Damien Kingsbury Australia's agreement with Timor-Leste to settle a permanent maritime boundary in the Timor Sea may have hit a snag as Timor-Leste's politics is thrown into turmoil. On 30 August this year, the two countries announced they had reached the 'central elements' of an agreement to end a falling out over the disputed waters and their oil and gas resources with details to be made public this month.
The dispute, which marked a low point in bilateral relations, appeared to have been resolved with the outline of an agreed permanent maritime boundary and resource sharing from the Greater Sunrise liquid natural gas field. This implied that part of the Greater Sunrise field would remain in Australian waters, contrary to Timor-Lestes' original position for a boundary to be established at the half way point under the provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
The initial text on the agreement also referred to 'the establishment of a Special Regime for Greater Sunrise, [and] a pathway to the development of the resource'. While this could have allowed Timor-Leste's preferred position of processing the LNG at a yet to be built facility on the country's south coast, this was unlikely.
The lead Greater Sunrise partner, Woodside Petroleum, rejected the south coast option, instead opting for a floating processing platform. The quickest option and that likely to produce revenue for Timor-Leste in time to address its falling income stream would be to backfill an existing oil pipe from the Bayu-Undan oil field, which is expected to run dry by 2022.
What appears to be a compromise appeared to fit with the more conciliatory approach of Timor-Leste's recently appointed Prime Minister, Mari Alkatiri. Alkatiri allowed former prime minister and Minister for Planning and Strategic Investment, Xanana Gusmao, to continue as lead negotiator on the Timor Sea following the elections.
Gusmao had always argued for all of Greater Sunrise to be within Timor-leste's territorial claim and for processing the LNG on Timor-Leste's south coast. A compromise would not have sat well with Gusmao's preferred position.
This would not matter, given that Gusmao's CNRT party lost power in the July elections, except that its former governing partner, the Fretilin Party, only won the elections with 23 of the parliament's 65 seats, and just a 0.2 per cent margin over CNRT. Even in coalition with the Democratic Party, the new government only holds 30 of the 65 seats.
Under Timor-Leste's constitution, the President can appoint as government the party with the most votes, even if it is short of a majority. With Francisco 'Lu-Olo' Guterres a loyal Fretilin member as president, he was expected to favor Fretilin to lead the government if it achieved the most votes of any single party.
This might not have mattered if Fretilin had continued in partnership with CNRT, as was widely expected before the elections. However, there appeared to be a falling out between Fretilin's Alkatiri and CNRT's Gusmao, likely over Alkatiri's decision not to reciprocate CNRT's support for Fretilin's Rui Araujo as Prime Minister when Gusmao stepped down, or CNRT's support for Guterres as President.
In this, Alkatiri appeared to have returned to the centralizing political style of when he was Prime Minister between 2002 and 2006. That centralizing style earned Alkatiri much political animosity at the time and contributed to the troubles of 2006, a result of which he was forced to resign as Prime Minister.
The Popular Liberation Party (PLP) and smaller Joyous Fertility of Timorese People's National Unity (KHUNTO), and even Fretilin's governing partner Democratic Party (PD), complained about Alkatiri's lack of inclusion during negotiations over joining the new government.
CNRT and the other two parties in parliament, PLP and KHNTO, recently joined together as the Parliamentary Majority Alliance (AMP the same name as given to the CNRT-led governing alliance in 2007). Last week, the AMP voted down Fretilin's proposed governing program in parliament and was expected to defeat a second vote on the program this week. If it did so, President Guterres could appoint a new Prime Minister who was able to command a majority in the parliament or, more likely the government would go into caretaker mode ahead of fresh parliamentary elections expected in late January.
The political instability that is currently shaking Timor-Leste could mean a delay in finalising the Timor Sea agreement, the details of which had been put off for another month. Or, it could mean that the agreement will not be signed before the expected elections, which could produce a different government with a different view on compromise on the issue.
It is likely that if the Timor Sea agreement is not signed before a new government is elected (or appointed, which remains an option if one that President Guterres would not prefer), the extent to which an agreement on the Timor Sea had been reached could be back on the table for renegotiation.
Lindsay Murdoch, Bangkok A landmark agreement to develop billions of dollars' worth of oil and gas reserves in the Timor Sea has been referred to East Timor, where the future of country's new minority government is in doubt.
Opposition parties, which together hold a majority of parliamentary seats, are threatening to vote down as early as Monday the government's program, the first trigger that could lead to the government's fall.
The gas shortfall facing the east coast is three times worse than first thought, the PM has revealed, singling out certain States and Territories for not doing enough to prevent the crisis.
Michael Leach, an expert on East Timor from Swinburne University of Technology, said if the government program is rejected twice it will go into caretaker mode until a new government can be formed, which may also see the holding of fresh elections.
Professor Leach said having a government in caretaker mode would likely delay but not indefinitely the signing and ratification of the agreement on a Timor Sea maritime boundary and sharing arrangements for the $50 billion Greater Sunrise oil and gas field that has been negotiated between Australia and East Timor under UN supervision in The Hague.
Under East Timor's constitution, any election could not be held until after January 22.
In a joint statement after series of confidential meetings last week, Australia and East Timor said they had reached agreement on the text of a draft treaty and "the parties will now pursue their domestic approval processes in order to proceed with the signing of the treaty."
Most of East Timor's political parties support a demand by East Timor's former president and prime minister Xanana Gusmao that gas from Greater Sunrise be piped to a yet-to-be developed industrial complex on East Timor's southern coast. Mr Gusmao is tipped to head a new authority to oversee the development.
Officials from Australia and East Timor also met last week with Greater Sunrise joint venture partners to provide what the countries said was "the information necessary to ensure the rapid development" of the Timor Sea reserves.
The venture led by Woodside has rejected bringing the gas across a deep trench to East Timor and said it wanted to build a floating platform to process the gas.
Australia and East Timor struck agreement on "central elements" of a maritime boundary and the establishment of a "special regime" on Greater Sunrise on August 30, ending years of bitter disagreement that strained ties between the neighbours.
But Australia and East Timor said in the statement released in The Hague at the weekend that details of the agreement would remain confidential until "disclosed in a coordinated process following consultations with affected parties." The details were expected to be made public after last week's meetings.
The statement said a further meeting in Singapore in November could set a date for signing the agreement, expected to be by the end of the year or early 2018.
East Timor's two-party minority government led by Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri only took office in September and holds only 30 seats in the 65-seat parliament, five less than the opposition parties.
Politicians from the opposition National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction headed by Mr Gusmao are among opposition MPs who have announced they are ready to form an alternative government that ensures "peace, stability and development."
Mr Gusmao, the hero of East Timor's struggle for independence, has been heading his country's negotiations in The Hague. Although not holding a seat in parliament, he remains East Timor's most powerful politician.
Australia and Timor Leste have drawn up a draft treaty setting out their maritime borders, aiming to end a bitter dispute over lucrative oil and gas fields, officials said Sunday.
"Timor Leste and Australia have reached agreement on the complete text of a draft treaty" in confidential talks in The Hague over the past week, the Permanent Court of Arbitration said in a statement.
It "delimits the maritime boundary between them in the Timor Sea and addresses the legal status of the Greater Sunrise gas field", the tribunal added.
The government of Timor Leste has withdrawn its 2013 spying arbitration against Australia, which is the latest step towards resolving the long-standing sea dispute between the two nations.
Without giving any details, the court hailed the draft treaty hammered out after a deal was reached in August as a "pathway to the development of the resource, and the sharing of the resulting revenue." The two countries have been at loggerheads for a decade over the previous Certain Maritime Arrangements in the Timor Sea (CMATS) agreement between them, which carved up future revenue from oil and gas reserves in the area.
Impoverished Timor Leste and which gained independence from Indonesian occupation in 2002, relies heavily on oil and gas exports.
In 2006 it signed the CMATS treaty with Australia, which covers the vast Greater Sunrise gas field between the two nations that is worth billions of dollars.
But Dili later accused Canberra of spying to gain commercial advantage during the 2004 negotiations and demanded the treaty be ripped up.
Australia had argued the treaty was legal, binding and valid, but agreed to end it in line with Dili's wishes on January 9.
The governments in Timor Leste and Australia will now have to approve the treaty, with the two countries set to meet again before the end of November in Singapore aiming to set a date for a signing ceremony some time in 2018.
Peter Taksoe-Jensen, the head of a conciliation commission set up by the tribunal to help steer the negotiations, praised the "constructive" atmosphere of the talks.
Dili and Canberra were "standing together to ensure that the resources of the seabed are developed to the benefit of both peoples," he said.
Erin Cook, Jakarta A long-running territorial dispute between Australia and Timor-Leste is a step closer to resolution with last month's announcement that talks at The Hague arrived at a new maritime border treaty for the Timor Sea.
The contested sea is home to the Greater Sunrise oil and gas fields, with estimated reserves worth over US$31 billion, sitting between one of the world's most affluent and one of its poorest nations.
Oil revenue makes up around 80% of Timor-Leste's national revenue and with concerns current fields will be depleted within the next decade, Dili needs new exploration and production to prevent fiscal collapse while the government rolls out plans to lessen reliance on natural resources.
Full details of the agreement are expected to be announced in late October, after a finalization process of the treaty is completed by The Hague's Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA).
The initial border was established by an agreement made between Australia and Indonesia in the 1970s. It was renegotiated after Timor-Leste, also known as East Timor, won independence from Jakarta in 2002, but has nonetheless remained a sticking point between the two neighbors.
The treaty, known by its CMATS acronym, was signed in 2006 between Australia's then foreign minister Alexander Downer and then Timorese president Jose Ramos-Horta. Downer cited the importance of the agreement to Australia's national interests when fast-tracking its ratification the following year.
CMATS set out to promote faster development and exploration of the contested Greater Sunrise oil and gas reserves. But the agreement was divisive from the start, with critics on both sides arguing Australia had exploited the power imbalance to secure access to 80% of the reserves.
While a 50%-50% revenue share agreement of resources under CMATS was a vast improvement on the 82%-12% of earlier agreements that favored Australia, Timor-Leste has argued a redraw of the boundary based on international law would find a majority of the fuel fields lie in Timorese territory.
Relations fractured in 2013 after revelations the Australian Secret Intelligence Service, Australia's overseas spy agency, had bugged the office of Timor-Leste's Cabinet in 2004 to undermine negotiations by turning over information gleaned on the Greater Sunrise issue to Australian negotiators.
