East Timor: Governing coalition ‘no longer exists’ after party votes down budget

East Timor’s prime minister said on Monday that the governing coalition, the Alliance for Change for Progress (AMP), “no longer exists” after the largest party in it helped vote down the draft state budget for 2020.

“The public followed the debate and rejection on Friday,” Taur Matan Ruak told reporters at the president’s palace in Dili. “The AMP doesn’t exist any more. Now there is a need to overcome the situation.

“I as prime minister am at the president’s disposal and I will remain ready to cooperate with any decision of the president,” he said, implying that the head of state had the option of dismissing him.

The prime minister spoke after an extraordinary meeting he held with the president, Francisco Guterres Lu-Olo, during which he reported the “situation” following parliament’s rejection of the budget bill.

On the third and final day of the first reading debate, members of the National Congress of Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT) – the largest party in the AMP coalition – abstained or voted against the bill, contributing to its rejection.

The bill was a revised version of the budget that had been withdrawn in December in the face of strong opposition from all parties in the governing coalition.

The other parties in the AMP are the prime minister’s own People’s Liberation Party (PLP) and Kmanek Haburas Unidade Nacional Timor Oan (KHUNTO).

“AMP had a commitment, based on three issues: the government’s programme had to pass, the three alliance parties had to vote together,” the prime minister recalled. “Second, that the budget had to pass and that the [related] laws had to be passed.

“The Budget did not pass and the CNRT voted against,” he went on, saying that this “is a sign that the AMP does not exist.” 

Taur Matan Ruak said he wanted to apologise “to the leadership of the CNRT, PLP and KHUNTO and militants and supporters”, saying that he had done what he could “so that this would not happen, but unfortunately the CNRT deputies voted against.”

Pressed by journalists, he said he did not consider the vote against the bill to be “betrayal”, explaining that the CNRT justified it with the fact that the president had not yet inaugurated a dozen members of the executive (most of them from that party) and with criticism of the government’s methods.

The responsibility, however, the prime minister said, is now “that of CNRT deputies in the national parliament.” 

He said that journalists should now question deputies about the implications of the budget’s rejection.

“The decision about what will occur now depends on the president,” he said. “We shall wait.” 

Asked if he had spoken to Xanana Gusmão, leader of the AMP coalition and of the CNRT, after Friday’s budget vote, Taur Matan Ruak declined to confirm or deny this, saying only that what is at stake now “is the budget, the state, and not the parties”. 

He said he was taking “this opportunity to appeal to the population of Timor, in all the … villages, to remain calm.”