East Timor’s weekend elections expected to end political gridlock

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

East Timor’s weekend elections expected to end political gridlock

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.


UK’s Labour faces legal complaint for hiring alleged ex-Israeli intelligence operator

UK’s Labour faces legal complaint for hiring alleged ex-Israeli intelligence operator
Updated 02 March 2021

UK’s Labour faces legal complaint for hiring alleged ex-Israeli intelligence operator

UK’s Labour faces legal complaint for hiring alleged ex-Israeli intelligence operator
  • Assaf Kaplan alleged to have worked for cyber branch of Israeli Defense Forces
  • Complaint brought by lawyers representing Palestinian Labour member

LONDON: Lawyers acting on behalf of a Palestinian activist and Labour member have complained to the opposition party over its recent hire of an alleged former Israeli intelligence operator in a social media strategy role.

The party hired Assaf Kaplan as a social listening and organizing manager, described as “a crucial new role at the heart of Labour’s new approach to digital campaigning.”

The complaint from Bindmans solicitors alleges that Kaplan worked for Unit 8200, the cyber branch of the Israel Defense Forces, from 2009 to 2013.

The lawyers outline the unit’s controversial surveillance practices against Palestinian civilians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.

In 2014, 43 veterans of Unit 8200 signed a public letter refusing to serve in operations that focused on the occupied Palestinian territories because of civilians being surveilled, which they feared could be used for blackmail.

It is unclear what Kaplan did within the unit or whether he had any knowledge of the monitoring of citizens.

The job description for his new role at the Labour Party says the worker “will help to move the social media listening framework of the party to be laser focused on those we need to win over to form the next government.”

Bindmans solicitors say the party’s stance on the illegal occupation of Palestinian territories should have ruled out Kaplan from the role. They have urged Labour to explain the decision.

Kaplan’s hiring has also drawn a complaint from former Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell.

Adnan Hmidan, who Bindmans are representing, was born to Palestinian parents who were forcibly removed to Jordan.

Bindmans’ letter states that Labour conferences under various leaderships have criticized Israeli annexation plans as breaching international law.

The lawyers say if Labour knew about Kaplan’s background, it has failed to consider the views of its Palestinian members, and if it did not know, it has failed to show due diligence.

Hmidan said he is concerned about the personal data of party members that Kaplan could access in his role.


UK government may try to avoid vote on foreign aid cuts

UK government may try to avoid vote on foreign aid cuts
Updated 02 March 2021

UK government may try to avoid vote on foreign aid cuts

UK government may try to avoid vote on foreign aid cuts
  • Reduction of spending in Yemen prompts questions in Parliament
  • There is enough opposition to suggest a vote could be defeated

LONDON: The UK government may cut the amount of money it spends on foreign aid without pushing a law through Parliament, so as to avoid MPs rejecting it.

The government announced last year that it planned to reduce overseas aid from 0.7 percent of gross domestic product to 0.5 percent due to the coronavirus pandemic, but it has faced criticism over the effect this could have in certain parts of the world.

In particular, a reduction in the UK’s spending in war-torn, famine-hit Yemen from £164 million ($233.36 million) to £87 million has met with stern opposition at home and abroad, with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres calling it “a death sentence” for millions of people.

It has met hostility from opposition MPs and government backbenchers in large enough numbers to suggest that a vote on amending foreign aid could be defeated.

On Tuesday, Middle East and North Africa Minister James Cleverly was asked by Conservative MP Damian Green in the UK’s House of Commons whether he could “give a commitment today that further cuts won’t be made until that necessary legislation promised by ministers to this House to enact this policy has been put to a vote, so that this House can express a view?”

Cleverly failed to say if legislation would be brought to Parliament, saying he “envisaged that (the) 0.7 percent (spending) target may not be met,” and “the government is well able to listen to the mood of the House without legislation.”

Conservative MP Anthony Mangnall challenged this suggestion, saying: “If the government is so reassured by its position, then I suggest it brings a vote to the House on this issue, and they can truly gauge the strength of feeling.”

Whether the government would be able to legally cut the foreign aid budget, currently enshrined in UK law, without a vote in Parliament is unclear, and would likely be subject to judicial review if attempted.

There have also been suggestions that a vote could be attached to other votes over the upcoming UK budget, set to be announced on Wednesday, to reduce the likelihood of it being rejected. The UK is the only G7 country to have proposed reducing its foreign aid this year.
 


