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New Government in East Timor

Although elections were held in East Timor already in June 2007, the formation of a new government was significantly delayed; until now. Yesterday, President Jose Ramos-Horta, decided that the former independence leader and first President of the young nation, Kay Rala Xanana Gusmão is to be the new PM. While the formation of a new government had not been possible following the June elections (it was an even race between the Fretilin party and Mr Gusmao’s new National Congress for the Reconstruction of East Timor (CNRT)) the president subsequently decided on the matter. Apparently, according to East Timorese constitutional law, the President has the necessary authority. The delay in doing so was based on the desire to reach a settlement between the Fretilin party and the CNRT, which, however, never came about.

Following the president’s decision, young supporters of the Fretilin took to the streets, throwing rocks and setting on fire a government building. Incidents like these, as well as the 2006 unrests, give rise to the question whether the country was indeed ready to be released from UN protection in 2002 and ready to become a sovereign member of the UN the same year.

The assessment of the UN is, however, quite mild. The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Timor-Leste, Atul Khare, welcomed the announcement of the President. He furthermore congratulated President José Ramos-Horta for his efforts in finding a solution to the best interests of the country. What is most surprising, however, is the fact that Mr Khare complimented the Timorese people for their exemplary commitment to the democratic process and for all people to follow the wise example of their leaders. I guess one has to see the developments in perspective … Nevertheless, directed towards the revolters, the UN mission in the country, UNMIT, furthermore expressed that “a criminal act in the name of a political cause is still a criminal act, and will be dealt with firmly.

What seems most interesting from a public international law perspective, is whether the new prime minister, Kay Rala Xanana Gusmão, will continue the process of change through rapprochement with neighboring countries such as Indonesia, continue to (re-) build the country’s infrastructure, and perhaps even push forward the work of the Special Panels for Serious Crimes in Timor Leste. So far, the work of the hybrid court has been rather humble and there is little hope among international jurists that this will change as long as the financial support and personal participation of the international community is as low as it currently is.

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