East Timor PM urges calm as voters await election result

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PM Alkatiri talks to journalists after casting his vote in a polling station in Dili's Farol neighborhood on Saturday, May 12, 2018. (AN Photo)
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East Timor Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri arrives at a polling station in Dili's Farol neighborhood to vote in parliamentary elections on Saturday, May 12, 2018. (AN Photo)
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An East Timorese voter dips his finger in ink at a polling station in Dili's Farol neighborhood on Saturday, May 12, 2018. (AN Photo)
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An East Timorese voter shows his inked finger after casting his ballot to vote for members of parliament at a polling station in Dili's Farol neighborhood on Saturday, May 12, 2018. (AN Photo)
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An East Timorese voter shows his inked finger after casting his ballot to vote for members of parliament at a polling station in Dili's Farol neighborhood on Saturday, May 12, 2018. (AN Photo)
Updated 12 May 2018
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East Timor PM urges calm as voters await election result

  • Ballot-counting is still underway in the former Portuguese colony, but two political giants have expressed confidence that their respective party and coalition will win.
  • Official results will be announced on May 28 after verification from the High Court.

DILI: East Timor’s Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri has urged his people to remain calm after they voted on Saturday for MPs who will determine a new prime minister and form a majority government to execute much-needed development programs in one of the world’s poorest countries.
“I appeal for the people to be calm, and for politicians and political parties to accept the results, because it was a very free and fair election. Whoever is defeated, it’s the people who really win the election,” Alkatiri told Arab News.
Ballot-counting is still underway in the former Portuguese colony, but two political giants have expressed confidence that their respective party and coalition will win.
Alkatiri headed a minority government that collapsed after a three-party coalition led by former President and former Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao refused to approve the government’s budget.
Alkatiri said he is confident that his party will win more than 30 out of 65 seats in Parliament. His Fretilin party narrowly won the previous election in July 2017 by securing 23 seats.
“We’re already the winner,” he said after casting his vote. “Fretilin never lost a single election throughout its history.”
If his party wins, Alkatiri said the next government will work “to get poor people out of poverty. This is my target for the next five years.”
Every aspect of development is crucial, but what East Timorese need most are clean water, infrastructure and community housing.
Gusmao said he is confident his coalition will get more than the 35 seats it secured in last year’s election.
There are signs of electoral fraud, such as ink that washes out quickly and people who voted twice in different places, he added. “In some places, there were fewer ballot papers than registered voters,” he told Arab News.
A spokesman for Gusmao’s Alliance for Change and Progress (AMP), Tiago Farmento, said there are reports that six supporters’ homes were burnt down in Oecusse, an East Timor exclave surrounded by Indonesia’s East Nusa Tenggara province.
Luis da Costa Ximenes, an election observer and director of the Dili-based conflict-prevention NGO Belun, told Arab News that the group identified 107 incidents during the one-month campaign period, including verbal abuse on social media from fake accounts.
Alkatiri said the incidents were minor, and the election was held in a very professional way. “Show me one election in the world that is without a single incident,” he added.
There were 784,286 registered voters out of a population of 1.2 million in East Timor, which was annexed by Indonesia for 24 years before it voted for secession in 1999 and gained full independence in 2002. Official results will be announced on May 28 after verification from the High Court.


Britain and EU spar over Brexit as clock ticks down

Updated 21 September 2019

Britain and EU spar over Brexit as clock ticks down

  • Britain says a deal is possible
  • Ireland says not close to a deal

LONDON/BRUSSELS : Britain said on Friday a Brexit deal with the European Union could be reached at a summit next month, but EU member Ireland said the sides were far from agreement and London had not yet made serious proposals.
Three years after Britons voted to leave the EU, hopes of a breakthrough over the terms of its departure have been stoked in recent days by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson saying the shape of a deal is emerging and European Commission President Juncker saying agreement is possible.
But diplomats say the two sides are split over London’s desire to remove the Irish border “backstop” from the divorce deal struck by Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May, and then work out a replacement in coming years.
The backstop is an insurance policy to keep the 500-km (300-mile) border between Ireland, which will remain in the EU, and the British province of Northern Ireland open after Brexit.
“We both want to see a deal,” British Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay said after talks in Brussels with EU negotiator Michel Barnier. “The meeting overran, which signals we were getting into the detail.”
“There is a still a lot of work to do but there is a common purpose to secure a deal,” Barclay said, adding that Juncker and Johnson also both wanted a deal.
Leaving the EU would be Britain’s biggest shift in trade and foreign policy for more than 40 years and deprive the 28-nation bloc of one of its biggest economies. The EU has set a deadline for a deal to be reached by Oct. 31.
British parliament has rejected the deal May agreed with the EU. Johnson has said he wants to secure an amended deal at an EU summit on Oct. 17-18 but that Britain will leave the bloc if that is not possible. He will meet European Council Donald Tusk at the United Nations in New York next week.
Ireland is crucial to any Brexit solution. Unless the Irish border backstop is removed or amended, Johnson will not be able to win parliamentary approval but Ireland and the EU are unwilling to sign a deal without a solution to the border.
The EU fears a hard border could cause unrest in Northern Ireland and undermine the fragile peace provided by a 1998 peace deal that ended three decades of violence between Irish nationalists seeking a united Ireland, and the British security forces and pro-British “unionists.”
The Withdrawal Agreement that was agreed with the EU last November says the United Kingdom will remain in a customs union “unless and until” alternative arrangements are found to avoid the return of border controls in Ireland.
The British government, worried the backstop will trap it in the EU’s orbit for years to come, wants to remove it and find a solution before December 2020, when a planned transition period ends.
The British pound fell from a two-month high after the Financial Times reported Johnson had told colleagues he did not expect to reach a full “legally operable” deal next month.
One EU official said Britain’s proposals are not enough to replace the backstop.
“As it stands, it is unacceptable,” the official said. “If they don’t really change their approach, we are at an impasse.”
The European Commission said in a memo that Britain’s plans “fall short of satisfying all the objectives” of finding an alternative to the backstop, Sky News reported.
Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said the mood music had improved and that both sides wanted a deal but that they were not close to an agreement.
“There is certainly a lot of commentary now and some of it is spin I think, in the context of where we are,” he told the BBC. “We need to be honest with people and say that we’re not close to that deal right now.”
“Everybody needs a dose of reality here, there is still quite a wide gap between what the British government have been talking about in terms of the solutions that they are proposing, and I think what Ireland and the EU will be able to support.”
Britain said on Thursday it had shared documents with Brussels setting out ideas for a Brexit deal, but an EU diplomat described them as a “smokescreen” that would not prevent a disorderly exit on the Oct. 31 departure date.
Coveney, Ireland’s second most powerful politician, said a no-deal could lead to civil unrest.
“Trade across 300 road crossings that has created a normality and a peace that is settled on the island of Ireland for the last 20 years, that now faces significant disruption,” he said. “That is what we’re fighting for here.