The spying accusations had a direct impact on Timor-Leste's decision to take the dispute to The Hague's PCA in 2013. While Dili dropped its PCA case against Australia on the spying charges after conciliation talks held in Singapore earlier this year, the incident still casts a dark shadow over bilateral relations.
Meanwhile, a split in policy between the ruling Liberal-National coalition government and the Labor-led opposition which has vocally supported a new resolution and reset in relations with Timor-Leste likely contributed to Australia's change in approach to the dispute.
So, too, have concerns that China's growing infrastructure investment in Timor-Leste, including the construction of ministry offices and a presidential palace alongside funding for the training of hundreds of civil servants, have generated goodwill towards Beijing at Canberra's expense.
Recent reports suggest that Timor-Leste has turned to China to balance the influence of Indonesia to its west and Australia to its south, and in return has offered support for China's ambitious 'One Belt One Road' global infrastructure initiative.
While Timor-Leste has continued to criticize Chinese aggression in the South China Sea, the tiny nation's strategic location between the Pacific and Indian oceans is attractive to China, whose warships visited Dili in January 2016.
Chinese state news agency Xinhua reported the five-day visit as the first of many to come and a boost to a "bilateral friendship."
While specifics of the new resolution will not be known until after it is presented to the United Nations Compulsory Conciliation in The Hague later this month, observers and analysts have predicted likely outcomes based on the initial announcement.
Much of the reporting on the new agreement has referred to Timor-Leste's 'moral victory,' with the dispute long depicted as a David versus Goliath contest even in the Australian media.
Bec Strating, a political lecturer focusing in Timor-Leste and Indonesia at Australia's La Trobe University, told Asia Times that the new agreement's maritime boundary delimitation and special resource sharing regime indicates that Timor-Leste has likely compromised on its earlier proposed maritime claims.
She notes the Timorese had earlier argued that the eastern lateral boundary of the contested area should be drawn in a way that the Greater Sunrise gas field would fall under its complete jurisdiction.
"We don't know what kind of agreement has been reached on boundaries, but my guess is that Australia may have compromised on the median line but not on the eastern lateral," Strating said.
Timor Sea Justice, an Australia-based campaign supporting Timor-Leste's maritime claims based on international law, has resisted making any bold predictions on the new agreement, though its spokesman Tom Clarke is quietly optimistic.
"We're pleased to hear that the new treaty will feature permanent boundaries, but of course the devil will be in the detail and we won't be popping the champagne yet," Clarke said. "I think it's safe to say the treaty will amount to a much better deal for the Timorese than the previous miserly ones Australia jostled Timor into."
Others believe the agreement will go a long way in mending bilateral relations, which have been frayed since Timor-Leste achieved independence from Indonesia in 2002, despite Canberra's earlier support during that long and hard struggle.
Kim McGrath, author of Crossing the Line: Australia's Secret History in the Timor Sea, says that even with a new agreement on the long-simmering dispute it will still take time to fully mend ties.
"It does seem that Australia has finally realized it is in its national interest to have a positive relationship with Timor-Leste and that the first step in remedying the relationship is to settle a maritime boundary," she said, noting that since the spying scandal broke in 2013 no Australian minister has visited Dili.
While representatives from the Timor-Leste government did not respond to requests for comment on the new agreement, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade welcomed the announcement as a fresh diplomatic start.
"This is a landmark day in the relationship between Timor-Leste and Australia," a ministry spokesperson told Asia Times. "This agreement, which supports the national interest of both our nations, further strengthens the long-standing and deep ties between our governments and our people."
In the coming days it is likely we will get more information about the "boundary breakthrough" announced on the 1st of September.
According to an article published last week by the Portuguese news agency LUSA, this week Timor-Leste, Australia and the UN Conciliation Commission are participating in meetings at The Hague to finalise remaining details.
It is significant that the parties are returning to the Netherlands the location for the Opening Hearings on the 29th of August 2016. On that occasion Australia fought tooth and nail to get out of the process on the grounds of jurisdiction. The UN Commission dismissed all of its arguments.
Since then there have been many meetings but not at The Hague, mostly in Singapore a convenient location much closer to home. The return to The Hague is an indicator that the finish line is close.
Considering the location, and the Commission's practice of announcing any significant progress, we hope an official update in the next days will include a map and some of the basics about the revenue splits applying to the development of Greater Sunrise.
After the announcement of the breakthrough I wrote a response entitled Three Cheers for Change. Comparing what comes out of the Hague this time with the position declared by Australia back in August 2016 will show just how massive this change is.
But will it be enough for advocates who want the very best for East Timor? Who had hoped to see all of Greater Sunrise in Timorese waters and shared development consigned to history?
We will soon know more...
A lateral boundary based on the median line? Surely. And if there is to be shared of development of Greater Sunrise Timor-Leste must get the lion's share. Perhaps the Commission will also facilitate a proper assessment of the development options for Greater Sunrise.
For years Timor-Leste made a case for the gas to land on its shores if possible. Darwin undeniably reaped the benefits of the Bayu Undan pipeline. The Northern Territory's Chief Ministers over the past decade have declared that the pipeline and onshore processing has provided huge boost to their economy.
Now it is time to see maximum benefits of any Greater Sunrise development going to Timor.
So we have an interesting week ahead and the finish line in sight.
May this "Haggling in the Hague" produce the best possible outcome for our friends in East Timor still fighting with dignity after such a long, dark history of regrettable behaviour by successive Australian Governments.
East Timor's new government has suffered a major setback after opposition parties vetoed its policy programme, a blow that could see the impoverished young democracy return to the polls.
The Fretilin party, which won the July election by a narrow margin, did not receive enough votes to govern alone and has formed a minority coalition government with the Democratic Party.
With only 30 seats in the 65-seat house, the government relies on confidence and supply from other parties in parliament.
Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri said the defeat in parliament on Thursday was "poison to my government".
"I asked everyone to remain calm, I will go to you and talk to you," Alkatiri said in tears following the vote.
The bill outlined the government's five-year strategic plan for the impoverished young democracy and included initiatives to improve health, infrastructure and better access to clean water.
East Timor analyst Damien Kingsbury, from Australia's Deakin University, said if the government failed to pass the bill again the country could return to the polls. Election officials counting votes during East Timor's July election which led to a minority coalition government
Election officials counting votes during East Timor's July election which led to a minority coalition government
"The president has two choices he has either to call for a majority in parliament to choose a new leader and appoint a new prime minister or the country goes to election, probably January next year. That would seem the most likely outcome at this stage," Kingsbury told AFP Friday.
Opposition parties, including the CNRT, PLP and Khunto, have said the current minority government was unconstitutional and its programme unrealistic.
Nurima Ribeiro Alkatiri, from Fretilin, vowed the government would push ahead with its work.
"We are going to continue to work even though the opposition doesn't believe in our programme," Alkatiri told AFP.
East Timor, a former colony of Portugal, was invaded by Indonesia in 1975 before it gained independence in 2002 after UN sponsored referendum.
Dili The 7th Timorese constitutional government, a minority government, will face the first great test in Parliament next week, with the debate of the executive's Program to be able to condition the life in the country until the middle of 2018.
A possible rejection of the Program, which requires two motions to reject, by the opposition which controls 35 of the 65 seats of the National Parliament, implies the fall of the government, which took office a month ago, and opens the scene to possible early elections, constraining next year's state budget and the political stability of the country, in accordance with the legislation in force in Timor-Leste.
Even before receiving the document prepared by the coalition of the Revolutionary Front of Independent Timor-Leste (Fretilin) and the Democratic Party (PD), the remaining three Parliamentary forces, the National Congress of Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT), the People's Liberation Party (PLP), and Kmanek Haburas National Unity Timor Oan (KHUNTO), constituted themselves as an alternative bloc for governance.
On Thursday, the three forces consolidated the agreement with the signing of a document on the "Platform of Parliamentary Majority Alliance" (AMP), which recalls debates 10 years ago when a coalition led by the CNRT second most voted at that time as this year led the first AMP to take over the Government.
After weeks of negotiations, PLP and KHUNTO eventually rejected being part of the coalition government, and the CNRT, whose leader Xanana Gusmao had rejected any coalition and guaranteed stability for the executive, again led an alliance against Fretilin.
The Constitution and legislation in force dictates that the Government Program has to be discussed for a maximum of five consecutive days and does not even require the document to be voted on. Parliament has scheduled this for next week.
Voting will only take place if the Government submits a vote of confidence unlikely or the opposition submits a motion of rejection which will have to be approved by a majority of Members.
If this occurs and a rejection motion can be presented at any time during the five days of debate the Government then has up to 30 days to submit a new Government Program which will again be debated for five days.
If this second Program is the subject of a new rejection motion the Government falls.
The decision on what happens next is in the hands of the Timor-Leste President who will have to choose between finding a solution within the current Parliament or calling early elections.
The Constitution stipulates that the parliament cannot be dissolved within six months after its election, which in this case occurred on July 22, which means that this can only occur after January 22.
The following deadlines are dictated by the electoral law that explains that in case of dissolution of the National Parliament, the head of State "fixes, by decree, the date of the election of the Members (...) at least sixty days in advance".
This deadline is necessary to comply with all the procedures related to the electoral process, from registration of parties to the electoral campaign, and implies that the earliest elections could take place is March 22.
In the case of the previous elections on last July 22, the Court of Appeal only validated the final results eight days later (on August 1) and the members of parliament only took office more than a month later (on September 5), and it was almost two months after the vote that the government has taken office, and a month after that the debate on the Executive's Program begins.
The possible rejection motions would delay the process of eventual approval of the rectification budget for this year and would also condition the debate and enactment of the 2018 State Budget which, according to the Budget and Financial Management Law, must be submitted to the National Parliament by this Sunday, October 15, a deadline which cannot be met.
Without a State Budget, a "duodecimal regime" is applied, which means, in practice, that in each following month the Government can only spend up to one-twelfth of the Budget of the previous year, in this case 2017.
Given the expected electoral calendar, Timor-Leste may have to live with a duodecimal state budget for much of the year, as the whole process Parliamentary taking office, government formation, government swearing in, adoption of the Government's Program and the State Budget will take several months.
Despite the growing role of the private sector, the public sector in Timor-Leste continues to have a dominant weight in the economy, so extending the effects of the major slowdown in public spending this year will damage all economic sectors.
Although the state is keeping up with day-to-day management in many cases, the weak actual budget execution it was only 51% at the end of the third quarter in a year that already had fiscal constraints shows that large investment and large projects will be paralyzed.
