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East Timor assembly begins debate over first constitution

East Timor assembly begins debate over first constitution

East Timor’s elected assembly began debating the territory’s constitution, passing the first article, which declares the nation a republic and defines its name and official independence date, the United Nations Transitional Administration (UNTAET) reported today.

By a vote of 71 in favour, four opposed and 11 abstentions, the Constituent Assembly approved the article’s first clause, while adopting the second by a vote of 70 in favour, six opposed and eight abstentions.

Translated from Portuguese, the constitution’s first article reads: “The Democratic Republic of East Timor is a democratic State ruled by law, sovereign, independent and unitary, based upon the popular will and respect for the dignity of the human being. 28 November 1975 is the day of the independence proclamation of the Democratic Republic of East Timor.”

The second clause, which refers to the 1975 proclamation, has no bearing on the 20 May 2002 date – approved by both the Assembly and the UN Security Council in late October – on which UNTAET will transfer its powers to an independent East Timor administration.

The Assembly’s Committee on Systemization and Harmonization completed its draft of the Constitution on 27 November after moulding sections prepared by its four thematic groups into one single cohesive text.

An affirmative vote of at least 60 of the 88 Assembly members will be needed for the Constitution to be adopted.