Reprinted - The Australian Tuesday 05 August 2014
By Ted McDonnell
EAST Timor Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao has backflipped on retirement plans, declaring he will stay on and could sack up to 20 ministers in his coalition government.
Mr Gusmao has on numerous occasions stated he would retire two years into his second term — which would be next month. However, pressure from fellow CNRT parliamentarians at last weekend’s party conference forced him to declare yesterday that he may now see out his term until the next election, in 2017.
With many CNRT ministers fearful the party would collapse without Mr Gusmao in charge, they intensively lobbied the 68-year-old to stay on.
CNRT put two resolutions to members, one declaring the Prime Minister would stay for the foreseeable future and the second giving him a mandate to “remodel” the government, allowing him to replace up to 20 cabinet ministers. Both resolutions were passed late on Sunday.
“It is at the Prime Minister’s discretion to carry out both resolutions. Mr Gusmao will decide the time required for political transition and power to the next generation,” one senior coalition member told The Australian yesterday.
“Xanana is the boss. He has total authority in this country and now he is changing things on a day-to-day basis. Who knows what he will do tomorrow? He may well quit again.”
Observers said sacking up to 20 of the 55 ministers would create significant tension within the coalition government made up of CNRT, PD (Democratic Party) and Frente Mudansa. It was unclear which ministers face the axe, with the future of Finance Minister Emilia Pires hanging in the balance. Yesterday in Dili, Mr Gusmao presented 2014 budget executions alongside Ms Pires.
Last week, Ms Pires, one of Mr Gusmao’s closest allies, was indicted for alleged abuse of power and corruption by East Timor’s Prosecutor-General.
Former vice-minister for health Madalena Hanjam was also indicted for similar offences over a contract awarded to Ms Pires’s husband’s Melbourne-based business for the supply of hospital beds. Ms Pires and Ms Hanjam say the contract was awarded legally.
© Ted McDonnell © The Australian 2014