Vice-president forced out of Timorese Parliament in bitter row

CNRT member José Virgilio (centre) seizes the president's chair during angry scenes in the National Parliament yesterday. Image: Egas Cristovão/Tatoli

By Evaristo Soares Martins and Robert Baird in Dili

The Vice-President of Timor-Leste’s National Parliament, Maria Angelina Sarmento, has been physically removed from a plenary session after she tried to claim the president’s chair.

The chamber erupted into farce yesterday as members of parliamentary President  – or Speaker – Arão Noé Amaral’s CNRT party blocked Sarmento and fellow deputy Luís Roberto from seizing control of the chamber.

The shouting and disorder began when members of the governing bloc of PLP, FRETILIN and KHUNTO entered the chamber, soon after 10 o’clock.

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CNRT member José Virgilio Image: Tatoli

CNRT members stepped up to the president’s table to block Sarmento, Roberto and their party allies from taking the president’s chair.

“We can give the chair [to the vice-president], but it should be according to the law; don’t come and just seize [it],” CNRT member José Virgilio said, as he guarded the seat.

Tatoli news agency then witnessed the members push Ms Sarmento out of the room. The CNRT members later allowed the two deputies to take their own seats, but continued to block them from the president’s chair.

In a press conference yesterday morning ahead of the plenary, Amaral accused Sarmento – from the rival PLP party – of violating the constitution in a “grab” for power.

Vice-Presidents Luís Roberto (KHUNTO, left) and Maria Angelina Sarmento (PLP) tried to seize control of the Timor-Leste National Parliament yesterday. Image: Tatoli

“As President of the National Parliament, I want to denounce an attempt by Vice-President Angelina Sarmento to remove [me],” he said. “This act by Angelina Sarmento violates the constitution, parliament rules and the law.”

The role of the parliamentary president has been the subject of a bitter dispute across a number of parties.

The governing bloc of FRETILIN, KHUNTO and PLP want Amaral removed from his post.

Last week, the three parties drafted a letter, signed by a majority of Parliament members, accusing him of “abuses of power”.

However, CNRT and its parliamentary allies are fiercely resisting the move. Amaral has instead insisted President Francisco Guterres Lú-Olo dissolve Parliament and call elections.

President Lú-Olo is a leading figure from rival FRETILIN party, and has clashed with CNRT since the beginning of the 8th Constitutional Government in 2018.

CNRT, led by charismatic former president Xanana Gusmão, has been in a standoff with the president since the last elections in 2018: initially over his decision to reject some of the party’s ministerial nominations; but more recently, because Guterres declined to support CNRT’s bid to take over the government.

The crisis has come while the country has been dealing with the coronavirus crisis, but Timor-Leste has been declared covid-19 free after all 24 active cases have recovered.

The Pacific Media Centre republishes Tatoli articles with permission.

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