East Timor to swear in new prime minister on Friday

DILI (Reuters) - East Timor will swear in as prime minister on Friday its former president and independence fighter Jose Maria de Vasconcelos, putting an end to months of political deadlock in the tiny Southeast Asian nation.

FILE PHOTO: Newly appointed East Timor President Jose Maria de Vasconcelos, known as Taur Matan Ruak (R) waves his hand as he is greeted by Parliament Chief Fernando Lasama de Araujo after the inauguration ceremony Dili May 20, 2012. REUTERS/Lirio Da Fonseca

President Francisco Guterres dissolved parliament in January after Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri’s minority government faced a legislative stalemate.

“I have issued a decree on the nomination of Mr Taur Matan Ruak as prime minister,” Guterres told a news conference on Wednesday, using a popular name for Vasconcelos.

Vasconcelos belongs to a three-party coalition, the Alliance of Change for Progress (AMP), that won 34 of the 65 seats up for grabs in May’s parliamentary election, the fifth since independence from Indonesia in 2002.

Guterres said he had accepted the nomination of Vaconcelos as he had the approval of all the AMP parties and would not “bring the government into a difficult situation”.

The AMP coalition includes the National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT) party of independence hero Xanana Gusmao.

The country’s first president and a former prime minister, Gusmao is expected to be take up a special ministerial post to advise Vaconcelos, an AMP official has said. There had been speculation Gusmao would seek to become prime minister again.

A 2017 parliamentary election produced no clear winner, with Alkatiri’s Fretilin party winning just 0.2 percent more votes than CNRT, and forming a minority government.

Asia’s youngest democracy has struggled to reduce poverty, stamp out corruption and develop its rich oil and gas resources. The energy sector made up about 60 percent of gross domestic product in 2014 and more than 90 percent of government revenue.

Election candidates campaigned on promises to develop education and healthcare and boost agriculture and tourism in the country of 1.2 million people with a land area slightly smaller than Hawaii.

Writing by Ed Davies; Editing by Clarence Fernandez