One of the country’s historic independence figures, he was backed in his campaign against Fretilin’s Guterres by former guerilla leader Xanana Gusmao, himself a former prime minister and the young country’s first president.
The question is whether Ramos-Horta will return the favour and heed the call by Gusmao’s party – the National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT) – to dissolve parliament and bring forward fresh parliamentary elections, which are due next year.
Gusmao’s party had been part of a multi-party ruling alliance until 2020 when it rejected the government’s budget, triggering the collapse of the coalition and the resignation of Prime Minister Taur Matan Ruak.
Ruak ultimately stayed on to oversee the response to the coronavirus pandemic, heading a realigned governing bloc comprising his People’s Liberation Party, rural party Khunto and Fretilin, the party that led resistance to Indonesian rule and has been a major political force in the 20 years since independence.
The government has, however, operated without an annual budget, relying on monthly instalments from its sovereign petroleum fund, and is regarded as illegitimate by Gusmao.
“Ramos-Horta’s chief backers want to see early elections but the new president needs to also bring a mind to unifying the country so he’ll have other priorities. He’ll have to make a decision about whether he simply pushes the line of the party that backed him or tries to build a new coalition based around the CNRT in the current parliament,” said Professor Michael Leach, an expert in East Timor politics at Swinburne University of Technology.
Negotiating a new alliance including the CNRT “would certainly be a constitutionally and politically easier pathway”, Leach said.
Ramos-Horta said voters had given a resounding verdict on the government’s response to the pandemic.
“The government could not manage the economic crisis which was a big part of the consequences of COVID,” he told Lusa. “Even having at their disposal oil revenues, the economic, social and humanitarian crisis could have been better managed.”
The new president is due to be sworn in on May 20, the 20th anniversary of the restoration of independence.
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