With several sectors of activity already feeling the effects of the electoral period and the moment of political instability, further delays will amplify these effects.
Sirisha Veera 2017 has been a positive year for Timor-Leste politics. Despite initial fears, both the May presidential election and the July parliamentary election concluded peacefully.
Mr Francisco Guterres was elected as President while The Frente Revolucionaria de Timor-Leste Independente (FRETILIN), received the largest vote share in the parliamentary election. FRETILIN then formed a coalition government with the Congresso Nacional de Reconstrucao de Timor (CNRT). The CNRT promised to contribute to the process of nation-building and to consolidate the democratic transition of the country.
With 78% of eligible voters turning up to vote in the recent parliamentary election in July, the Timorese indeed displayed how much they valued a democratic system.
Political stability was the first step in ensuring Timor-Leste's development as a nation. Next, its leaders need to address the concerns of the Timorese electorate.
"Now we will look forward to guaranteeing stability, ongoing development and to bring people out of poverty. This responsibility that the people now give us will be treated with the greatest sense of responsibility," FRETILIN's leader Mari Alkatiri told reporters. Alkatiri later became Prime Minister.
Alkatiri has a wealth of political experience. Shortly before Indonesia's invasion of East Timor, he was appointed to be East Timor's Politics Minister. After the country attained independence in 2002, he became Timor-Leste's first Prime Minister. He later resigned in 2006 due to civil unrest. Nonetheless, Alkatiri's political experience will undoubtedly serve him and Timor-Leste well.
62-year-old Francisco Guterres, popularly known as Guerre Lu-Olo, was sworn in as the country's fourth President with 57.3% of the vote share. As a well-respected fighter for Timorese independence, Guterres has been committed to securing Timor-Leste's future. The former guerrilla commander's primary responsibility will be to maintain peace between politicians of different parties.
"This is the decision from the voters, from the people. Changes will happen in many aspects, and fundamentally, I want to change the people's condition in health services, education and have a sustainable economy to accelerate national development," said Mr Guterres during the early vote count.
Unemployment is a massive problem in Timor-Leste, particularly among the youth. 20% of the Timor-Leste youth have been unemployed. For a country with 60% of its population aged 25 and below, this unemployment rate is severely high. FRETILIN has acknowledged this problem and announced its commitment to alleviate youth unemployment. Other parties have also expressed their concern over the welfare of the youth and their plans to help this demographic.
In 2015, the Asian Development Bank reported that 41.8% of Timor-Leste's population lived below the poverty line (BPL), 54.6% of the population lacked access to electricity and that the infant mortality rate stood at 4.5%.
Timor-Leste's Strategic Development Plan for 2011-2030 developed under the previous government outlined plans to build 'four pillars' of social capital, infrastructure, economic foundation and institutional frameworks. The FRETILIN party has promised to develop further these plans to initiate improvement in the areas of health, education, agriculture and eradication of corruption. It also planned to ensure even development across city and rural areas.
Although the proposed national budget for State Expenditure in 2017 was US$1.4 billion, comparatively lesser than the 2016 budget of US$1.6 billion, parties advised greater spending on primary healthcare, education and sanitation services. The People's Liberation Party (PLP) has also called for an end to pensions for government members. These plans, if executed well, will increase the standard of living for the Timorese people.
The Timor-Leste economy has been highly dependent on its oil and gas industry. 90% of the nation's economy has depended on its sovereign wealth Petroleum Fund. At its peak, the value of the Fund amounted to US$16 billion. While the government is working to expand the nation's oil and gas industry, such dependence on one sector of the economy is risky. As the World Bank put it "the overriding fiscal challenge for Timor-Leste is to transition to a more sustainable economy."
The government could diversify the economy by considering tourism as a source of revenue. With Timor-Leste's beautiful landscape, rich culture and colourful history, there is much potential for a thriving tourism industry. Previous attempts to invest in tourism have shown that tourism is indeed profitable. A US$6.3 million tourism budget in 2013 generated an estimated US$14.6 millionrevenue in 2014. Greater investment would likely reap more significant benefits.
While the new government has yet to address Timor-Leste's dependence on the oil and gas industry, the international community is cautiously optimistic about the plans and capabilities of these new leaders.
Timor-Leste's new government needs to ensure that it steers the young state in the right direction. The following few years will be crucial for the country. The government needs to guide the nation through these initial stages of growth, seize present opportunities for development, and prioritise the welfare of the people.
"To avoid the resource curse, it will have to diversify the economy, especially to provide jobs for the enormous number of young people it has. Though it is a minority government, its prospects for stability in the short-to-midterm are positive," concluded Swinburne University of Technology's Professor Michael Leach.
Lindsay Murdoch East Timor's three opposition parties say they are ready to form a parliamentary majority alliance to take office if programs of a newly sworn-in minority government fail to gain support, as political tensions rise again in Asia's newest democracy.
The two-party government led by Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri holds only 30 seats in the 65-seat parliament, five less than the opposition parties, giving the government a tenuous hold on to power.
Politicians from the opposition National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT) headed East Timor's powerbroker Xanana Gusmao are among 35 MPs who have sent a letter to the country's president Francisco "Lu-Olo" Guterres saying they are "willing to present an alternative government solution" that ensures "peace, stability and development."
The letter signed also by MPs from the youth dominated Khunto party and the Popular Liberation Party (PLP), headed by former president Tuar Matan Ruak, criticised Mr Guterres for annointing a minority government "instead of taking steps to seek a solution that would guarantee a majority government."
In September when he took office, Mr Alkatiri promised MPs from his Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor (Fretilin) and the small Democratic Party would bring political stability to the half-island nation that has seen bouts of political turbulence in the past.
But behind-the-scene tensions could come to a head as early as this week when the government presents its program to parliament.
Under the country's constitution the president is required to test whether another party can muster a majority if the government's program is rejected twice. Breaking News Alert
Michael Leach, an expert on East Timor from Swinburne University of Technology, said that while the development is clearly a threat to the minority government it is not clear that an alternative majority alliance is being proposed.
He said there are as yet no signs that Mr Gusmao and Ruak neither of whom have taken seats in parliament have reconciled political differences.
Professor Leach said Mr Gusmao's party MPs may have signed the letter to pressure the government to "stick to the policy settings" of the previous government that included building big spending mega-projects, such as an industrial complex on the country's remote southern coast.
Professor Leach said what is less easy to understand is why Mr Ruak's PLP, which explicitly ran against the policies of the former government, would support the letter.
"It may be that they see a general advantage in parliament flexing its muscles and in questioning the action of the president, who is also from Fretilin," he said.
"Certainly the lack of active parliamentary oversight of the last government was a problem which will not occur in this term."
Mr Gusmao, the country's hero of independence and former president and prime minister who continues to wield enormous power, was out of East Timor when the letter was sent. But analysts say his party MPs would not have signed it without his support.
Mr Gusmao led his country's delegation that in September reached a landmark agreement with Australia on developing billions of dollars of oil and gas reserves in the Timor Sea that ended years of disagreement.
Details of the agreement that defines maritime boundaries as well as sharing arrangements for the US$50 billion Greater Sunrise oil and gas field are expected to be made public later in October.
Nelson Da Cruz, Dili East Timor President Francisco "Lu Olo" Guterres swore in the remaining members of the new cabinet on Tuesday and urged the first minority government since independence to focus on improving living conditions and avoiding political upheaval.
The new administration led by Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri faces pressure to lift flagging oil production in the nation of 1.3 million people, where unemployment and poverty remain rife.
Alkatiri, who was East Timor's first prime minister after independence in 2002, stood down in 2006 following a wave of unrest sparked by the sacking of 600 soldiers. His Fretilin party won the most votes in July's election but failed to get an outright majority.
Guterres said in a speech at parliament that the country expected good governance without waste. "The improvement of well being in our land isn't achieved with political upheaval. It's achieved with work, with the participation of everyone and with dedication," said Guterres.
Dwindling output from existing oil and gas fields, compounded by weaker commodities prices, have hit the government's budget and crimped its ambition to develop manufacturing as an engine for economic growth.
The former Portuguese colony was invaded by neighboring Indonesia in 1975. An often violent 24-year resistance movement took East Timor to independence in 2002 and many of its key figures still feature prominently in running the country.
Alkatiri, who is a Muslim in the predominantly Roman Catholic nation, spent several decades living in exile in Mozambique during East Timor's struggle for independence.
Nobel Peace Prize winner and former prime minister and president, Jose Ramos-Horta, was also sworn into the cabinet last month in a new post as Minister of State and Counsellor for National Security.
Hernani Filomena Coelho da Silva has been appointed to the important post of oil minister. He was foreign minister in the previous administration.
Australia and East Timor reached a breakthrough agreement last month on a maritime border, ending a decade-old row that has stalled a $40 billion offshore gas project.
The dispute has led the owners of the Greater Sunrise fields Woodside Petroleum, ConocoPhillips, Royal Dutch Shell and Japan's Osaka Gas to shelve the project.
Fretilin, which won 23 seats in the election, will join with the Democratic Party to control 30 seats in the 65-seat parliament.
Fretilin, or the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor, had been in a de facto coalition since 2015 with the National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction, a party founded by former independence fighter Xanana Gusmao.
Paulina Quintao The Director of the organization Women's movement (MOFFE), Yasinta Lujina acknowledges that new Members of Parliament (MPs) need transportation to facilitate their work, especially to do monitoring activities on the ground, but this does not mean said transportation must be an expensive Prado.
She said as the state has an obligation to facilitate appropriate services to measure people's living conditions and who still lives in poverty but not at the expense of those people where only some benefit.
"Transport is important to facilitate their work, particularly to go to the communities and see people's living conditions. They ensure laws are created to protect people. Does this mean Prados," she said in her office, Farol, Dili.
In future Director Lujina asked the state to think before buying expensive cars such as Prados, and consider those people who are still living in very vulnerable conditions.
She also urged the technical team of the National Parliament to take charge of annual car depreciation and explain to the public about the cars sold at auction for $8.000, when they were originally bought for $63.000, five year previously.
"The problem is internal auctions are only for the MPs with a low price. And they receive a life pension on top of that. This is not fair," she affirmed.
National Parliament issued a resolution initially to open an internal auction of 65 cars, used by the National Members of Parliament during the III Legislature priced at US$8.000 for each car.
Meanwhile, the speaker of the Timor-Leste University Movement (MUTL), Miguel Arcanjo Moniz da Silva said the decision impacted on the execution of the State General Budget for the future and could impact on the country's productivity.
