Nauru 19 to appear in first sitting of nation’s new Court of Appeal

T-shirts worn by family and supporters of the 19 Nauruans who were prosecuted by government for staging a protest outside of Parliament in 2015. Image: RNZP/Nauru 19/ Facebook

By RNZ Pacific

The group known as the Nauru 19 will go back to court next week in what will be the first sitting of the Nauru Court of Appeal.

The Nauru 19 were charged over an anti-government protest more than three years ago and are facing an appeal from the Nauru government.

The group, which includes a former Nauru president, had sought a permanent stay on legal proceedings against them, arguing the trial process dragged on too long and that the government had not met a court directed order to pay some of the expenses of the group’s Australian lawyers.

Justice Geoff Muecke, who was brought in by the Nauru government to hear the case, granted a permanent stay on the proceedings, saying the government’s conduct throughout had been a “shameful affront to the rule of law”.

Now the government is appealing this decision.

The Nauru Court of Appeal was set up after the government secretly ended its use of the Australian High Court as Nauru’s appellate court earlier this year.

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The Nauru 19 believe this move was another attempt to deny them a fair trial.

The judges hearing the appeal are high ranking members of Pacific judiciaries – Tonga’s Chief Justice Michael Scott, Kiribati Chief Justice John Muria and PNG Supreme Court judge Nicholas Kirriwom.

This article is republished under the Pacific Media Centre’s content partnership with Radio New Zealand.

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Marshall Islands president narrowly survives no-confidence vote

Marshall Islands President Dr Hilda Heine … survived challenge to her government’s policies. Image: SPC

By Giff Johnson in Majuro for RNZ Pacific

Marshall Islands President Hilda Heine has survived a vote of no confidence with parliament, the Nitijela, split evenly 16-16

The movers of the motion needed 17 votes to topple Dr Heine. The vote was held yesterday with 32 of the 33 members present, as one was off-island for medical treatment.

Heine, Finance Minister Brenson Wase and Foreign Minister John Silk led 45 minutes of government response to the five issues outlined by the motion movers, with Dr Heine saying the vote was really a “referendum about our own politics.”

Wase said the criticism of the government for moving ahead with a digital currency plan had been overtaken by events, with numerous countries in the Pacific following the Marshall Islands by announcing plans for their own digital currencies and requesting support from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

He said delays in releasing the Marshall Islands’ “SOV” currency were so the country could meet the requirements of the US, European Union and others.

Silk said the international recognition accorded Heine and her government showed the opposition’s contention that the government had ruined the nation’s reputation internationally was wrong.

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He cited donors doubling their annual grants and the country’s chairmanship of various global climate groups.

Lack of transparency
Opposition Senators Casten Nemra, Bruce Bilimon and Alfred Alfred, Jr. fired back, hammering the government on lack of transparency in handling theft of money from its national trust fund in 2017 and saying the government had taken away people’s right to vote by eliminating postal absentee balloting for islanders living offshore.

The parliament chamber was packed with a standing-room only crowd to view the debate and the vote that followed.

Immediately after the results were confirmed, Speaker Kenneth Kedi, who had backed the no confidence move, congratulated Dr Heine and her Cabinet, and then, following a motion to recess, declared Nitijela to be in recess.

Giff Johnson is editor of the Marshall Islands Journal and correspondent for RNZ Pacific. This article is republished under the Pacific Media Centre’s content partnership with Radio New Zealand.

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

‘I was coerced into the 1987 coup,’ admits Sitiveni Rabuka

By Sri Krishnamurthi of Asia-Pacific Report

A repentant Sitiveni Rabuka, the Fiji military strongman who sparked off the country’s “coup culture” in 1987, admits he was “coerced” by the defeated Alliance party into carrying out the first coup.

Three decades after I watched Lieutenant-Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka walking Parliamentarians out of the back door of Parliament at the point of a gun on 14 May 1987, dressed in a light-blue suit, he has told me who the architects of the coup were – and his regrets about it all.

It has taken 31 years, and Rabuka, the face of the 1987 Fiji coups, is becoming more open and vocal about who were really behind the South Pacific’s first military takeover.

READ MORE: Background on the four Fiji coups and the 2009 constitutional ‘half coup’

The 14 May 1987 Fiji military coup by Lieutenant-Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka … sparked off the legacy of the so-called “coup culture”. Image: FB file

Hardly a day goes by when Sitiveni Rabuka, now leader of the Social, Liberal, Democratic Party (SODELPA), isn’t asked to recall that fateful day that changed the course of history in Fiji.

