Sunday, February 04, 2007

Fretilin threat to snub Timor poll

Fretilin threat to snub Timor poll
Mark Dodd and Nigel Wilson
February 05, 2007
EAST Timor's ruling Fretilin Party has threatened to withdraw from parliamentary elections unless they are held before the end of May, following confirmation a presidential vote will take place in April.
President Xanana Gusmao, who set April 9 as the date for presidential elections, has repeatedly said he will not run again. However, he is widely expected to form his own political party and run as an elected member of parliament.
Under East Timor's electoral law, parliamentary elections must take place a minimum of 80 days after the presidential vote. This means the parliamentary poll will most likely be held in late June or early July.

But Mr Gusmao's weekend announcement triggered a threat from Fretilin that it would boycott the parliamentary ballot unless it was held before May 20. Fretilin believes any vote held after that date would be unconstitutional.

East Timorese Prime Minister Jose Ramos-Horta said as recently as Wednesday that he would not run for the presidency unless there were no other candidates to rule the emerging country, which has been plagued by political instability and violence.

"If there are no other people (as candidates), if everyone thinks I have to accept the responsibility because the state needs it, then I will think it over again," Mr Ramos-Horta said.

UN police backed by Australian and New Zealand military personnel last week arrested 47 suspects, including the leader of a martial arts gang believed responsible for much of the street violence in Dili that has racked the capital for months.

An assortment of weapons were seized during the arrests, including clubs, home-made explosives, darts, knives, machetes and bows and arrows.

Law and order is a pre-requisite for the holding of free and fair elections. The National Electoral Commission has been established and started voter registration in Dili last week.

However, the poll dates are set to delay a start on the $8billion Greater Sunrise oil and gas prospect.

Ratification of the Treaty on Certain Maritime Arrangements in the Timor Sea, signed in January last year, and the Greater Sunrise International Unitisation Agreement, signed in 2003, has been held up because of the civil strife.

Under CMATS, East Timor's share of the revenues from Greater Sunrise, which straddles the boundary of the Joint Petroleum Development Area between Darwin and East Timor, could be as much as $US14 billion ($19 billion) because revenues will be shared 50-50 with Australia, compared with 80-20 as originally proposed.

But some Fretilin members and independents in the Dili parliament are unconvinced the revised deal under CMATS is in East Timor's interests.

East Timor wants any liquefied natural gas development of Greater Sunrise to be within its borders, which Australian resources company Woodside maintains is uneconomic.

Woodside chief executive Don Voelte was hoping to have progress on Greater Sunrise "early in the New Year", but this hope has been dashed because all major parliamentary action is on hold until after the elections are held.

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