Subject: ABC: President doesn't have prerogative to dismiss elected TL government

ABC: PR doesn't have prerrogative to dismiss elected TL government; The World Today - Justice Minister recommends RAMSI-style mission in East Timor

ABC - PM - Thursday, 1 June , 2006 18:18:00

Reporter: Mark Colvin

MARK COLVIN: What can break the apparent deadlock between East Timor's President Xanana Gusmao and its Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri, the Prime Minister?

There have been suggestions from Australia that the President should sack the Prime Minister. But as Australians found out in 1975, dismissing a Prime Minister can be a messy business.

Jonathan Morrow is an Australian lawyer who played a part in forming East Timor's constitution.

From 1999 to 2002, he was a legal adviser in the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor, and he's not happy with the pressure he says is being put on for Mr Alkatiri's sacking.

JONATHAN MORROW: What is clear under the East Timor constitution, is that the President, the Head of State in that country, does not have the prerogative to dismiss an elected government of that country.

MARK COLVIN: Who does?

JONATHAN MORROW: The Parliament is the answer to that. The East Timor constitution very clearly states the principle of Parliamentary sovereignty. It is open to the Parliament to pass a vote of no confidence in Prime Minister Alkatiri's government. That has not happened in recent days, in fact I believe the Parliament has not met.

What I would suggest is a former UN official who was closely associated with the drafting of the constitution, not as a drafter but observing it for the United Nations and advising the United Nations on it, is that that constitution must be respected.

In particular, it would be very unfortunate, in my view, if at this first sign of instability in East Timor's period of independence, the constitution were to go out the window.

Where the government has difficulty establishing law and order, where it has difficulty, if you like, exercising a monopoly of force throughout the territory of that country, the appropriate international response is to support and strengthen that government, not to bifurcate or to encourage a free for all discussion about dismissals and this kind of thing.

MARK COLVIN: What if that government is showing signs of becoming dictatorial, or what if that government were showing signs of corruption or what if that government were showing signs of simply not being able to achieve law and order?

JONATHAN MORROW: Well, I'm not sure that all or even any of those charges are necessarily true in the case of East Timor. But even if, even if all of those charges are accurate, even if the government or Prime Minister Alkatiri is guilty of the gravest policy errors imaginable, even so, in those circumstances, there is nothing in the constitution to warrant a unilateral dismissal of that government for policy failure.

MARK COLVIN: Isn't that a weakness of the constitution in the sense that there's no escape valve there?

JONATHAN MORROW: Well, I don't think it is. I mean, I don't think it's a weakness of any constitution, frankly, that there are mechanisms in place to prevent an individual from removing an elected government, simply because, as in the case of Timor, there is a problem establishing law and order in the streets of Dili.

We, are of course, seeing similar problems in not entirely dissimilar countries - Afghanistan and Iraq - and the appropriate international response there, the international response we are seeing there is for additional support to be given to those governments.

Now, if they behave dictatorially then that can be a problem and there are ways of, of course, the international community of raising that, but we don't hear, of course, calls from international coalitions for the removal of the Karzai Government, for instance, in Afghanistan as a result of the riots we've seen recently, nor, of course, the newly appointed Prime Minister of Iraq.

MARK COLVIN: But the situation in East Timor is that you've got a president, who seems to be very, very widely liked and respected and a Prime Minister who... I read one article today that said almost nobody had a good word for him.

And what your saying is that the Prime Minister has all the power and the President who has almost universal respect and liking, has none.

JONATHAN MORROW: Well, it may be the case that from the vantage point from Australia it looks as if President Gusmao is immensely popular and Mari Alkatiri is immensely unpopular, but I think that the facts on the ground in East Timor suggest otherwise, and I'm referring, of course, to an election that took place three years ago.

They elected his government…

MARK COLVIN: But to be fair, they weren't pitted against each other, it doesn't prove the proposition your putting up.

