people are fed up with the elite’s arrogance. When (the opposition) directly rejected the government’s budget without even deliberating, it was clearly harsh politics and I think the people were quite disappointed with that,” said Sagran, who is president of the Center of East Timor Islamic Community, and like Alkatiri is one of the few Muslim figures who have held positions as government officials in East Timor.
Xanana is enjoying a boost in his popularity after he served as chief negotiator during negotiations with neighboring Australia that resulted in the signing of a treaty on maritime borders between the two countries in March. The treaty promises major revenue sharing with Australia from exploitation of rich oil and gas reserves in the Timor Sea.
According to East Timor’s Maritime Boundary Office, the permanent maritime boundaries served as “the final step in realizing full sovereign rights” for East Timor as a newly independent state since the seas which surround the island sustain its people and are integral to their culture and livelihoods.
If CNRT wins the elections, Xanana could assume another premiership but Sagran said Xanana could appoint someone else from within the coalition ranks as prime minister.
Pinto said that the elections could also be a test of the country’s constitution, which he said was adapted from its former colonizer Portugal.
He said there were articles in the constitution that did not have detailed explanation, such as the deadline to propose the second budget to the Parliament if the first one was rejected. This means each party could interpret them in accordance with their own interests.
“We will see if our constitution will really fit with our people or just be a copy from the Portuguese, which is not entirely implementable here,” Pinto said.

Decoder

East Timor

East Timor is a secular country, although the Catholic church has a big influence in the society. Muslims make up about 0.3 percent of the population. The national language is Tetum and the official one is Portuguese, while English and Indonesian are widely spoken. The country’s official name is the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste.

FASTFACTS

East Timor

East Timor is a parliamentary republic and has a unicameral Parliament which serves for a five-year term. It is a half-island nation that covers a 15,007 km square area located on the eastern part of Timor Island. It borders with Indonesia’s East Nusa Tenggara province on the western part of the island and shares a maritime border with Australia to the south in the Timor Sea.


Ireland referendum could lift strict ban on abortion

A woman carries a placard as Ireland holds a referendum on liberalising abortion laws, in Dublin, Ireland, on Friday. (REUTERS)
Updated 26 May 2018
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Ireland referendum could lift strict ban on abortion

  • Exit polls says 68 percent of voters back change
  • The country's leaders support a "yes," an outcome that would repeal a 1983 constitutional amendment

DUBLIN: Ireland’s referendum Friday represented more than a vote on whether to end the country’s strict abortion ban. It was a battle for the very soul of a traditionally conservative Roman Catholic nation that has seen a wave of liberalization in recent years.
An Irish Times exit poll released Friday night projected a landslide victory for those who want to loosen abortion laws, but official results are not expected until Saturday afternoon.
The country’s leaders support a “yes,” an outcome that would repeal a 1983 constitutional amendment requiring authorities to treat a fetus and its mother as equals under the law. They called it a once-in-a-generation opportunity to liberalize some of Europe’s strictest abortion rules.
Voters went to the polls after a campaign that aroused deep emotions on both sides. For advocates of repeal, a “yes” vote would be a landmark in Irish women’s fight for equality and the right to control their own bodies. For opponents, it would be a betrayal of Ireland’s commitment to protect the unborn.
The vote also is a key indicator of Ireland’s trajectory, three years after the country voted to allow same-sex marriages and a year after its first openly gay prime minister took office.
The newspaper exit poll indicated overwhelming support for change. The survey by pollster Ipsos-MRBI says 68 percent of voters backed repeal of the ban and 32 percent opposed it. The pollster says it interviewed some 4,000 people and the survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 1.5 percentage points. The poll is only a prediction.
Theresa Sweeney, a repeal supporter, was one of the first to arrive at a church polling station in Dublin.
“I feel like I’ve waited all of my adult life to have a say on this,” she said.
Emma Leahy said her “yes” vote comes from her firm belief that everyone should be able to make their own choice when it comes to abortion.
“For Ireland, it’s hope for the future,” she said of the referendum. “Whether you agree or disagree, it shouldn’t be the government or anyone else making that decision.”
Vera Rooney voted against repeal.
“It is a hard decision but I just feel I don’t have the right to take life,” she said. “I think life is sacred and for that reason I had to vote no.”
The referendum will decide whether the eighth amendment of the constitution is repealed or stays in place.
The amendment requires authorities to equally protect the right to life of a mother and that of a fetus, from the moment of conception. That effectively bans all abortions in Ireland, except in cases when the woman’s life is at risk. Having an illegal abortion is punishable by up to 14 years in prison, and several thousand Irish women travel each year to get abortions in neighboring Britain.
If citizens vote in favor of repeal, new abortion laws will then be discussed in parliament. The government proposes that terminations be allowed during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Later abortions would be allowed in special cases.
Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, a doctor, voted in favor of repeal.
“Not taking anything for granted of course, but quietly confident,” he said, adding that the upside of a sunny day in Ireland is that people come out to vote.
Thousands of Irish people abroad traveled home to take part in the historic referendum, and supporters of repeal gathered at Dublin Airport to give arrivals an ecstatic welcome.
Some activists held a placard reading “Thank you for making the journey so other women don’t have to” — a reference to the way Irish women seeking abortions have had to leave the country to obtain them.
Tara Flynn, who 11 years ago flew to the Netherlands for an abortion, said she planned to vote “yes” to make sure future generations of women don’t endure what she did, with feelings of isolation and shame.
She said her vote would be one for solidarity and compassion, “a vote to say, I don’t send you away anymore.”
Campaigning was not allowed Friday, but Dublin was still filled with signs and banners urging citizens to vote “yes” or “no.” Many of the anti-abortion signs showed photographs of fetuses.
Voting has already taken place on Ireland’s remote islands so that paper ballots can be taken to the mainland and counted in time.
Letters to the editor published Friday in the Irish Independent newspaper contained several emotional arguments urging voters to reject the repeal movement.
“If we vote ‘yes’ every unborn, wanted and unwanted, will have zero rights,” wrote Frances Kelleher, from Killarney. “I do not believe the smart people of Ireland want this unrestricted, abortion-on-demand bill.”