US ambassador to UN demands information on Syria detainees

US ambassador to UN demands information on Syria detainees
Updated 02 March 2021

US ambassador to UN demands information on Syria detainees

US ambassador to UN demands information on Syria detainees
  • 14,000 Syrians reportedly tortured and thousands forcibly disappeared, US ambassador to UN tells General Assembly

United Nations, United States, March 2, 2021 Agence France Presse: Syria has been demanded to make the status of detainees public and return any bodies of the dead to their families in an address by the US ambassador to the UN’s General Assembly.
US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said “at least 14,000 Syrians have been reportedly tortured and tens of thousands forcibly disappeared,” during the General Assembly debate on human rights
“We demand that the status of all those detained be made public and we demand that the bodies of the deceased be returned to their loved ones with the time, place and cause of death,” Thomas-Greenfield said.
The 193-member body heard testimony from several survivors who demanded that the international community hold Syrian perpetrators of abuse responsible.
Russia, Syria’s main ally, has repeatedly used its veto power to protect Damascus from any such measures, however.
Syrian President Bashar Assad “continues to imprison tens of thousands of innocent Syrians, women, children, the elderly, doctors, aid providers, journalists, human rights defenders,” Thomas-Greenfield said.
“These innocent civilians are denied fair trials, are subject to torture, sexual violence and inhuman conditions,” she added.
She also denounced the closure of humanitarian aid entry points along the Syrian border in 2020, which occurred after agreement with Damascus could not be reached.
Only one entry point, along the border with Turkey, remains open but Russia has hinted that it intends to close it in July when its UN authorization expires.
The closures “prevented vital humanitarian aid by the United Nations,” Thomas-Greenfield said. “And it is simply deplorable and it has unnecessarily deepened the suffering of millions of Syrians.”
“It is time for us to reach a real political solution,” she added. “This is the only way to bring sustainable peace, stability and security to the Syrian people.”
Syria’s war has killed more than 387,000 people, ravaged key infrastructure and displaced millions since it started in 2011 with the repression on anti-government protests.


Joggers should wear face masks: Scientists

Joggers should wear face masks: Scientists
Updated 02 March 2021

Joggers should wear face masks: Scientists

Joggers should wear face masks: Scientists
  • ‘No doubt there is a danger’ from ‘puffing, panting’ runners: Oxford professor

LONDON: Joggers should wear face masks while exercising because running past people while breathing heavily could pose a coronavirus transmission risk, scientists have warned.

“There is no doubt the virus is in the air, there is no doubt that you can catch it if you inhale, and that someone else has exhaled,” Prof. Trish Greenhalgh of the University of Oxford told TV program “Good Morning Britain.”

She said: “The exercising jogger — the puffing and panting jogger — you can feel their breath come and you can sometimes actually feel yourself inhale it, so there’s no doubt that there is a danger there.”

She added: “About 40 percent of coronavirus cases happen by catching it from people who have no symptoms. So you’re jogging along, you think you’re fine, and then the next day you develop symptoms, but you’ve actually breathed that coronavirus onto someone.”

Devi Sridhar of the University of Edinburgh said: “This can spread through the air and so it is important that runners should think … I think we need some consideration for each other right now. We’re in a pandemic, so if you’re going to run or cycle in a busy area, wear a mask.”

Former UK politician Tom Watson said: “If you’re a runner you should know obviously you’re breathing more deeply, and you should try not to run into people or run near them.”


UK couple fined for COVID-breaching Dubai trip

UK couple fined for COVID-breaching Dubai trip
Updated 02 March 2021

UK couple fined for COVID-breaching Dubai trip

UK couple fined for COVID-breaching Dubai trip
  • Police brand pair ‘selfish’ for failing to quarantine upon return

LONDON: A British couple have been fined £10,000 ($13,945) each after they returned to the UK from a holiday in Dubai and failed to quarantine.

Police said the pair tried to avoid travel rules put in place to stop the spread of coronavirus by taking an indirect route back from Dubai, which is on the UK’s “red list” of restricted destinations.

Merseyside Police Chief Inspector Chris Barnes said the duo had been transported to a designated quarantine hotel on Feb. 26 following the fines.

“Strict rules around international travel have been put in place by the government for a reason, and to disregard them in this way is selfish, inconsiderate, and potentially dangerous,” he added.

“Currently, the regulations mean that if you are a British or Irish national, or you have residence rights in the UK and are returning from a country on the foreign travel ‘red list,’ you must quarantine in a government-approved hotel for 10 days,” he said.

“If you are required to quarantine at a hotel, you can only arrive in England at certain ports of entry. In this instance, the pair in question avoided a direct flight route back from Dubai to one of the specified airports in an attempt to evade this process.”