According to Timorese law, the Chief of State-Major General of the F-FDTL (CEMG) has a four-year mandate with the possibility of a one-time renewal. On October 6, 2018, Major-General Lere Anan Timur’s mandate as CEMG expired. However, in the month since the mandate elapsed, the President of the Republic has failed to appoint a new CEMG. This has left the F-FDTL in limbo: Major-General Lere Anan Timur does not have the legal authority to carry out the duties of the position; nevertheless, in the absence of a new CEMG, he remains the de facto head of F-FDTL.
The President of the Republic has several options to remedy this situation. He can opt to renew Lere’s mandate for an additional year (because Lere is over 60, he is subject to confirmation every year in line with article 195 of Decree Law no.28/2016). Alternatively, he can allow Lere’s mandate to expire and approve a new individual for the position. Fundasaun Mahein (FM) understands that Prime Minister Taur Matan Ruak has submitted a proposal to the President and discussed the matter with the Supreme Council of Defense and Security, but that the President has yet to make a decision.
Whether the President decides to keep Lere on as CEMG or accept his replacement, it is vital that he make a quick and clear decision. The current situation is untenable for a number of reasons. First, allowing the CEMG to operate without a legal mandate weakens the country’s institutions. A lack of regard for formal institutions and the rule of law sets a poor precedent for the future, both within the military and in government in general. Moreover, it undermines public confidence that Timor’s institutions can work effectively in line with established procedures.
Second, the confusion about who is actually in charge of the F-FDTL makes it harder to implement policy. An unclear chain of command makes it difficult for officials in the F-FDTL to do their jobs, and serves as justification for politicians who wish to disregard the law or dismiss government actions as illegitimate. Lere Anan Timur recently expressed frustration with his questionable legal status, and he was right to do so: a CEMG without legal authority will be hamstrung in carrying out the duties entrusted to him.
Finally, it is worth considering the damage to Timor’s reputation abroad. The confusion surrounding the CEMG signals to other countries that Timor has trouble exercising its laws. Instances such as these are reflective of a larger political gridlock that impedes officials from doing the job of governing and casts doubt on the country’s progress.
Given the symbolic and practical consequences, FM recommends that the President immediately start the process of appointing a CEMG. Whether the President renews Lere’s mandate or appoints a new person to the post, what matters is that the head of the F-FDTL has full legal authority to carry out his work.