JONATHAN MORROW: Well, he has a mandate to govern for the East Timorese people, there's no question about that, quite a strong one. His candidacy to be the Prime Minister drawn from the strongest political party in East Timor, Fretilin, was confirmed recently.

So, though I would not deny or not confirm either my view that Prime Minister Alkatiri has behaved in an autocratic manner. Frankly, I don't believe the correct way in handling that fact, if it is a fact, is to question the legitimacy of his government, the legitimacy of his Prime Ministership, and I think that's what...

MARK COLVIN: ... Because in the long run, constitutionality is more important?

JONATHAN MORROW: Constitutionality is more important, democracy is more important, more immediately, the security situation in Dili right now with gangs in the streets is not helped by suggestions that are, I think, being encouraged in sections of the Australian Government and the Australian media, suggestions that the Alkatiri Government is going or should go.

It may be the case that Parliament chooses to move a vote of no confidence in Prime Minister Alkatiri, so be it. That will be the appropriate democratic and constitutional course.

MARK COLVIN: Followed by a general election.


MARK COLVIN: Jonathan Morrow, an Australian lawyer who was a legal adviser in the UN transitional administration in East Timor from 1999 to 2002.


< >ABC Online

The World Today - Justice Minister recommends RAMSI-style mission in East Timor

[This is the print version of story]

The World Today - Friday, 2 June , 2006 16:39:39

Reporter: Kim Landers

ELEANOR HALL: The United Nations Security Council could meet as early as next week to consider what action to take in East Timor.

The UN mandate in the troubled nation expires later this month, and discussions are being held about what shape any future mission should take.

Australia's Justice Minister, Senator Chris Ellison, is in New York for a meeting with the UN Head of Peacekeeping. And he's advising that a future UN peacekeeping effort should follow the template of the RAMSI mission in Solomon Islands.

Senator Ellison has been speaking to our North American Washington Correspondent Kim Landers.

CHRIS ELLISON: Well, you have to realize the vast majority of the East Timorese police have basically disappeared, and we don't really have much of an East Timorese police force to work with.

It means that we're going to have to be there for the long haul. And I think that we'll need to be there in sufficient numbers, because we can't rely immediately on the East Timorese police force in excess of 2,000 and there are only really about 160 left.

KIM LANDERS: How many police can Australia afford to send to East Timor and have you been able to give any commitment to the UN officials whom you've met about what our commitment could be?

CHRIS ELLISON: Look, it's too early to estimate the final number of Australian Federal Police who… who will end up in East Timor, but we have 71 there at the moment.

We are in a position to commit more, and we've said that. But we do believe that other countries can make a contribution. I think that's important because we… this is not only an Australian intervention to assist a country that's in trouble. It's really an international effort.

KIM LANDERS: Well, soldiers make up the bulk of Australia's commitment to East Timor at the moment.

Do you think that that mission could morph into something more of a RAMSI-style mission in Solomon Islands, whereby we would see the majority of the Australian contingent being made up of AFP or in fact state police officers?

CHRIS ELLISON: Well, look, RAMSI does demonstrate how your presence can change. Initially that was more defence-orientated, and then it became more policing in numbers. And I think it's not unreasonable to expect that in time that would happen with East Timor.

And that's certainly the presentation that I'm making to the United Nations tomorrow, that the RAMSI template, if you like, is a very important way to go in nation building, and it demonstrates, I think, a format which can work in nation building.

But that, of course, remains to be worked out with the United Nations and other countries who are involved.

We are intent on assisting in the investigation of crimes which have been committed recently in East Timor. And they're of course very serious issues. The killing of 10 police officers, one house which was burnt to the ground and five people perished in that, and a number of other killings. So that's certainly part of the… the situation in East Timor and we have to work out what role we'll play in the investigation of that.

ELEANOR HALL: And that's Australia's Justice Minister, Chris Ellison, speaking to our Washington Correspondent Kim Landers in New York.

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