Subject: E. Timor president plays down political row, urges dialogue

also: SCMP: Defection splits E Timor ruling coalition

ETimor president plays down political row, urges dialogue

DILI, May 6, 2008 (AFP) - East Timor President Jose Ramos-Horta brushed aside concerns Tuesday over the future of the fledgling nation's coalition government after a key member announced a pact with the opposition.

"This is a normal process. One should not be surprised, not be afraid," he said a day after one of four parties in Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao's coalition revealed it had struck a deal with the Fretilin opposition.

He said Gusmao should initiate talks with Fretilin to discuss their differences for the sake of the country, which has failed to flourish politically or economically since its turbulent split from Indonesia in 2002.

Gusmao's Parliamentary Majority Alliance (AMP) grouping could "look to other alliances in the parliament" after coalition member the Timorese Social Democratic Association (ASDT) announced it had reached an accord with Fretilin.

"I think that what is needed is a dialogue between the government and the big Fretilin Party," the president said.

He said Fretilin, which is still fuming after being kept from government despite having won the most votes in last year's elections, was showing signs it was ready to talk.

Former ruling party Fretilin won 29.02 percent of the vote in the June elections but Gusmao's National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction, which had only 24.10 percent of the vote, formed an alliance to keep it from power.

But the AMP has been rife with infighting and corruption allegations, which analysts say are impeding the impoverished young nation's ability to raise the living standards of its one million people.

ASDT leaders have not revealed the nature of their deal with Fretilin and insist they have not quit the coalition. Sources however say the pact involves joining forces to fight the next election.


South China Morning Post

May 6, 2008

Defection splits E Timor ruling coalition

Fabio Scarpello in Denpasar

Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao's already fragile government has been dealt a blow with the defection of a coalition partner to the opposition Fretilin, leaving it relying on independents.

The Timorese Social Democratic Association (ASDT) on Saturday signed an agreement with Fretilin to enter into a "solid coalition" to form the next government.

In a joint statement, Fretilin and ASDT called the government "full of nepotism and corruption".

In last year's election ASDT teamed with the Social Democratic Party and won 18 per cent of the vote and 11 seats.

The grouping became the country's third political force, after Fretilin and Mr Gusmao's National Council for Timorese Resistance.

ASDT's withdrawal deprives the ruling Parliamentary Majority Alliance (AMP) of five seats, making it reliant on the support of independent parties to stay in power.

AMP now holds 37 seats in the 65-seat parliament, while Fretilin controls 21. The new Fretilin-ASDT alliance will have 26 seats and AMP 32.

The key swing seats are held by AD Kota/PPT and Undertim, which control two seats each, and the Party of National Unity (PUN), which holds three.

The smaller parties' votes could be instrumental should Fretilin try to oust Mr Gusmao in a no-confidence vote - which would require President Jose Ramos Horta to ask Mr Gusmao to resign. They could also block parliamentary approval for the budget.

Fretilin spokesman Jose Texeira warned the government could be in trouble when it sought extra funds through a budget review later this month.

Dr Texeira did not confirm reports that Fretilin was courting independent parties and other parties from the government coalition.

PUN chairman Fernanda Borges said she would maintain the party's neutral stance.

"We are not joining any coalition, and we will continue to call for justice and good governance," said Mrs Borges, whose party enjoys the support of the Catholic Church.

But she said "should the corruption allegations against the government be substantiated, Gusmao would struggle to survive a no-confidence vote".

The ASDT breakaway followed a rift between chairman Francisco Xavier do Amaral and Mr Gusmao, who refused to sack Tourism Minister Gil Alves or Environment Secretary Abilio Lima.

The two are ASDT members, but the party recently expelled them, accusing them of corruption, being too close to the Indonesian military and straying from ASDT ideology.

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