FIJI ELECTIONS SPECIAL REPORT 14 NOVEMBER 2018

The people of Fiji who have joined the diaspora in other parts of the Pacific, Commonwealth and beyond still view him with suspicion, if not the hatred of old – believing the old adage that a “leopard can’t change his spots”.

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It is for that reason I was a little apprehensive to meet the man who loomed larger in the imagination than Freddy Krueger in A Nightmare on Elm Street. Unlike the slasher, Rabuka was real. So was the impact of his coups.

SODELPA leader Sitiveni Rabuka … today he is very much the casual, relaxed diplomat. Image: Sri Krishnamurthi/PMC

But, to be greeted by “bula” followed by his disarming and wide Fijian smile makes one realises that Rabuka, who has been on the international stage since he became Prime Minister in 1992, is now very much a diplomat.

Gone was the soldier
Gone was the soldier and in his place sat a casual, relaxed, worldly politician ready to speak his truth with remarkable honesty.

Taking him back to 1987, the burning questions were: whether he thought that the coup’s objectives were met? And who were the unseen faces behind the takeover?

Rabuka reiterated that the coup was instigated by the Alliance Party and its leader, the late then Prime Minister Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara (who later became president). Each time he talks on the subject, Rabuka seems to provide a little more detail than before.

“1987 was really political in the sense that the Alliance leaders at the time wanted something done, wanted something changed, and yes (I took the action),” Rabuka says, referring to the meetings he had with Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara that led to his actions – the leader of the now-defunct Alliance party.

“The only way to change the situation now is to throw this constitution out of the window.”

These were the words of Sir Ratu Mara,” he told Dr Sue Onslow in an interview in Suva on Thursday, 10 April 2014.

Time and time again he apologised for the coups in 1987.

‘I have apologised’
“I have said that before, I have apologised for the hurt to the people for the coups,” he says without hesitation.

“I knew they [the coups] were wrong and because I apologised I was forgiven. I apologised to the Indians at the time on the very next “Girmit” [agreement] day on May 14 the following year [1988]– one year after the first coup.

“I attended the “Girmit” festival and apologised.”

Multiculturalism is very much a part of his lexicon now, although he does not subscribe to the theory of assimilation and homogeneity in all cultures and races.

“The biggest challenge to multiracialism all over the world is understanding — crosscultural understanding,” he says.

“As long as we understand each other we can co-operate, not integrate and not assimilate but we can harmoniously co-exist.”

If SODELPA wins next month’s election what does he intend to be his first action on the steps of Parliament?

‘I’m anticipating victory’
“In Parliament I will be thanking the people for giving us a majority. I’m anticipating that we’ll be victorious, and I will thank the people of Fiji for giving us their confidence, particularly in me.

“The many that I have hurt, they may not vote for me this time, but more and more are coming around and embracing me.”

He admits to trying to form a coalition against FijiFirst, but not all – like Roko Tupou Draunidalo and the Hope party – were buying into it. That she has no time for Rabuka is evident in her frequent, public outbursts.

“I don’t know, maybe because her step-father was Dr [Timoci] Bavadra [elected Prime Minister in 1987 when he carried out the coup] and maybe she has not forgiven me since 87,” says Rabuka.

“We’ve spoken to everyone except for Tupou. Her party was not formed when we were doing the coalition talks and she just went straight ahead and said, ‘no, we’ll never coalesce with SODELPA as long as Rabuka is involved’”.

Besides domestic politics, Rabuka is keeping an eye on the geopolitical situation. The indications are that he is uncomfortable with the growing presence of China in Fiji.

“China is an international player but not a traditional partner and we should consolidate our co-operation with our traditional partners – people we know and whose systems are similar to ours.”

Chinese base plan ‘blocked’
China announced it was giving Fiji 30 million RMB yuan (FJ$9.5 million) in aid last month.

Just a day later, Australian media reported that it had been revealed that Canberra had  successfully blocked China from funding a major regional military base in Fiji.

In August, Australia and Fiji jointly announced the Black Rock military base in Nadi was to be redeveloped as a regional hub for police and peacekeeping training, according to a report by Radio New Zealand.

“If it is aid it is aid, but it is not really aid because it has to be a reciprocal arrangement and I don’t know what that reciprocal arrangement is.”

