East Timor parliament rejects government budget second time

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DILI, East Timor (AP) — A political crisis is looming in East Timor after a coalition of opposition parties rejected the new government's policy program for a second time.

A two-day parliamentary debate over the government's amended budget, which was increased to $1.61 billion from the 2017 budget of $1.39 billion, ended with most members of the ruling coalition walking out late Tuesday.

The Parliamentary Majority Alliance, or AMP, the country's opposition with 35 seats in the 65-member parliament, then voted to reject the budget just before midnight.

It was the second defeat suffered by the government after its policy program was rejected on Oct. 19.

Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri said Wednesday that he will keep fighting, as his party officials accused the opposition of trying to overthrow the government.

"Once again the opposition with their own boat will lead them to a defeat. Let's fight to win!" Alkatiri said. "If they dance in the House, we shall dance in the streets."

Alkatiri's Fretilin party formed a minority government after parliamentary elections in July failed to give any party a majority of seats. But his opponents argued that the minority government was unconstitutional and that his policy program didn't address the young country's problems.

New elections are a possibility if Alkatiri's coalition is unable to pass a budget.

Previously, Fretilin was part of a national unity government with the National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction party of independence hero Xanana Gusmao, or CNRT. In the July election, CNRT lost support and Fretilin narrowly became the largest party, but failed to agree on a new grand coalition.

AMP consists of three opposition parties — CNRT, the People's Liberation Party and Kmanek Habiras National Unity Timor Oan or KHUNTO.

CNRT party spokesman Arao Noe de Jesus said the government's amended budget is unlawful.

"Priorities for the people and the nation were not reflected in the 2018 state budget," he said.

East Timor, a former Portuguese colony, was occupied by Indonesia for a quarter century. It gained independence after a U.N.-sponsored referendum in 1999. Indonesia's military responded to the referendum with scorched-earth attacks that devastated the East Timorese half of the island of Timor.

Today, the country of 1.3 million people still faces desperate poverty. Leaders have focused on big-ticket infrastructure projects to develop the economy, funding them from a dwindling supply of former oil riches, but progress is slow.

The July vote was East Timor's first parliamentary election without U.N. supervision since peacekeepers left in 2012.

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