He said MUTL was looking for an "impartial solution based on people's concern." If there was no neutral solution, MUTL said they would mobilize all universities, ordinary people to undertake protest action against the National Parliament.
On the other hand Member of the Administrative Council, National Member of Parliament Brigida Correia explained an analysis was done by the technical team of the parliament, showing car depreciation and the cost for car maintenance in the next five years, therefore an auction needsto be undertaken every five years.
"If this is not done, the National Parliament will spend a lot of money for car maintenance rather than buy a new car for $45.000," she said.
She said the State has an important role in project monitoring and its agents need transport to facilitate their work. "I don't think people will expect us to go on foot to see the projects on the ground, so we need transport," she said.
In regards to the auction price, this is based on the cost analysis and maintenance during five years and at the end, the State team within the Parliament decided the cars were to be sold at auction for $8.000. The resolution was approved by the 65 MPs.
She added new cars will be purchased at $45.000 per unit and this cost is low compared to the previous costs. She added that depending on conditions of the roads over the next five years, perhaps a specific type of car will no longer be needed.
Celestina Soares Since 2016, the government through the Ministry of Education has distributed 1100 chairs and tables to schools throughout Timor-Leste.
The Director General of the Ministry of Education (ME), Antoninho Pires said now there are only 200 or 300 chairs left, as the rest have been distributed.
"We have distributed the chairs and tables to schools identified, while for new schools with new class rooms, distribution will take palce in 2018, " said DG Pires in Dili.
The Program Manager for the Timor-Leste Coalition for Education (TLCE), Matias dos Santos said the lack of chairs and tables is a public concern and happens annually.
"The Ministry of Education must prioritize basic issues, in particular facilities and must ensure these have chairs and tables. This is the most basic thing," he urged.
Meanwhile, a student from Secondary School 4 Setembru, Balide, Zeferino Pereira acknowledged in a recent examination students sat on the floor because there were no chairs.
"We hope that the new government pays attention to our schools, so we don't have to sit on the floor anymore," he hoped.
How a policy scare galvanized a small island's family planning sector By Kelli Rogers @kellierin19 October 2017
Bangkok A restrictive family planning policy first presented to the public in July met strong opposition in Timor-Leste, where local and international nongovernmental organizations and youth groups rose up to quash it in the months following. The show of activism is welcome in a country with a historically weak family planning NGO network, where it remains largely taboo to speak about contraceptive methods. It is perhaps a sign of more change to come, several groups tell Devex.
In a country where 98 percent of the population practices Catholicism, the government proposal promoted the "Billings method" - a natural technique that encourages women to identify their fertility patterns by examining the appearance of vaginal discharge - as the leading form of contraception.
Access to other forms of contraception would be granted only to those who are already married, the reformed version of the country's 2004 family planning policy stated.
The proposal, presented by the minister of health at the time, has not been approved and is unlikely to move forward now that a new minority government has taken office under Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri. Former Prime Minister Dr. Rui Maria de Araujo - who was minister of health when Timor-Leste created its progressive 2004 family planning policy - is once again the minister of health.
The shift in administration, however, is not the only reason the policy may never leave draft form. A growing group of young activists has become far more vocal in asking their government to stand for their reproductive health and rights in the wake of the damaging policy proposal.
"One part of the policy suggested that if you are going to a health center and you don't bring your husband, you will not be given access to any contraceptive method you wish," said Berta Antonieta, a 26-year-old Timorese activist working on gender research. "That is why we as a group came together and wrote a letter to the prime minister."
Teenage pregnancy is all too common in Timor-Leste, where nearly one in four girls and young women have had a child before the age of 20, according to research from Plan International, UNFPA, and the Timorese government. Of that group aged 15-19 years old, 50 percent already have more than one child. These factors contribute to a high rate of child marriage in the country. One in five girls are married before 18.
Antonieta formed Grupu Feminista in February as a way to talk about these issues, as well as broader topics around feminism and gender equality. What began as a cohort of her and her "progressive-minded" friends has grown to a Facebook group of nearly 400 young people, including female members of parliament and advisors from the prime minister's office.
Soon, Grupu Feminista was leading meetings to discuss issues around the proposed policy, and signed a letter to the prime minister articulating their concerns for leaving vulnerable women and youth behind, including those who are illiterate and those who have no agency in negotiating their sexual relationships a major concern when promoting only natural family planning methods.
Despite a lack of consultative period during the creation of the proposed policy, the Ministry of Health received concerns from a diversity of organizations, ranging from youth groups, advocacy groups, academia, and women's movements focused on preventing violence against women and children, according to John Pile, UNFPA representative in Timor-Leste.
"One positive of the draft policy being developed was that it sort of united and got a lot of people that were concerned about the restrictions in the policy together," Pile said.
Grupu Feminista in particular "presented fresh and diverse opinions to the Ministry of Health, who were more accustomed to delivering to an entirely health audience," he said. "These were new actors, who were successful in halting the process and gave time for reflection and consideration."
Grupu Feminista's mobilization was welcomed not only from UNFPA, "but a range of partners who recognize access to family planning is a human right," he added.
Many group participants now meet once a month to discuss certain issues and decide who in the government they may need to reach out to, Antonieta said. In the meantime, the family planning policy of 2004 will remain in effect until the new minister of health takes steps to revise it. But there are only "minor revisions required in order to align the policy with the 2030 sustainable development agenda's aspiration to 'leave no-one behind,'" Pile told Devex.
There is concern about several sections in the 2004 policy, where "if you wanted to adhere to the policy, it could become restrictive," Pile said - such as a section that references where services can be provided, limiting what can be performed at rural health posts. Long acting, reversible contraceptives, for example, should be available wherever there is a trained provider, Pile said.
It is policy versus practice that most concerns Antonieta, she told Devex, saying of the 2004 policy: "It all sounds generally good, it's highly progressive. But in practice it's not. If you go to a rural clinic, they don't have condoms or a reproductive health actor to explain to a woman her contraceptive choices, and there are still women going to clinics being asked where their husbands are before they are helped."
And while Pile sees the Billings method as a technique that can be presented to women alongside other methods of birth control, he does not see it becoming the method of choice in Timor-Leste, considering it is used by a mainly urban, educated 1 percent of the population. Timor-Leste's total population, by contrast, is nearly 70 percent rural.
The right to choose is tantamount for any new policy, and all men and women need to know their right to access a wide range of contraceptive methods appropriate for their individual circumstances, both Pile and Antonieta stressed.
For now, nearly 400 young people have come together to halt a policy that threatened rights of the young and unmarried, and Antonieta plans to continue to capitalize on the collective power of the group to "transform mindsets" in the country.
"I was surprised at how many young people care about these issues," Antonieta said. "This is a patriarchal society where we have conservative mindsets... things like menstruation are not even mentioned."
She is optimistic to have the medically trained Dr. Rui Maria de Araujo back in the position of health minister, and looks forward to pushing the government to invest in young people, starting with stronger education in reproductive health and contraception.
Paulina Quintao The government through the National Commission of Food Security and Nutrition (KONSSANTIL) held a meeting with non-government organizations to evaluate the progress and discuss the continuation of the implementation of the National Action Plan to end Hunger and Malnutrition in Timor-Leste (PANHAM-TIL).
The head of the Security Food Department (DSA), Ministry of Agriculture and Fishery (MAP), Rofino Soares Gusmao said the main purpose was to ask civil society ideas about the implementation of PANHAM-TIL in the future because many NGOs work in food security.
After launching PANHAM-TIL in 2014, he said KONSSANTIL commission consulted with the line ministries and civil society to implement and pilot several activities in the sukus.
The pilot sukus were undertaken in Afasasuku in Quelikai administrative post, in the Municipality of Baucau, Dau-Udusuku in Cailaco administrative post, in Municipality of Bobonaro, Fahi-Nehansuku in Fatuberlihu administrative post of Municipality of Ainaro.
"We want to make a reliable and honest activity from the line Ministries that responds to the existing plan for food security and nutrition," he said in FONGTIL office, Kaikoli, Dili.
In the past KONSSANTIL has not made significant progress, however now, some changes in the community have been made with the pilot in suku's where nutritious food is being planted in the field, and learning is taking place about nutrition and healthy food.
Changes take time and encouragement is needed to support the community in understanding nutritious food and how important food grown locally is for families rather than rely on food from other countries.
"We need to organize a campaign in the community on how to use the local food because the reality is most of us ignore our own products," he said.
He added that intervention was made by KONSSANTIL to provide education and promotion, develop family fields and rice distribution, as at this point rice is not being produced in Dau-Udusuku only maize.
He said more than 900 families of the three sukus were the beneficiaries of this pilot program.
However, to reach this goal, the head of the Security Food Department (DSA), Ministry of Agriculture and Fishery (MAP), Rofino Soares Gusmao said an integrated service between Ministries is needed, with the reality in the pilot sukus being, no clean water and difficult access because of the roads.
In support of the department, the Executive Director FONGTIL, Arsenio Pereira da Silva said this is were the civil society has a very important role for people's well-being and the development of Timor-Leste.
He said this is a very good policy to end hunger and malnutrition in Timor-Leste, and to have an integrated service response, along with sufficient production to ensure people consume safe and healthy food.
"In Timor-Leste, we always have food, the problem is the lack of nutrition, we think that the main thing is to feel full without looking at the nutrition balance," he said.
The civil society had strong sustainable agriculture, now the need at the National level is to provide good technical support to farmers and education and nutrition to the communities.
Paulina Quintao The rate of Anemia has been increasing in the country according to data from the Timor-Leste Food and Nutrition survey 2013, that showed that 63% of anemia had an effect on children older than 6 years old, while 40% of women from reproductive age 14 to 60 suffered from anemia.
The Food Security Official from the Ministry of Health, Mario Moreira dos Santos said anemia is a major threat to public health in Timor-Leste, with many young women suffering from anemia.
Therefore, he said to reduce this, an integrated service between the Ministries is necessary with assurance the communities have access to sufficient food and knowledge about nutritional food.
"For women, when they get their period, they lose a lot of blood during the first three days and sometime a week, it is important to consume food rich in iron improve their blood otherwise they will suffer from anemia," he said in the hall at FONGTIL, Kaikoli, Dili.
He added foods rich in iron are liver, meat, vegetables and as well, important to drink lots of water.
He said the government is making an effort through the Ministry of Health to raise awareness to the community, especially for women to take care of their health and consume food that give nutrition to their body.