There were rumours of China setting up a naval base near Suva like those reportedly planned for Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea.

However, Rabuka does not think it is plausible and would require much more than simply making a military decision.

“Bases are government decisions, not military decisions, I don’t think they can just come in and set up a base without the government [approving it].

Government should allocate
“The government should accept the aid as aid to the government and allocate it, instead of the aid going straight to the military,” says the man who should know.

After selling land he owned in Savusavu, Vanua Levu, to a Chinese from Brisbane in July, Rabuka was labelled a hypocrite.

However, he defended his actions by saying in the Fiji Sun: “I had an arms-length dealing with him. The name was in Chinese, but the address was from Brisbane.”

Rabuka’s road to Damascus didn’t just seemingly happen overnight but through all his trials and tribulations, and he isn’t finished yet.

He still has battles to fight, this time as a politician for SODELPA, not as a soldier.

Sri Krishnamurthi is a journalist and Postgraduate Diploma in Communication Studies student at Auckland University of Technology. He is attached to the University of the South Pacific’s Journalism Programme, filing for USP’s Wansolwara News and the AUT Pacific Media Centre’s Asia Pacific Report.

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Ralph Regenvanu: Pacific regionalism, climate finance and women in politics

Tess Newton Cain talks to Ralph Regenvanu

During a recent trip to Port Vila, Tess Newton Cain caught up with Ralph Regenvanu, Minister for Foreign Affairs, International Cooperation and External Trade in the Vanuatu government.

Regenvanu describes himself as a Port Vila citizen. He has lived for most of his life in the capital of Vanuatu, other than for a period of time when he was studying in Australia (he holds an honours degree in anthropology and development studies from the Australian National University (ANU).

He spent more than a decade as director of the Vanuatu Cultural Centre, prior to a return to university in 2007, this time to study law at the University of the South Pacific. Then his political career took off:

Halfway through my degree, I stood for election, and I got in at the end of 2008 as an independent candidate. And myself and the others who were with me in the political journey set up the Graon mo Jastis Pati in 2010.

This is Minister Regenvanu’s third term in Parliament and he has held a number of portfolios since 2008. He took over as Minister for Foreign Affairs in December 2017.

So, what are Vanuatu’s foreign policy priorities and what would he like to see his ministry achieve during his tenure as its leader? Significantly, the minister points to internal matters as being more significant than external issues:

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The biggest issues of this ministry are not so much external issues. The biggest issues of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are the internal coordination of the government so that we can strategically approach our international relations and diplomacy. So, at the moment, it is quite difficult to effectively strategise about how Vanuatu places itself in the world, especially the most important thing for us on the horizon is the LDC graduation in 2020.

More opportunities
The minister explained that he thinks there are more opportunities for Vanuatu to work strategically bilaterally, regionally and globally. This is what will be required as the impacts of Least Developed Country (LDC) graduation take effect after 2020.

Therefore, he is focused on getting the internal infrastructure right between his ministry, the Prime Minister’s Office (which is responsible for aid coordination), the Ministry of Finance and Economic Management, and the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Forestry, Fisheries and Biosecurity (which has carriage of the EDF11 program).

Politics in Vanuatu and voter behaviour tends to focus on the hyper-local issues so how can the work of the Foreign Minister and his Ministry be translated into messages that resonate with the urban voters of Port Vila, which is where Minister Regenvanu’s constituency sits?

…the best way to really make people appreciate our foreign relations is, of course, all the aid projects, right? And being able to show that they are well chosen, have high impact on the lives of people, that they’re conducted in a manner which is transparent, and they’re done efficiently. And that brings me back to what I originally said about being very strategic in how we organise ourselves internally to get projects, attract the right kind of projects and the right kind of conditions that we want.

The second aspect of foreign affairs that the minister believes resonates with voters is one that is essentially part of the DNA of Vanuatu:

There is, of course, the very popular issue in Vanuatu of West Papua, and that’s also something which governments need to take heed of, in terms of the very, very popular support for the independence of West Papua in Vanuatu, which is translated into one of our foreign affairs objectives.

A third, emerging, narrative is around the growing awareness of the impacts of climate change in Vanuatu. On that note, we discussed recent statements the minister had made regarding climate finance and, in particular, the issue of compensation for loss and damage.

