President Gusmao’s threat to resign is, presumably, due to his lack of confidence in PM Alkatiri and belief that he is culpable for recent and current events. Alkatiri’s culpability must be very direct and clear for the President to resort to such an extreme act. His letter to the PM in this regard on Tuesday reportedly had a copy of Monday’s Four Corners program attached, evidently as sufficient ‘proof’, should any be required.

However – official endorsement of trial by (foreign) media notwithstanding – this action by President Gusmao may signify a lack of confidence in due process as much as in the Prime Minister. Domestically, such due process includes independent inquiries established by the Ombudsman (Provedor), separate formal inquiries (to which the President had nominated the Ombudsman which, by its own action, limits the Ombudsman’s capacity to review its outcomes), and judicial process (beginning with the outcomes of the current hearing against former Police Minister Lobato) and the scope for further charges (including against the PM if there’s considered to be sufficient evidence). It also includes the national elections to be held next year.

Beyond the national sphere, there is the Special Inquiry Commission which Foreign Minister Dr Horta formally asked Kofi Annan on 8 June to establish into all events related to recent incidents. Could the President be pre-empting such due processes? If so, this would surely be less an indication of lack of confidence in such processes as in their likely outcomes not being sufficiently strong to bring about Alkatiri’s removal, which may indicate the President’s fear that there is insufficient evidence of the PM’s culpability or that the domestic climate might change.

Is this why the President has resorted to the threat to resign? Of course, it’s apparent that the President carries the majority of the people with him, although it may be debatable whether he’s leading them or following them. The mobilisation of so many trucks to bring people into Dili suggests some not very transparent organisation taking place, presumably outside of the Fretilin movement. Either way – and the President’s action has certainly increased the volatility on the streets – it would be surprising if the President is making an idle threat in offering to resign if the PM doesn’t. He has surely considered the consequences of PM Alkatiri not resigning: thousands of people on the streets as Xanana stands down, and a Constitutional requirement that the Speaker of the Parliament be appointed to the position on an interim basis, and that Presidential elections be held within 90 days.

I’ve been out of East Timor for the past two weeks, but I find it hard to picture the conduct of national elections anytime within the next 90 days! I hope it’s not the case that the President has either made an idle threat in the current climate, or not considered the Constitutional repercussions of resigning.

Despite the brinkmanship (any perceived sexism of the term is not out of place) involved here, there is no single solution to the present situation – that is, whether or not Alkatiri or Gusmao stand aside. It is not even clear that the departure of either of them would be a necessary condition for collective progress although, obviously, a number of interest groups (including the church) would be happier to see Alkatiri removed. To his credit, President Gusmao demonstrated last week his commitment to upholding the Constitution rather than disregard it or suspend it and remove the Government.

I suspect that, should PM Alkatiri resign in these circumstances – regardless of his poor judgement on a number of matters in recent weeks – hindsight may speak better of his consideration of the national interest, especially if the various independent inquiries proceed.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey