July 27 (Bloomberg) -- East Timor's former president Xanana Gusmao will probably become the Southeast Asian nation's new prime minister when parliament convenes in three days to choose a head of government.
Gusmao's party, the National Congress for the Reconstruction of East Timor, or CNRT, won 24 percent of the popular vote in June 30 parliamentary elections, second behind the ruling Fretilin party. CNRT formed an alliance with the ASDT-PSD coalition and the Democrat Party, an agreement which gives the group a majority in the assembly.
``Based on the constitution we get to choose the new prime minister,'' Fernando `Lasama' de Araujo, a spokesman for the alliance and leader of the Democrat Party, said by telephone from the capital, Dili. ``Fretilin may have got the most votes but they didn't get a majority so the most they can get is some ministers' positions.''
Gusmao will run a country divided by civil unrest and a jobless rate that stands at 50 percent. While holding the rights to an estimated 8 trillion cubic feet of gas and 300 million barrels of light oil, the nation also known as Timor Leste is one of Asia's poorest with about 42 percent of the population living below the poverty line.
East Timorese voted in a 1999 referendum for independence, 24 years after Indonesia invaded the territory. It became independent in 2002.
The CNRT alliance will put forward Gusmao as prime minister and plans to use the money earned from the Timor Sea oil and gas field to build homes and infrastructure, particularly outside Dili, de Araujo said.
Gusmao, who led the armed resistance against Indonesian occupation and was imprisoned for more than six years for his activities, also wants to develop a social security program for veterans of the independence movement.
``He is not going to walk by himself, we are preparing a strong team that will walk with him,'' de Araujo said.
Fretilin, which was formed out of the resistance movement to Indonesian occupation, held 55 seats in the previous 88-seat parliament and has the largest number of registered supporters.
The party won 29 percent of the popular vote and is still talking with all political parties in a bid to build a majority, said Arsenio Bano, Fretilin's vice-president and the minister for labor in the last government.
``No one is considered as defeated right now,'' he said in an interview from Dili. ``Our interpretation of the result is that people still want us to govern but that we won't be able to govern alone.''
Fretilin has time to form its own majority, said Helen Hill, a professor at Australia's Victoria University who has written a book about East Timor's democratization.
``Xanana doesn't really have the administrative skills needed to be prime minister so that might convince some of the other party members who are concerned about stability,'' she said. ``I'd be skeptical of whether a coalition that does not include the largest party can succeed for very long in the East Timor environment.''
The country, which borders part of Indonesia on an island north of Australia, has been unstable since 37 people were killed more than a year ago in clashes between groups from the western and eastern regions. The violence drove 150,000 people from their homes, mostly in Dili, and saw Fretilin Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri removed from power after accusations he spurred the violence by firing a third of the armed forces.
An Australian-led peacekeeping force, that went to East Timor last year, should stay until the end of 2008, President Jose Ramos Horta said yesterday after meeting Australian Prime Minister John Howard in Dili.
``We will stay here for so long as we are asked to stay and it's in the best interests of the people of East Timor,'' Howard said, according to an Australian government transcript. ``We've always made it very clear that it cannot be assumed that we will stay indefinitely.''
To contact the reporter on this story: Emma O'Brien in Wellington on