Conflicting Constitution Interpretations Spread Fears of Instability

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Anxiety is growing among the people of Timor-Leste. Conflicting interpretations of the Constitution mean that the main political parties do not agree about what will happen in the event that the Government falls. According to the Constitution of Timor-Leste, the Government will fall if the National Parliament rejects its policy program twice. Since the current FRETILIN-PD governing coalition lacks a parliamentary majority, this scenario is highly likely. According to the FRETILIN-PD coalition, the Constitution states that in this situation the President of the Republic must call early elections. In contrast, the opposition parties—namely the CNRT, PLP, and KHUNTO—argue that after the fall of the Government, the President of the Republic must offer the opposition parties the chance to form a governing coalition. In preparation for this contingency, the three opposition parties declared themselves a “Parliamentary Majority Alliance” last Thursday.

These contradictory interpretations make many Timorese people recall the 2006 Crisis, in which competition between different political actors led to chaos in Dili. Today’s political impasse and the leading politicians’ unwillingness to seek a consensus evokes troubling memories of that dark time. As a consequence, concerns about the country’s stability are spreading panic among the population. Furthermore, in addition to civil strife, the upheaval in 2006 prompted an international intervention under UN auspices. Many people therefore fear that the ongoing political tensions could lead to the return of foreign military forces to Timor-Leste.

Such anxieties are causing people to flee the perceived threat of conflict. Every day, increasing numbers of people board buses bound for the rural districts, indicating a desire to escape the political tensions in Dili. Even more disturbingly, more and more people are exiting Timor-Leste altogether, either by airplane or across the land frontier with Indonesia. These trends reflect concerns that, as in 2006, political power struggles will disrupt the lives of ordinary citizens. In the absence of constructive political action, this panic will persist.

In order to stop the situation from escalating, FM offers the following recommendations:

1) Timor-Leste’s politicians must put the nation’s interests above their personal agendas. All people in Timor-Leste desire peace and stability. The political parties should therefore emphasize the importance of maintaining national unity despite their disagreements.

2) Political parties must work together to minimize the differences between their interpretations of the Constitution. Contradictory views on crucial procedures generate fear and make ordinary people lose faith in the government.

3) Timor-Leste’s leaders must cooperate to establish a consensus that can form the basis of political stability. By focusing on concrete policies that benefit the Timorese people, different parties can create a shared agenda and avoid conflict. This compromise-based approach represents Timor-Leste’s best hope for a peaceful and prosperous future.

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