15 November 2018

"Polemic" on Timor-Leste's Parliament's refusal to permit President to leave the country

Parliament has spoken. That's the end of the matter.
The latest “polemic” in East Timor concerns the National Parliament’s refusal to authorise the President, Francisco Guterres, to leave the country. The Parliament has now refused four times to permit the President to leave the jurisdiction.

As well as visiting the Vatican, the President has also been blocked from state visits to attend the United Nations General Assembly, Indonesia and Portugal. Some have criticised the Parliament’s decision and have sought to influence a reconsideration by Parliament. But it seems that the Parliament is standing firm.

The Parliament’s refusal may appear as a revenge attack on the President for his unconstitutional failure to appoint nine government minster candidates put forward by the Prime Minster, Taur Matan Ruak, who enjoys a comfortable majority in the Parliament. [1]

But it may also be seen as the prioritisation by Parliament of the internal uncertainty and unresolved constitutional questions concerning the behaviour of the President and the problems that it has caused for stable governance and democratic rule in East Timor. The Government is short by nine Ministers. This would compromise governance anywhere.

In any event, Parliament is not required to have any reason for its decision nor is it required by any law to disclose the rationale for the decision. It is a matter exclusively within the Parliament’s competencies expressly stated in the Constitution.

And there is no need for influential people to criticise the Parliament’s decision without good cause nor make public calls for Members of Parliament to reconsider and reverse their vote on the matter.

As far as this author can see, Parliament has every justification for its decision having regard to the constitutional contortions engaged in by the President and the impacts on the rule of law and democracy in East Timor as well as stable governance.  Until these matters are resolved, it is not, in my view, appropriate that the President be leaving the country with a governance vacuum, administratively compromised Executive and no end in sight to the confusion and conflict generated by the President’s own decision.

For ease of reference, I reiterate the relevant provisions of the Constitution, namely:

Article 80 (Absence) 

1. The President of the Republic shall not be absent from the national territory without the previous consent of the National Parliament or of its Standing Committee, if Parliament is in recession. 

2. Failure to observe provision of item 1 above shall imply forfeiture of the office, as provided for by the previous Section. 

I think the words are clear enough to confer an absolute discretion on the Parliament in this regard that is beyond question.

The consequence of any absence without consent means forfeiture of office.

The other important point to note about this Article 80 is that it reinforces the supremacy of Parliament as the true democratic expression of the will of the people. It is most unfortunate that some refuse to respect the election results earlier this year, thereby refusing as far as possible the wishes of the electorate.

Warren L. Wright BA LLB
Lawyer
Sociologist & Anthropologist

Note [1] See my previous analyses at:


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