He added that iron deficiency affected directly to the connective or intellectual ability of a person to learn, and a major risk for pregnant women that could lead to death in delivery, or where the baby could be underweight and premature.
The data shows anemia cases, especially for women range between the ages of 14 to 60, mostly in Dili, Liquisa, Baucau, Bobonaro and the Special Administrative Region Oe-Cusse.
The Deputy Minister of Health, Ana Isabel Soares acknowledged that Timor-Leste has made significant progress in the last 15 years, particularly in the health sector, however, not in anemia cases.
She said this is linked to the lifestyle change of society which impacts each day on unhealthy diet and no nutritional balance.
Sra Soares also said according to the research of the Demography Health Survey 2010, children's malnutrition rate in Timor-Leste has managed to decrease 58% and in 2013 the malnutrition type stunting decreased from 50% with 45% underweight, to 38%.
"We have managed to reduce this disease for children, but there is high prevalence of anemia in Timor-Leste," he said.
He informed the government is now conducting a research about the issue of anemia in Timor-Leste, in order to develop an intervention to reduce anemia.
Meanwhile, the Executive Director of NGO Forum Timor-Leste (FONGTIL), Arsenio Pereira da Silva said civil society has a commitment and obligation to contribute toward the development of the country for people's well being.
He said many National, international and local NGOs were working on agriculture and the food security sectors, in particular to mobilize the community and establish horticulture groups to increase food production.
"We are the civil society and must take a role to promote nutritious food, such as macro-nutrient, so people learn about nutrition in food to reduce the rates," he said.
He said malnutrition and anemia must become everyone's concern in order to reduce, as there are several causes that lead to this condition, in particular knowledge, the economy, social conditions and insufficient foods.
Brigida dos Santos Public toilets in Dili are damaged and have no water, in particular toilets in Largo Lecidere and those in front of the Government Palace, the community appeal to the government to pay attention to the toilets.
The head of the Dili Sanitation and Drainage Department, Juliao de Jesus said the public toilets were damaged, due to the community not taking care and lack of responsibility by relevant departments. "The toilets are part of basic sanitation, with the Ministry of Public, Transport, and Communication being responsible to maintain the toilets," he said in Dili.
He informed each Ministry to share and take responsibility, based on the national policy.
The public toilets damaged in Lecidere and Largo, are due to the lack of coordination between the authorities that are responsible for this issue stated Sr. Juliao de Jesus.
He said before the establishment of toilets, they should explain to the community, how important it is to care for public toilets.
One of the vendors with a stall nearby calls for the government to pay attention to this issue. "We see, the toilets are full of rubbish, and the smell is terrible because there is no water," he said.
A visitor to Largo ParkLecidere, DomiNGOsXimenes said the environment is not good and the smell gives bad image to the foreigners in Timor-Leste.
"Some communities at night drink alcohol and become drunk then they defecate and urinate arbitrarily and destroy the toilets," he said. He added, the government did not pay attention and ignore the fact the public toilets had no water.
Paulina Quintao Women's organizations urge political parties from the VII constitutional government to put away party interests and uphold the public interest in order to bring sensible development for everyone in Timor-Leste.
The Director of the Women's Movement (MOFFE), Yasinta Lujina said women's organizations have no doubt with the new government's leadership ability of the country.
She hoped the new government upholds the public interest in development programs throughout the country.
"Our expectation is that they should work together. It is clear that they come with different political platforms, however they are responsible to talk about everyone's life issue and must uphold everyone's interest rather than just party interest, that is our expectation," she said in her office, in Farol, Dili.
She hoped that the new government will focus on promoting gender equality across the country in terms of participation, opportunity and equal access, so everyone can benefit from the budget execution during the process of development.
She said this is a commitment made by the Timor-Leste government to the world in order to reach the objectives of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in particular, the gender equality issues by 2030.
"We have the same thought, gender equality is not only a word, but needs to be put into practice. There needs to be people's participation, with opportunity, access, and benefits," she added.
The President of Women's association in the Municipality of Aileu, Cristinha da Conceicao said political parties are trusted by the people to keep promises stated during the election campaign period.
She also called for this government to continue to see gender equality as a priority issue with the government encouraging more members of government to be women, to be in decision-making positions to enable change for women, young people and children's lives.
"It has been over 10 years, and the hope is, this development will go fast, and include sensible and fair development for everyone."
She added that non-governmental organizations were ready to partner with program implementation to strengthen vulnerable communities and continue to enjoy independence with development.
As rain rat-a-tats on a flimsy tin roof, baby Afeena lies sleeping. On the walls, pieces of cardboard are tacked up, to give warmth, while across a window, a piece of fabric, mint green and paper-thin, blows gently.
In the district of Alieu, set amid the country's rocky highlands, this family home is typical. Described locally as 'Uma bai bain', meaning 'a simple house', walls are made of bricks fashioned from crushed rock and concrete, while the floor consists of ruddy soil, moistened and packed tight.
"I knew a little bit about how a baby is made, but not too much,' Natalia, 19, Afeena's mother, confides. "I had no education about this at school. No lessons at all related to this topic. Nothing".
Situated on the very rim of Asia's south-east, the country of Timor-Leste is one of the region's poorest and least developed. Having gained democratic independence just 15 years ago, after centuries of occupation and cruelty, it's a nation still very much in recovery and a state of painstaking renewal.
Despite the political gains however, life for many and especially that of women and girls is both disadvantaged and precarious. Raised to be obedient, subservient and have little to no voice in terms of their own future and rights, Timorese girls are quite often subjugated by society at all levels and not least in terms of their sexual and reproductive health.
"Our culture is very patriarchal and very traditional, so women and girls do not have power to make decisions for their own self. For their health, for their body, their participation, their voice, their education. As well, even though the comprehensive sexuality education curriculum is there, often the teacher is not confident to deliver the information, and it is not something they feel comfortable to talk about. They feel they cannot introduce these ideas to children, it is only for those who are married. They tell me, when they get to this topic, they rip the pages of the textbook out" says Lala Soares, Women and Girls Empowerment Program Manager for Plan International in Timor-Leste.
Alarmingly, almost one quarter of all teenage girls in Timor-Leste will fall pregnant and have a baby by the time they are 20 years old. In addition, some 19 per cent are married by the time they are aged 19, indicating a deep stigma and shame around early pregnancy.
"I dropped out of school and never went to see a doctor or had any consultation' reveals Natalia, who was also abandoned by her boyfriend soon after her positive pregnancy test result. "I even managed to hide it from my family. When I went into labour I told my father I had back pain, but he soon discovered I was having a baby."
Traumatised and scared, with no understanding of what to expect, Natalia was rushed to a local clinic. Having lost her mother, who had died during the birth of a younger sibling, Natalia was later relieved to able to deliver Afeena safely.
But while Natalia will most likely be compelled to raise her daughter alone, it is Lucia's* story that perhaps better exemplifies the very specific and rigid cultural traditions surrounding young people and inter-personal relationships in Timor Leste, the issue of early pregnancy and the hastily arranged marriages that so often follow.
Attending one of Plan's empowerment workshops in suburban Alieu, Lucia is wide-eyed and timid, clasping her hands tightly as Soares leads the group through assorted activities.
"She is very shy and will not speak up. But I know she is listening closely to everything', says Soares, "so I keep trying."
Coerced into a romance with a much older teacher while in secondary school, Lucia, now 18, was at first subjected to severe abuse by her family. "When my parents found out they were very angry. They told me they wanted to beat me to death. I was very scared and ended up in hospital," Lucia says quietly.
Undeterred however, she resumed the relationship and soon after became pregnant. I didn't know you could get pregnant from having sex", she recalls. From here, a dowry and marriage idealised as a way to 'fix' the issue was firmly set in place.
"My boyfriend's family came to meet my parents and they arranged for us to get married. They discussed the dowry, and my family gave them ten corn seeds, which symbolises his family having to return with ten buffaloes, together with money. But his family said 'No, we cannot afford that'. So they negotiated down to two".
As well as constraining young women into a situation which may not be of their choosing, data shows that early marriage can also be a precursor to greater control, violence and exploitation by men across their lifetimes.
"The statistics show that the prevalence of domestic violence is even higher amongst girls who get married early, and we currently have an intimate partner violence rate of around 60% in Timor Leste, so the numbers are very high. In addition, married women, no matter their age, have very little control over their own body and their own fertility. (Contraception can only be accessed with a husband's consent and is prohibited to anyone unmarried) so very quickly young women end up with multiple children, limited opportunities and even less choice" elaborates Candie Cassabalian, Youth Specialist for UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, in Timor-Leste.
As a way of investigating the issue and providing qualitative research, UNFPA Timor-Leste, in collaboration with Plan International and the government's Secretariat of State for Youth and Sports has this year commissioned a report entitled "Teenage Pregnancy and Early Marriage", a striking document that hopes to influence gender advocates and policy makers on a way forward.
Critically, as well as exploring the narratives and contexts of stories like Natalia and Lucia's, the report also details the contentious issue of adolescent pregnancy and education.
"As well as not having access to sex education, and having no agency in terms of her relationship with the opposite sex, when a girl does fall pregnant in Timor-Leste, she is blamed and expected to leave school. The perception is that school is only a place for children and children don't have sex. So even if the girl is married off quickly, she would not normally be allowed to re-enter school because she has 'known a man', explains Cassabalian.
For Lucia, her recent return to vocational school is considered rare and a situation to which she and her classmates are still adjusting. While for Natalia the stigma and shame surrounding her early pregnancy means she does not envisage continuing her studies, leaving her, and her baby, desperately disadvantaged.
In seeking to address these formidable and age-old challenges, the government of Timor-Leste has recently approved the Inclusive Education Policy, a groundbreaking move which outlines several key plans to sensitize the educational community, promote the rights of pregnant teenagers, and make aware to the girls, and their families, the advantages of continuing education.
With just 20 per cent of all women in Timor-Leste participating in the workforce, the situation can only be described as critical.
"If we don't pay attention, the numbers of teenage pregnancy and early marriage will only increase. As a country, we need to pay attention to the issue of equity and we need gender equality if we want to have a good future", implores Soares.
(*) Name has been changed to protect privacy
Celestina Soares The representative Mria Dadi Magno from the Timor-Leste National Youth Council (CNJTL) said this is a proud moment for young people as so far there has been no youth policy.
"It is a big moment for Timor-Leste youth to be proud, we now have a national youth policy," she said during the ceremony of the launch of the National Youth Policy book in Dili.
