East Timor president calls new elections to break deadlock

East Timor's President Francisco "Lu-Olo" Guterres delivers his speech in Dili, East Timor, Friday, Jan. 26, 2018. East Timor will hold new elections after the minority government formed last year was unable to get its policy program and budget through parliament, the country's president said Friday. (AP Photo/Kandhi Barnez)
East Timor's President Francisco "Lu-Olo" Guterres delivers his speech in Dili, East Timor, Friday, Jan. 26, 2018. East Timor will hold new elections after the minority government formed last year was unable to get its policy program and budget through parliament, the country's president said Friday. (AP Photo/Kandhi Barnez)

DILI, East Timor — East Timor will hold new elections after the minority government formed last year was unable to get its policy program and budget through parliament, the country's president said Friday.

President Francisco "Lu-Olo" Guterres said he had dissolved the parliament. He has yet to announce an election date.

"I ask the people to vote again. We will all go to vote. We will all go to elections to improve our democracy," he said.

The decision was supported by the two biggest parties in parliament, Fretilin, which led the minority government, and the National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction party of independence hero Xanana Gusmao, or CNRT.

"We have told the president that he should make any decision, whatever it is, to solve the current political crisis," said Taur Matan Ruak, leader of a minor party and spokesman for the opposition alliance in parliament.

Previously, Fretilin was part of a national unity government with the CNRT. In the July parliamentary election, CNRT lost support and Fretilin narrowly became the largest party. Opponents said its minority government was unconstitutional.

The government's 2018 budget was rejected by parliament in December, its second defeat after its policy program was rejected in October.

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 but reprisals by the Indonesian military 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.

Parliamentary and presidential elections held last year were the first without U.N. supervision since peacekeepers left in 2012.

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