Frustration over key issues
He expressed a certain amount of frustration with the actions (or lack thereof) of developed countries in relation to some key issues:

You’ve got to play the game that you yourself agreed to. So, when it comes to the Green Climate Fund, for example,… it’s a very poor effort by the developed countries who’ve said that they would contribute. Let alone, talking about loss and damage, which has absolutely no contributions, even though that was also an agreement made by all the countries…

I reminded the minister he had previously expressed to me a degree of scepticism about the value of regional organisations such as the Pacific Islands Forum and the Pacific Islands Development Forum (PIDF). What are his current views on this?

I think the Pacific Islands Forum is definitely useful, especially in terms of articulating common positions and being a conduit for development finance, accessing larger facilities and so on… I can’t say the same about the MSG [Melanesian Spearhead Group]. I think the MSG is… it’s disappointing, to say the least and there’s a question of its relevance.

The minister accepts that Vanuatu has a particular interest in the MSG, but says that ongoing support depends on management decisions made in the next little while. While the decision on the membership application of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) is top of that list, there are other concerns around management of the organisation as well. As for the PIDF?

We’re currently not a member. And we’re just — I suppose we’re just watching it to see — we’re really more invested in the Forum at this stage.

Last, but not least, we turned to the issue of increased participation of women in political decision-making. This is an issue on which Minister Regenvanu has long been very vocal. Further to his contribution to getting temporary special measures included in municipal elections in Port Vila and Luganville, what is next in this space?

Gender political space
…the next step is going for political party legislation, which is what we’re working on now, to get a new bill through Parliament, which provides for the regulation of political parties. At the moment, we have nothing like that in Vanuatu. So, just a very simple law that says you have to register a political party according to certain criteria… And then in that legislation, I think, is room to create measures… by which women can get more representation.

Minister Regenvanu continues to be a prominent and influential member of the Vanuatu Parliament and government. We will be watching his political progress with interest.

Dr Tess Newton Cain is the principal of TNC Pacific Consulting and is a visiting fellow at the Development Policy Centre in the Crawford School of Public Policy at the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific at the Australian National University. She is a citizen of Vanuatu where she lived for almost 20 years and is now based in Brisbane.

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Juffa accuses O’Neill government of ‘shutting down’ free speech in PNG

Oro Govenor Gary Juffa … not just about Facebook, a matter of democracy. Image: PNG Parliament

Pacific Media Centre Newsdesk

Oro Governor Garry Juffa says the people of PNG find it “frightening” and “alarming”  that the Papua New Guinea government is making a move towards shutting down their opportunity to have access to information and to speak freely.

He says the media freedom issue is not just about Facebook – it is about “fundamental democracy” and free speech in the country.

Juffa was responding to a Parliamentary Privileges Committee hearing about a criticism Opposition Madang MP Bryan Kramer made about Communications Minister Sam Basil in the controversy about a threatened shutdown of Facebook in Papua New Guinea for “research” into abuse.

“This criticism that they [givernment MPs] are complaining about, they are basically complaining about is their feelings of being hurt because of something that has offended them or has demeaned them in some ways, but this comes with the territory,” Juffa has said in the Post-Courier.

“When you are a leader you going to get criticised, that’s normal, [US President] Donald Trump gets criticised you know, the Australian Prime Minister gets criticised and they take it, they don’t go and refer these matters to the Parliamentary Privileges Committee in their countries, they don’t cry about it and demand apologies,” he said.

“We should be feeling hurt about the fact that we don’t have medicines in our aid posts and hospitals, we should be feeling hurt about the fact that our schools are shutting down because they are not getting funds they need, that our teachers are not being paid, we should be getting hurt about the fact that our economy is taking such a nose dive that ordinary Papua New Guineans are losing their homes, they are losing their business, they are not being paid, people are losing their jobs, these are the things that we need to be hurt about and expressing our concerns about.

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‘World looking’
“But we have taken three days of Parliament over an issue because someone in Parliament is being hurt about what someone said about them, it’s quite ridiculous and in fact the world is now looking at Papua New Guinea and thinking what is going on in that country.

“This is not about Facebook.

“This is about the freedom of our people to have the opportunity to say what they want, I may not agree with what you say but we must always fight to protect your right to say it because that’s the fundamental hallmark of democracy.

“We are supposed to host APEC, I mean APEC nations that are coming here that promotes and subscribe to democracy will be aghast, will be shocked that here is a country that is deliberately moving to snuff out or stop the opportunity for its people to dissent.