She said previously, the Secretariat of State for Youth and Sport was working with CNJTL to organize a tour conference in the 13 municipalities, to analyze the situation in five priority areas, such as youth in education, health, employment, crime, violence and for them to participate in civic education.
She said the National Youth Policy book is the legal basis for the resolution of government no. 27/2016 to address high youth numbers that show concerns.
"We hope that any work done and is produced looks at the existing national youths policy," she hoped.
"We emphasize support for youth that face problems with the quality of education, juvenile health and equal opportunity and in particular the youth in rural areas who don't have access to information and often drop out and become unemployed."
One young person Anastacia da Costa, appreciates the effort of the National Youth Council for improving the capacity, and mentioned the importance to remember to consider youth in all areas based on the existing policy.
"Thanking the National Youth Council for this policy and also the Secretariat of State for Youth and Sport who have provided many things for us."
The Program Manager from Forum Tau Matan (FTM), Evaristo de Deus went on to say the development of the youth policy by the National Youth Council is good, as we now have a policy to follow in the future.
He encouraged and "asks for talented youth in sport and music or anything to not be shy to compete with others and also not be shy and connect with the National youth council."
Dili East Timor's Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri said Thursday his country is "doing our best" to join the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, but Asean members Myanmar and Singapore are still withholding their support.
"We have full support from Indonesia, Malaysia and other countries but still some reservations from Singapore and Myanmar up to now," Alkatiri said during an interview in Dili, adding that both countries are fortunately "open to discuss the issue."
"We are doing our best to join Asean... I do believe that soon we will be a full part of Asean," he said in his first exclusive interview with a foreign media outlet since he became prime minister in September.
East Timor, a former Portuguese colony, declared its independence in 1975 but was invaded and annexed by Indonesia later that year. It became independent in May 2002, following a 1999 referendum in which its people voted to split from Indonesia after 24 years of occupation.
It submitted its application to become Asean's 11th member in 2011, but some members have been cool to the idea. Singapore, for example, has voiced concern over the country's lack of human resource capability to cope with the large number of Asean meetings.
Alkatiri said his tiny country of only some 1.2 million people deserves to be in Asean as it is part of Southeast Asia, despite its proximity to the South Pacific, and it has economic, trade and security interests in joining.
Despite receiving oil and gas revenues since 2005, East Timor remains one of the poorest countries in the Asia-Pacific region, with official statistics indicating that around 40 percent of the population lives below the poverty line.
Alkatiri confirmed that he will attend next month's Asean Summit in the Philippines as an observer. "I will be there to continue our lobbying, to push for being member of Asean," he said.
Among the preparatory steps East Timor has so far taken for Asean admission are nationwide programs for Asean awareness, the establishment of an Asean National Secretariat, capacity building through training and dialogue, participation in the Asean Regional Forum and other regional and global meetings and the establishment and strengthening of embassies in all Asean countries.
Asean was formed in 1967 among Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. It welcomed Brunei in 1984, Vietnam in 1995, Laos and Myanmar in 1997 and Cambodia in 1999.
On relations with Japan, Alkatiri thanked it for its contributions to peace-building in East Timor over the years and sought further assistance in the field of human resource development.
In particular, he expressed hopes that Japan will give East Timorese people more opportunities to receive education in Japan, while also contributing to vocational training in East Timor. (Kyodo News)
With its longstanding dispute with Australia over the Timor Sea resolved, neighbouring Timor-Leste looks set to expand its petroleum and mineral industries.
Meanwhile, its government is actively seeking investors in agriculture and fisheries, tourism and services, according to Abel Guterres, Timor-Leste Ambassador to Australia.
Fifteen years on from its independence vote, Timor-Leste is ramping up its infrastructure development and rebuilding the country, following its first self-run elections, Ambassador Guterres told the Business Advantage PNG Investment conference last month.
'This year, we organised our own elections and they were completely peaceful. We felt that our people have started to mature, in terms of what democracy is all about. In one household, dad would be voting for one party, mum for another party, kids for another party.
'But most importantly, there was no violence,' he said. 'The country needs serious investors. We hope we can attract them with good tax incentives.'
That lack of violence is a very good sign as to where the country is heading, he said, adding he expects a coalition government including three of the five parliamentary parties to be formed within weeks.
Ambassador Guterres welcomed the September announcement at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague that Australia and Timor Leste had resolved their bitter and long-running dispute over maritime boundaries in the Timor Sea, which contains large oil and gas deposits worth an estimated US$50 billion.
The agreement included so-far confidential new sharing arrangements for the Greater Sunrise oil and gas field.
Ambassador Guterres admitted it was a 'major issue that dogged the relationship between the two countries and that goes back to the 1960s'. 'I'm sure that developing the resources in the area, especially Greater Sunrise, will unleash a huge amount of work and investment.'
At the moment, he said, most government income comes primarily from the Bayu-Undan joint venture off-shore project in the Timor Sea, 250km south of East Timor and 500km offshore of Darwin.
ConocoPhillips operates the field on behalf of co-venturers Santos, Inpex, ENI, Tokyo Timor Sea Resources, a consortium of Tokyo Gas and JERA (a joint venture between Tokyo Electric and Chibu Electric).
Since 2004, the Bayu-Undan joint venture has paid over US$19 billion into the Timor-Leste Petroleum Fund, Timor Leste's sovereign wealth fund.
The Ambassador told the conference the Timor Leste government is hoping to negotiate an air services agreement next year with PNG, as it has already concluded with Indonesia, Singapore and Australia.
'Air connectivity is so important without that, you cannot build a tourism industry. So we are also undertaking a major road construction around the country, to really connect all 13 municipalities, ports and airports.
'In the south, three major towns will be built... developing the resources in the area, especially Greater Sunrise, will unleash a huge amount of work and investment.'
The Asian Development Bank says Timor-Leste's road network includes over 1400 km of national roads, over 860 km of district roads, and about 3000 km of rural roads. Around 70 per cent of the roads are judged to be in poor condition.
The World Bank says a new 110 km road providing a new corridor from the north to the south of the country, will connect the districts of Dili, Aileu and Ainaro through the rugged central highlands, which jointly account for a third of the country's population and much of the country's coffee industry.
'The country needs serious investors,' said Ambassador Guterres. 'We hope we can attract them with good tax incentives.'
The government of Timor-Leste (East Timor) intends to double non-oil tax revenues to US$400 million a year with the introduction of Value Added Tax (VAT) and increases in the taxes on tobacco and alcohol, said the Minister of Planning and Finance.
Minister Rui Gomes said on the second day of a parliamentary debate on the government programme that "securing more domestic tax revenue is a critical issue for the future of Timor-Leste, and is a priority of the government."
In addition to the introduction of VAT, which "can contribute about 5.0% of GDP," Gomes noted the application of progressive rates in other taxes and "discrimination in tax collection in areas that harm public health, such as consumption of alcohol and tobacco."
The minister, quoted by Portuguese news agency Lusa, said it was necessary to combat the informal economy, which accounts for 60 to 70% of household income, but does not contribute to state revenues.
At the beginning of October, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said that increasing domestic revenues was critical and welcomed the establishment of the Customs Authority and the Tax Authority and the action plan to increase compliance with tax obligations.
"Equally critical will be the adoption of VAT legislation and the introduction of this tax by 2020, in order to stimulate more domestic revenues," said a statement issued in Washington at the end of visit by a team led by Yu Ching Wong. (macauhub)
In the far-east of Timor-Leste, where the road narrows to one lane overhung with vegetation, where crocodiles still lurk in the rivers, and where freedom fighters were born, lies Lospalos. It's a small town of about 17,000 people that tells its story openly.
The single main street shows signs of past conflict. At the main intersection sits a victory statue, a symbol of the key role this region played in Timor-Leste's Independence from Indonesia in 2002. Walls showcase street art, an emotional expression of history and hope. Most people walk motorbikes are few and cars even fewer. Some children sell boiled eggs and vegetables in the streets so they can afford to go to school. There are limited opportunities for work, and the underlying pressures of development have placed a strain on the community.
Despite the challenges brought on by decades of occupation and unrest, a vibrant culture of art, music, oral tradition, performance and costume endures. The practice of hand-weaving tais cloth, Timor-Leste's signature textile, was barely hanging on by a thread at the time of Independence, but in the past 15 years, it has successfully been revived in Lospalos and in other communities. New co-ops that promote tais weaving as a source of income for women play a major role in preserving the social and cultural significance of this tradition.
In a small house on the outskirts of Lospalos, Mana Fina sits down with her back-strap loom to weave. The vibrant colours of a tais-in-the-making are spread out before her. Like many women of her generation, the dye recipes, weaving techniques and symbolic designs needed to make tais were passed down to Mana Fina from her mother. "The first thing my mother taught me is weaving," she says, carefully threading bright cotton into the design she is working on. "It's a good skill for me... I'm happy my mother taught me."
Mana Maria, another local weaver, was also taught to weave by her mother. She stores her loom and the rudimentary tools needed for weaving under a bed in the corner of her living room. The long length of brightly coloured tais she unfurls showcases two skills commonly used in Timor-Leste to create patterns and motifs: futus, an ikat tie-dyeing technique, and meli-meli, a floating weft technique.
Mana Maria is one of approximately 80 women who are part of LO'UD Co-operative. The organisation was established in 2007 by local weavers in Lautem District in partnership with East Timor Women Australia (ETWA), a non-profit based in Melbourne. LO'UD unites tais weavers from three distinct groups one in Lospalos, and two in the nearby town of Iliomar providing them with design advice and training opportunities, and encouraging them to share materials and resources. Traditionally a ceremonial textile, tais textiles created by the co-op may be used for homewares and lifestyle products, sold to tourists and international buyers under the LO'UD label.
In the backyard of another house in Lospalos, a group gathers around a vat set under the shade of a palm tree. One woman grinds leaves, bark, ash and clay to extract natural colour pigments; another loops thick, lustrous skeins of freshly dyed cotton over a wooden pole to dry in the sun. In a nearby shed, the threads are sorted for distributing among LO'UD members. Using naturally dyed cotton vine (known locally as kabas) in the place of synthetic fibres, which are becoming increasingly popular in Timor-Leste, yields a better quality tais and helps the co-op manage its environmental footprint. According to ETWA, the use of specific colours in tais is deeply symbolic. Red represents the liberation struggle, black stands for triumph, and yellow for the nation's colonial remnants. These three colours are mirrored in the flag of Timor-Leste, and just one way tais is used as an expression of national identity.