“The Opposition walk-out from Parliament was a demonstration of our disgust at the fact that the government is deliberately moving against our peoples rights to express themselves.”

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Keith Jackson: Did dumb just get dumber and Sam Basil dig a hole?

A near confrontation on the floor of Parliament on Friday, with the Papua New Guinea Opposition walking out in protest over the referral of Madang MP Bryan Kramer, to the Parliamentary Privileges Committee following a Facebook posting. Video: EMTV News

OPINION: By Keith Jackson in Noosa

Samuel H Basil, the man who might ban Papua New Guineans from Facebook, was not always such a stern opponent of the social media platform he now despises – a platform used by nearly a million of his fellow citizens.

Indeed it was only 18 months ago that Basil – who is now Communications Minister – posted on his own Facebook page: “FB users in PNG have used the medium to their advantage exposing corruption in government…. Everything is changing; people are taking their bloggers seriously and their politicians as comedians.”

Yes, bloggers serious; politicians comic.

READ MORE: Gary Juffa on the Kramer censoring – another attack on free speech

Then last week, having defected not only from his political base but seemingly from his former progressive and liberal ideas, Basil felt able to announce that Facebook could be banned for a month for some mysterious “research” – and maybe disposed of permanently, perhaps to be replaced by Basbook.

Communications Minister Sam Basil with Prime Minister Peter O’Neill – worried about the wellbeing of PNG or just politicians feelings being hurt? Image: PNG Attitude

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An immediate worldwide flambé of curiosity then thrust the story into the news stratosphere, some journalists linking it with Papua New Guinea’s APEC forum later this year. Basil seemed to back away, then push the idea forward again so by week’s end what the government intends to do was very much up in the air.

But one thing did remain constant (see more stories on PNG Attitude) – the desire of most national politicians to get rid of the dreadful FB thing that is causing them so much grief with increasingly savvy and critical voters.

Among the small group of politicians fighting to keep Facebook alive is Madang MP Bryan Kramer who was cheeky enough (in a Facebook post of course) to allude to Basil in a headline which asked, “Did dumb just get dumber?”.

Parliamentary walkout
Affecting to have been taken aback, in Parliament the majority of members voted to refer Kramer to the Privileges Committee whereupon Opposition Leader Patrick Pruaitch and 23 other members walked out of the chamber in protest.

The committee will decide if Kramer’s post brought Parliament into disrepute.

Opposition Madang MP Bryan Kramer … controversial statement made outside Parliament on Facebook. Image: EMTV News

However, there is something of a problem – the committee is meant to investigate breaches of parliamentary privilege and Kramer’s statement was not made in Parliament.

“I think what is frightening and what is alarming for the people of PNG is a deliberate move towards shutting down their opportunities to have access to information and to also speak freely,” Pruaitch said.

“They [politicians] are complaining about their feelings being hurt.”

Meanwhile, in far away Uganda, Parliament has just passed a new social media tax which will charge a daily fee of 200 Ugandan shillings (about K1.75) to anyone using apps Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter. That’s a hefty sum in a country where the average person earns K6 a day.

But, as with Sam Basil’s ill thought through proposition for Papua New Guinea, it is unclear in Uganda how social media use will be monitored and how the money will be collected.

Digging themselves deeper holes in their desire to rein in social media seems to be a developing political trait.

This article is republished by Asia Pacific Report with permission and was originally published by Keith Jackson’s blog PNG Attitude.

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Tongan PM seeks royal audience after lawyer’s constitutional advice on law

Tonga’s King Tupou VI and Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pōhiva … vetoed laws issue. Image: Kaniva News

By Kalino Latu, editor of Kaniva News

The government of Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pōhiva has planned an audience with the King of Tonga after a New Zealand legal expert advised that the king had no right to judge the merits of legislation passed by Parliament.

A government spokesperson said the plan was made after cabinet accepted the New Zealand lawyer Dr Rodney Harrison’s recommendations.

Pōhiva told Kaniva News in a recent interview that six Amendment Bills were submitted by the Tu’ivakanō government in 2014 and were passed by Parliament.

However, when submitted to King Tupou VI in Privy Council for his approval and signature he rejected the new laws.

These amendments included Acts of Constitution of Tonga (Amendment Bill) 2014, Judicial and Legal Service Commission 2014, Tonga Police (Amendement Bill) 2014, National Spatial Planning and Management (Amendment Bill) 2014, Magistrate Court Amendment Bill 2014 and Public Service Amendement Bill 2014.