Both dyeing and weaving are intimate social processes, usually done in the company of other women. In Lospalos and elsewhere in Timor-Leste, transmitting weaving knowledge from mother to daughter is interwoven with a cultural system of collaboration and respect, where women, men and young people work together to share cultural practices in a way that benefits the entire community. Under LO'UD, women who might otherwise be isolated, both socially and economically, are once again able to work together towards a common goal. This reflects a broader social structure in Timor-Leste, where people once built their societies on a system of connectedness and community, a set of values and beliefs surrounding kinship, ceremony, spirituality, agriculture, medicine, architecture, music and weaving.
Many of these social systems were unique to different cultural groups. The Makalero people of Iliomar were guided by fulidai-dai, a cultural system that fosters collective community action and decision-making, and the generational passing of knowledge. Within fulidai-dai, women and men worked together to farm, build houses and care for children, for example, as well as to share creative knowledge such as the weaving of tais. The Fataluku people of Lospalos based their cultural system of mutual respect on ratu, the kinship to which someone belongs and a key socio-cultural structure that encouraged cooperation and social unity through shared obligations and values. It's a system that is intangible in nature yet intrinsically linked with tangible cultural practices such as weaving.
In the context of Timor-Leste as a developing nation, there has often been a failure to recognise these traditional systems of life in the national agenda. And, like everywhere around the world, people are drawn to opportunities presented by city life and education, weakening the traditional cultural systems in remote communities like Iliomar and Lospalos. This can translate as a disconnection from deep-rooted and complex systems that are essential for the social fabric.
Yet there are also examples of cultural strength and revitalisation at the grassroots level, where culture is harnessed once again for the greater good of the community. In Lospalos and Iliomar, LO'UD is helping to safeguard traditional practices while offering a means for women to support themselves and their families. Up to 80 percent of women in Timor-Leste are illiterate, thus tais weaving provides a unique opportunity for mothers to lead their families out of poverty.
Mana Fina knows the value of her weaving knowledge, yet she is also painfully aware that the pressures of modern life and the opportunity of education could break this ancient sharing of tradition. "For now, because my children are at school they just watch me," says Mana Fina. "But when they have finished their education I will teach them."
"From our ancestors' time, a woman learns how to make tais so that when she gets married she can make tais for ceremonies or to sell in the market," Mana Fina explains. "It is important for my children to learn. If I don't teach it to my children, they will forget. And that's not good for us, because it's our culture and we will forget it."
The LO'UD weavers of Lospalos and Iliomar are supported by East Timor Women Australia (ETWA). The safeguarding of tradition and culture in Lautem District is led by community members with support from Many Hands International.
Marian Reid is a Melbourne-based writer with a background in communication for non-government organisations. Her work is informed by place, people and culture, and she works globally with communities to tell stories that give voice to marginalised people and forgotten places. She recently spent time in Lospalos researching cultural voice and visibility.
Emily Lush is a storyteller and communications consultant currently based in Hanoi, Vietnam. She regularly works with clients in the development sector and has a special interest in traditional textiles and craft-based social enterprise. During her time in Lospalos, she taught a series of creative writing workshops for young people.
Michael Leach In 2015, not long after the formation of the unprecedented national unity government between Timor-Leste's two largest parties, CNRT and Fretilin, senior CNRT Minister Agio Pereira commented on the country's remarkable transition from 'belligerent democracy' to a new era of consensus democracy.
In March 2017, when the two major parties both supported the Fretilin candidate Francisco 'Lu Olo' Guterres for the presidency, it appeared that this informal 'grand coalition' relationship would continue. Yet three months after the July parliamentary elections, Timor-Leste is on the precipice of a return to belligerent democracy.
The July parliamentary elections saw Fretilin win narrowly, with 23 seats to CNRT's 22. In combination with a Fretilin President, this gave it the opening advantage in the formation of government. Xanana Gusmao's CNRT quickly quashed hopes of another national unity government, stating the CNRT would return to opposition. Significantly, Gusmao also ruled out leading an alliance of smaller parties, stating that CNRT 'will not accept proposals from anyone, nor invite any party to form a coalition because it does not intend to participate in government'. It seemed that the 2015-2017 era of national unity was more dependent on CNRT dominance than had been assumed. Nonetheless, the prospect of a strong opposition was welcome after weak parliamentary oversight of the previous government.
As no party had a majority, Fretilin attempted to form a coalition with the immediate ex-President Taur Matan Ruak's new Popular Liberation Party (PLP), which had 8 seats. The PLP campaigned strongly against the megaproject-led development focus favoured by the previous government (embodied in Gusmao's own Strategic National Development Plan) arguing instead for increased spending on basic development indicators like education, health and agriculture. Negotiations appeared to falter on the choice of president of the national parliament, a position approximating the speaker. PLP also had concerns with Fretilin's determination to include representatives from other parties in the government before a governing parliamentary alliance had been consolidated.
Surprisingly, a new majority coalition then emerged with the Democratic Party, with whom Fretilin has a fractious history, and the smaller youth-focused party KHUNTO, only for the latter to exit at the last minute before the coalition-signing ceremony. This short-lived coalition survived long enough to see Fretilin's Aniceto Guterres elected president of the parliament.
At this time, with no alternative majority coalition being proposed, President Guterres appointed a minority government of Fretilin and the Democratic Party, controlling 30 seats in the 65-seat parliament. In the Portuguese-derived proportional system this is not uncommon, though it has not previously occurred in Timor-Leste's short constitutional history.
With key leaders stating that no alternative coalition was being proposed, prospects for stability seemed sound enough, at least for the medium term. And if the words of politicians could not be relied upon, there was also the relative implausibility of a CNRT-PLP coalition to consider, in view of well-known conflict between its leaders dating from early 2016, when President Ruak compared Gusmao to 'Suharto', arguing there was widespread discontent with their development policies, and that 'privileges' had been granted to the Gusmao and Alkatiri families. The ideological distance between the CNRT and PLP platforms (the latter essentially mobilised against the former) seemed another obstacle.
But events rapidly shifted. The formation of various parliamentary committees quickly showed the CNRT, PLP and KHUNTO were able to work together.
Subsequently, these three parties formed the Opposition Alliance with a Parliamentary Majority (AOMP), controlling 35 seats. Last Thursday, these parties passed a motion rejecting the government program. The government now has 30 days to resubmit the program, and will fall if it is rejected a second time. The AOMP states it offers an alternative majority in that event.
Some in Dili question the constitutionality of a minority government, though its political sustainability is more likely the real issue. PLP argues that Fretilin's dominance of the three sovereign posts of president, prime minister and president of parliament is unreasonable given it has only 30% of the vote. This position seems persuasive, even if KHUNTO's support facilitated the latter appointment. It may be that a resolution to the current situation involves Fretilin losing one of the three positions.
Having more power than is commonly recognised, the next steps by President Guterres will be critical to a resolution. While East Timorese jurisprudence could take a different tack, precedent from similar semi-presidential regimes in the Lusophone world suggests a wide constitutional discretion though political realities may limit his choices. If the government program does not pass, Guterres has three obvious paths. He can seek a solution within the current parliament, inviting the second-largest party to try to form government. This would usher in a period of 'cohabitation' between a CNRT-led government and Fretilin president this is the path favoured by the AOMP. Alternatively, the President could dissolve parliament and seek fresh elections. This is path favoured by Fretilin, and presently appears to be the more likely outcome. With the major parties at loggerheads, civil society is concerned that conflicting constitutional interpretations will revive memories of the 2006 crisis, and spread popular fears of instability. They have called for the parties to work together to establish a consensus for political stability.
Another complicating factor is that parliament cannot be dissolved until 22 January, with elections held some 60 days later. In effect, a new government is unlikely to be installed until late April. In the meantime, the Fretilin-Democratic Party executive would act as a caretaker government. As a side note, is it unlikely that such a government could ratify the new maritime boundary treaty with Australia, due to be finalised in November. Though this is a simply a matter of delay, it could set the treaty back by up to six months.
Complicating matters further, the CNRT has sent some mixed signals in recent weeks, with senior party figure Agio Pereira joining the new government in a ministerial role for maritime boundaries. As recently as last week, Gusmao's comments from overseas suggested CNRT intend to remain in opposition, at least for the moment. The subsequent rejection of the government program has sent a different message, as has the line that CNRT considers minority government to be politically unsustainable. Gusmao's extended absence overseas inevitable during maritime boundary negotiations with Australia, but now less so has as he tours fire-ravaged Portugal has not helped resolve matters.
For its part, several PLP members also joined the new government in ministerial roles, only to have their party membership suspended. Though its parliamentary team is united, this hints at internal tension within the wider party as it manoeuvres closer to CNRT, whose development policies it attacked throughout the election campaign.
It is difficult to see how a workable solution will involve Fretilin retaining all three sovereign posts. Likewise, it is hard to imagine a 2007-style exclusion of the most-voted party will aid stability, or that a new election will have a calming effect. Many in Dili await Gusmao's return in the hope it will resolve the mounting tensions. It is still possible that his return will see the government program passed, at least for the short- to mid-term. This scenario the third path open to Guterres would see the present government retained but substantially remolded, as Gusmao is known to be unhappy with certain ministerial appointments. This option is rapidly receding in favour of a new election campaign, with a potential return to belligerent democracy. Fretilin is now promising to take the program to the people, to sell its contents directly.
A new election will bring risks for all parties. CNRT and Fretilin effectively promised a continuation of political stability, and are yet to deliver it. The likely increase in the revenue shares from Greater Sunrise and rumours of the discovery of onshore oil and gas deposits makes control of the state a bigger prize than ever.
For the smaller parties, a new election is financially challenging and brings other risks. Having moved close to the CNRT in opposition, the PLP risks alienating some voters drawn to their alternative development vision. For the Democratic Party, similar risks may attend their decision to team up with Fretilin, with whom relations have formerly been testy.
For his part, Xanana Gusmao will likely see his success in maritime boundary negotiations with Australia as a powerful tool for campaigning. Fretilin in turn will have the best part of five months to take its government programs to the people, should it be rejected by parliament a second time.
The return of Gusmao may yet see the government program pass on second reading. Failing that, the prospects for increased partisan conflict, and a return to 'belligerent democracy', are increasing. As Prime Minister, Gusmao helped found an international group of fragile post-conflict states 'moving to the next stage of development' known as the G7+. As positions polarise in Dili, Timor-Leste is at risk of losing the hard-won ground of political stability forged over the last decade.