Pōhiva said the Amendment Bills 2014 were submitted by the Tu’ivakanō government after the constitution was reviewed by a Commonwealth constitutional law expert, Peter Pursglove.

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As Kaniva News reported, Pursglove said that Tonga’s 2010 constitution did not uphold democracy, the Privy Council lacked any democratic composition or accountability and the judiciary lacked accountability and transparency.

Amendment bills left
Pōhiva said when his government came to power in November 2014, the Tu’ivakanō government had left these amendement bills for them to complete working on them.

He said they pursued some of these bills, including some that concerned the assignment of the Attorney-General to the Privy Council, which Pursgrlove said was unconstitutional.

In a response to a request by the Prime Minister’s office for an opinion on the legality of the Royal Assent Order 2011, Dr Harrison said it appeared there was a misconception that the king had the “power to grant or refuse the Royal Assent conferred by Clause 56 of the Constitution”.

Dr Harrison recommended that the government try to get the king to alter his views on his powers by “reasoned persuasion”. Seeking a judicial ruling is also an option.

The government spokesperon said the Prime Minister wanted to talk to the king first as he wanted to make sure the constitution was correctly interpreted and followed through.

He said the Prime Minister believed the king would consider Dr Harrison’s advice favourably.

Vetoed by king
Minister of Justice Vuna Fa’otusia said many of the amendments to laws and the constitution passed by Parliament were vetoed by the king because of the Judicial Committee.

The Judicial Committee was comprised of some law lords and was chaired by Lord Dalgety of Scotland. The minister said if the committee did not agree with laws and amendments to the constitutions which were already passed by the Parliament the king would reject those laws.

Dr Harrison said the Law Lords played no specific constitutional role and they did not have any constitutional function or role as scrutineers of legislation or the legislative process.

Royal Assent 2011:
56 Power of Legislative Assembly

The King and the Legislative Assembly shall have power to enact laws, and the
representatives of the nobles and the representatives of the people shall sit as one
House. When the Legislative Assembly shall have agreed upon any Bill which has
been read and voted for by a majority three times it shall be presented to the King
for his sanction and after receiving his sanction and signature it shall become law
upon publication. Votes shall be given by raising the hand or by standing up in
division or by saying “Aye” or “No”

This article is republished by Asia Pacific Report with permission.

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Timor-Leste’s opposition alliance set for win after fractious election

Xanana Gusmao of the AMP (Allianca Mudanca ba Progresu) coalition delivering his speech during a last day campaign in Dili before the weekend’s election. Image: Valentino Dariell de Sousa/SBS-AFP

Pacific Media Centre Newsdesk

With more than 99 percent of votes counted in the poll, Timor-Leste’s opposition Alliance of Change for Progress (AMP) was leading at the weekend with 49.59 percent of the total votes and is set to break the country’s political deadlock.

The coalition squeaked across the line with an absolute majority, preliminary election results showed yesterday, after a fractious campaign marred by violence and mud-slinging, reports SBS-AFP News.

It was the second general election in less than a year for the half-island nation of 1.2 million that is struggling to boost its oil-dependent economy, after a months-long political impasse saw Parliament dissolved in January.

READ MORE: Timorese election resolves political stalemate

Provisional Timor-Leste general election results.

With 97 percent of votes from Saturday’s election counted, the three-party Parliamentary Majority Alliance (AMP) – led by independence hero Xanana Gusmao – had about 48 percent of the votes.

The result means the alliance – which includes the National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT) led by Gusmao, the People’s Liberation Party (PLP) and the youth-based Khunto – has secured an overall majority of 34 seats in the 65-member legislature.

The provisional line-up in Timor-Leste’s Parliament with the AMP Coalition (blue) and Fretilin (black) commanding most of the seats in the new Parliament.

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The former Portuguese colony won independence in 2002 after a brutal, 24-year occupation by neighbouring Indonesia followed by 2 1/2 years of UN stewardship.

Fretilin, which narrowly won last July’s poll, had about 36 percent, leaving it with 23 seats.

No reports of unrest
Despite a fractious campaign and fears of violence on election day, there were no reports of unrest.

Clashes broke out the previous weekend between Fretilin and opposition supporters, with more than a dozen people injured.

Parliament was dissolved and new elections called in January amid tensions between former Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri’s minority government and the opposition centred around Gusmao’s CNRT.

Dr Alkatiri’s Fretilin party-led government collapsed after its bid to introduce a policy programme and new budget were thwarted by a hostile opposition.

“This outcome should produce a return to political stability in Timor-Leste and may allow Xanana Gusmao time to again consider looking to a replacement leader from the next generation after a suitable amount of time has elapsed,” said Professor Damien Kingsbury, coordinator of the Australia Timor-Leste Election Observer Mission.

“In terms of economic policy, it will be business as usual, which raises questions about the longer term viability for Timor-Leste,” Dr Kingsbury added.

Big challenges ahead
The incoming government will face big challenges, especially as the clock is ticking fast on its disappearing oil and gas reserves.

Oil and gas pay for the bulk of government spending but oil revenues are in steep decline and the country has few other productive economic sectors.

About 60 percent of Timor Leste’s population is under 25, according to the World Bank, while some 40 percent of its people live in poverty.

Providing jobs for young people and reining in public spending – especially on large infrastructure projects – will be key tasks for the new government, commentators say.

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Timorese vote in fresh general election after tense campaign

By Michael Leach in Dili

After a tense month-long campaign and two rest days, East Timorese cast their votes today in the Timor-Leste’s latest parliamentary elections. With the campaign characterised by considerable bitterness between the major parties, much is at stake.

Despite narrowly prevailing at the election just nine months ago, the Fretilin-led minority government failed to gain parliamentary support for its programme and budget during 2017.

The president — also from Fretilin — dissolved parliament and called today’s poll.

READ MORE: Choices sharpen in Timor-Leste

The East Timorese electoral agencies, short of funds after last year’s election and the parliamentary impasse, have risen to the occasion extremely well.

And, in a remarkable testimony to Timor-Leste’s young population, the electoral roll has grown by 3.1 percent to 784,000 voters, with around 24,000 voters turning 17 in just over nine months since last July.

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Last year’s campaign came in the wake of a national unity government involving informal power-sharing between Xanana Gusmão’s CNRT and Fretilin. But relations quickly soured after an election that Fretilin won narrowly with 23 seats to CNRT’s 22.

In the end, Fretilin was only able to attract the Democratic Party, with its seven seats, to its minority coalition government, giving prime minister Dr Mari Alkatiri 30 seats in the 65-seat Parliament.

Rejected programme
Within weeks, the remaining parties had formed the Parliamentary Majority Alliance (AMP) a coalition controlling 35 seats, and had voted down the government’s programme and budget.

Fretilin feels aggrieved that it did not receive parliamentary support after narrowly finishing ahead last year, despite an alternative coalition having been ruled out publicly by Xanana Gusmão in the immediate wake of the July election.

For its part, the AMP feels bitter about Fretilin’s parliamentary tactics last year, which delayed the second presentation of the government programme and prevented it from falling before the six-month mark, when the president could dissolve Parliament and call fresh elections.

AMP figures feel that their alliance should have been installed in government during the life of the Parliament. How these issues have influenced the voting public will be known tomorrow.

This year’s campaign has been marked by the resurgence of the “history wars,” the clash between the two wings of the East Timorese resistance during the Indonesian occupation.

The AMP has reunited Xanana Gusmão and his CNRT with former president Taur Matan Ruak’s Popular Liberation Party (PLP), which were at loggerheads during the 2017 election. Both were leaders of the armed resistance, Falintil.

The campaign has been frequently depicted as a contest between the armed front and members of the diplomatic front, who were outside the country during the occupation, including prime minister Alkatiri and key diplomatic figure Jose Ramos-Horta, who has thrown his weight behind the Fretilin campaign.

Hurt by attacks
Though he has not responded to them, Ramos-Horta has evidently been hurt by the attacks on his legacy, some of which have sought to diminish the contribution of those who struggled for independence in the international arena.

This division over resistance history has lent an unpleasant air to a campaign that has also been marked by exchanges of personal slurs between the major party leaders, including some outbursts of anti-Muslim sentiment directed at the Fretilin leader Dr Mari Alkatiri, and fractious personal debates on Facebook.

From the east of the country have come reports of rock attacks on AMP caravans in Viqueque, bringing back memories of the divisive 2007 election, which occurred in the wake of the 2006 political–military crisis.

The AMP parties have also complained of low-level attacks in Laga region of Baucau, were temperatures still run hot over the death of dissident veteran Mauk Moruk in 2014.