David Hutt What a relief. For years, myself and some other pundits deplored the fact that there was very little political opposition to Timor-Leste's "unity government." So little, in fact, that President Tuar Matan Ruak went beyond his constitutional role by taking it upon himself to hold the government to account. Now, after presidential and parliamentary elections, partisanship has returned.
FRETILIN won only 23 out of 65 seats at July's parliamentary election. The National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT), which had been the larger party in an informal coalition with FRETILIN since 2015, won 22 seats, down eight from the previous general election. The CNRT, however, did not continue with the coalition. Instead, FRETILIN was joined by the Democratic Party (PD), which won seven seats, in forming a minority government, with a combined 30 seats.
This is the first time since independence, in 2002, that Timor-Leste has been controlled by a minority government. Now, however, the three opposition parties CNRT, the PLP (eight seats) and KHUNTO (five seats) are now questioning whether to oust it from power and form their own majority coalition government.
A few weeks ago they penned a letter to the new president, Francisco "Lu-Olo" Guterres, which said they are "willing to present an alternative government solution" that ensures "peace, stability, and development." The letter also lambasted Guterres, who happens to be FRETILIN's president, for allowing the party to form a minority government, instead of seeking a majority alternative.
The new minority government could be formally toppled if its program is twice rejected in parliament. If this happens, the president is constitutionally bound to test whether another party, or coalition, can form a functioning government. Another election is an alternative in the event of an impasse, though one cannot take place until January.
I hasten to predict some criticism. A stable government, even the absence of an opposition, ought to be welcomed in Timor-Leste, some might try to say. After all, it was political conflict that led to the violence we saw in 2006.
Two quick rebuttals. First, to argue the 2006 crisis was caused simply by political partisanship is to be willfully ignorant of the economic, social, geographic, and historical sources that coalesced in the preceding months and years.
Second, by constantly holding 2006 up as a smirch on the horizon that Timor-Leste could always return to, it keeps the country in a state of perpetual paranoia. Also, it does not dignify how much progress (so quickly, I might add) the half-island nation has made since. Fast forward just 11 years from 2006 and, instead of assassinations attempts and chaos, today we have the possibility of the electorate returning to the ballot stations, not onto the streets, to solve a political problem.
What's more, when the annual reports by think-tanks and pollsters on democracy or human rights are published, Timor-Leste is invariably found near the top, if not at the top, of countries in Southeast Asia. The Economist Intelligence Unit's latest Democracy Index, for instance, ranked Timor-Leste higher than any other Southeast Asian country, in 43rd place globally.
Moving on, I must admit that I wrongly predicted FRETILIN and the CNRT would continue their "unity government" after July's election. With their combined 45 seats the two parties would have formed a sizeable, though weakened, majority in parliament. Rumors are still swirling as to why they didn't. One only imagines what echoed through the corridors of the Parlamentu Nasional.
The CNRT's leader, Xanana Gusmao, who stepped down as prime minister in 2015 to fashion the unity government, resigned from the party shortly after July's vote. And he bowed out with diffidence, saying that voters "do not trust the CNRT to govern" and that "will not accept proposals from anyone, nor invite any party to form a coalition because [the CNRT] does not intend to participate in government."
He also seemed resigned to FRETILIN's rule. "This is the right moment for FRETILIN, as the winning party of the 2017 elections, to assume, and with full legitimacy, the reins of government," he said, contradicting the letter CNRT lawmakers later sent to the president, quoted earlier, expressing distrust of the minority government.
Despite my previous incorrect prediction, I hasten to make another: it seems unlikely the three opposition parties would now be able to form a functioning coalition to take the reins, despite their apparent intent.
The PLP, headed by former president Ruak, was formed last year to oppose the big-budget plans of FRETILIN and the CNRT. These include costly mega-projects at the same time as the country's Wealth Fund is running drying, oil revenues falling, and state budgets increasing. The PLP, instead, favors diverting the money to education, healthcare, and other basic services, and away from what, it claims, are unnecessary and corrupt mega-projects.
But the CNRT is unredeemably tied to many of these programs that FRETILIN still seems intent on going ahead with, and it's unlikely that the party's MPs will U-turn on them. The PLP might find a better ally in the youth-focused KHUNTO, which won seats for the first time in July. It has its roots in the country's martial arts groups (too long to explain that history, but read this for more) and gained significant ground by appealing to the unemployed youths. KHUNTO, naturally, ascribes to many of the same positions as the PLP. But together they only account for 13 seats, about a fifth of parliament. So the CNRT is needed if the PLP and KHUNTO want to form a majority government.
An alternative, and perhaps a better option, is that the three opposition parties remain in opposition and try to hold the minority FRETILIN-controlled government to account. In the long run this would be a far better exercise in democratic development. FRETILIN, with five fewer MPs, will have to learn how to couch policies and legislation to attract cross-party support. In short, the art of negotiation and appeasement that has been rarely needed in the past.
There is a much more important reason, too. Speaking after July's election, FRETILIN's general-secretary and now Timor-Leste's prime minister, Mari Alkatiri, said that "now the campaign is over, there are no opponents, there are only compatriots who want to work together." His appeal was to possible coalition partners. But his choice of language is telling.
As I have argued before, bipartisanship (or "consensus politics") is not the best solution to a fractious and violent political environment like the one Timor-Leste witnessed in the past. The better solution, rather, is to fashion a political system where opposition to, and criticism of, the governing party is not viewed as treasonous. In other words, when the opposition becomes accepted as a "loyal opposition."
Damien Kingsbury, of Deakin University, would write in a 2007 essay about the events of the previous year: "The government also interpreted expressions of alternative perspectives as disloyal and potentially seditious. This lack of acceptance of legitimate dissent and a loyal opposition was perhaps its greatest political failure."
In the years following the 2006 violence any attempt at cultivating the idea of a "loyal opposition" was dropped for matters of security and, afterwards, was not possible when FRETILIN joined the CNRT as part of a "unity government." Today, however, might prove to be an opportune time to foster such a political development.
Khoo Ying Hooi After 15 years of its restoration of independence, Timor Leste is a country that remains unknown to many of us in the Southeast Asia region. Geographically, it is located on the eastern edge of the Indonesian archipelago. As a small state, the country has a population of only 1.2 million people.
Prior to the Indonesian occupation from 1975 to 1999, Portuguese colonized Timor Leste from 1515 onward. Timor Leste declared itself independence from Portugal in November 1975; however, it only lasted for nine days, before it was invaded by Indonesian military and continues to be occupied by Indonesia until 1999.
The country then achieved its restoration of independence in 2002 after a major independence referendum that was assisted by the United Nations (UN) mission.
It was estimated that one third of the country's population died during the occupation and as much as 70 percent of the country's infrastructure was destroyed.
History tells us the independence struggle of Timor Leste is heavily build upon the sentiment of nationalism. As a post-conflict small state that achieved full independence only in the new millennium, it is a huge challenge for its nation-building and state-building process.
My first trip to Timor Leste was dated back in 2013; a year after the UN Integrated Mission in Timor Leste completed its mandate on 31 December 2012. I recalled that I was immediately smitten the moment I stepped into the country, with an attraction of its rich culture and beautiful landscape.
While I was there again in 2016, I made a visit to the former Comarca Balide Prison, which is now a heritage site that reminds the atrocities during the 24-year Indonesian occupation in the country. Graffiti and paintings created by the former political detainees revealed the torture that they had suffered. Former detainee, Filomena da Silva Ferreira named the prison, a "Sacred Building" describing it as a place of courage for the liberation of the Timorese and the country, and how the nationalists back then fought hard for the next generation.
This year, Timor Leste underwent two elections, one was the presidential election on 20 March and another one is the parliamentary election on 22 July. This election was the first election that has been run without international assistance. Although there have been some minor technical problems; it has been overall considered, a successful process.
To some extent, democracy is flourishing in Timor Leste, for instance, a total of 21 political parties were registered to contest in the Timor-Leste parliamentary election on 22 July. The political society, in the sense of multi-party politics and public elections, has functioned somewhat well, for instance, with reasonable high voter turnouts. The Democracy Index 2016 as published by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) in January this year has ranked Timor Leste as the top country in the Southeast Asia and fifth in Asia based on five variables electoral process and pluralism, the functioning of the government, political participation, political culture and civil liberties.
But at the same time, its democracy is also suffering in many ways. Led by Mari Alkatiri, secretary-general of the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor (Fretilin) for the second time as the prime minister, the Seventh Constitutional Government of Timor Leste finally sworn in on 15 September, albeit few more portfolio to be filled up. It has been a long-awaited government since its parliamentary election on 22 July as it is facing huge challenge in forming a government. Given the fact that Alkatiri who is a Muslim in the predominantly Roman Catholic country, it is an important signal that shown the value of the Timorese in appreciating differences.
But, the reality of having emerged from conflicts in the late 1990s, Timor Leste finds itself in a challenging position to be on par with other countries on developmental issues. The inequality and disparity between the living conditions remain glaring. Unemployment is high, as job opportunities remain limited. With growing globalization around the world, the force of globalization can turn into a threat to the country if there is no consistency in strategic planning. These are some of the issues cannot be neglected in Timor-Leste's political discourse, as the problems are obvious in every part of the country. In economic and social terms, sustainable transformation in Timor Leste requires continuous investment in the capacity building and empowerment of its own people.
My job brought me back to Timor Leste several times and I have observed some considerable progress in the city itself since 2013. However, what saddens me is the unbalanced development in the country. It is a challenge for many countries to balance development and economic growth. That's even more for Timor Leste. As one of the most oil-dependent countries in the world, its immediate challenge is to avoid the resource curse. As it is now, it is a land that many other countries eyeing at in term of investment simply because of what the country could potentially offer.
Having restored its independence in 2002 from the Indonesian occupation, Timor Leste is one of the newest nations of the 21st century. Timor Leste has indeed come a long way to where it is today. Their independence however came at a high price. Now, the country is gradually moving from its fragility to a country that is consolidating and strengthening the necessary foundation of a state, but that is not without any obstacles.
This young country is still searching for its own story. My hopes for the Timor Leste lie with its young generation and that remains the real task for the government of Timor Leste. As the country earnestly opens up to foreign investment and international aids, it is important for the leaders and policy-makers to avoid any form of exploitation at all costs, so that a rise in standards of living does not come at the expense of its environment and most importantly, its unique cultural values.