Yet the campaign has been remarkably peaceful on the whole, with colourful mass rallies of party supporters generally well behaved throughout most of the country.

The campaign has also been marred by a handful of accusations of favouritism and irregularities against the electoral agencies, prompting the head of the National Electoral Commission (CNE) to publicly defend the organisation in press conferences.

Several complaints originated on AMP’s Facebook page, including concerns over printing errors in the ballots, which were quickly identified and cancelled, and suspicions about meetings between CNE and political parties that turned out to be part of routine investigation of previous complaints.

Closely watched
The CNE has responded quickly and satisfactorily. With domestic and international observers closely watching the process and extremely professional electoral agencies, there is very little scope for manipulation.

The CNE and the Technical Secretariat of Electoral Administration have done an excellent job under trying circumstances with limited budgets.

While the parties have discussed differing visions for the future, especially during the series of TV debates, considerable energy has been diverted into personal and historical debates within the small political elite. The new AMP alliance brings together two parties that ran last year on fundamentally different development agendas, and it remains to be seen how the CNRT’s focus on major infrastructure spending can be reconciled with the PLP’s more grassroots focus on basic development spending on health education and agriculture.

How voters have received this new combination will be known tomorrow.

For their part, supporters of Fretilin and the Democratic Party (PD) have been on friendly terms throughout the campaign, suggesting the alliance seems to be holding, though this relationship could be easily revisited in the interparty negotiations that follow the election.

The AMP is a formidable coalition of parties that received 29.5 percent, 10.5 percent and 6.5 percent last year: a total of 46.5 per cent. It could also receive the support of the Democratic Development Front, or FDD, the coalition of the smaller parties most likely to exceed the 4 per cent threshold required to get seats. This is not certain, though, and there are at least some rumblings of dissent from one of the parties inside FDD. On the other side, Fretilin received 29.7 percent in 2017, and its PD partner in the minority government received 9.8 percent.

No polls have been taken to indicate the likely result tomorrow. As a baseline indication, if last year’s vote is notionally combined into the new party coalitions that have formed, the AMP would start with a nominal allocation of 33 seats — the minimum majority required.

Favourite on paper
In turn, Fretilin, PD and the FDD would receive 21, six and five seats respectively. If FDD cannot clear the 4 percent hurdle, these notional numbers rise to 36 for the AMP, 22 for Fretilin, and seven for PD.

The AMP therefore starts as favourite on paper, but the outcome tomorrow can easily change from the 2017 results., As a rough guide, Fretilin requires a swing of just under 4 per cent (if FDD does not take seats) rising to more like 6 per cent if the FDD gains seats and backs the AMP.

These are clearly challenging targets for Fretilin, though not impossible, especially in the former case. It may be that the smaller coalition becomes instrumental in the final result if things run close.

Some longer-term trends are striking. At a forum on the elections I conducted in Dili on Thursday, younger Timorese commented that though they are often reluctant to openly criticise their resistance-era leaders, young people are more interested in the development policies of the government and how they will help to create future jobs.

There was also a sense in last year’s election result that while resistance-era legitimacy remains important to political fortunes, it is starting to offer diminishing returns for East Timorese leaders as the median age of the voting public falls, and voters look for solutions to entrenched development problems.

The young people at the forum also felt that the direst warnings of potential trouble if one side or the other loses tomorrow have come from political insiders themselves, with most ordinary people confident that the national police can manage any post-election troubles.

Young voters also said Dili’s noisy and active social media has played a mixed role — allowing more opportunities for debate, on the one hand, and especially for women’s and young people’s voice to come through, but also distributing fake news and rumours, and not fully representing rural voices.

Potential sleeper trend
Another potential sleeper trend is the changing attitude of the Catholic Church to the major parties. The Church responded positively to the concordat with the Vatican orchestrated by the PM of the previous national unity government, Fretilin’s Rui Araujo.

Despite occasional slurs against Mari Alkatiri, most of the older political leadership from the 1970s does not identify strongly with the church, though younger Timorese broadly do.

As tomorrow’s poll approaches, both sides are supremely confident of victory in their public statements. Either way, it is likely that Timor-Leste will be in good hands, and the real issue as always will be how the unsuccessful parties accept the results.

After last year’s uncertain result, East Timorese will be hoping for a clear and decisive outcome.

Dr Michael Leach is Professor of Politics and International Relations at Swinburne University of Technology. This article was first published by Inside Story.

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Article by AsiaPacificReport.nz

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media