Paulina Quintao The President of the Press Council Virgilio da Silva Guterres said Timor-Leste received high scores for Freedom of the Press at the international level and in the South-East Asia Region, despite there still being challenges and obstacles remaining.
According to a report from Reporters without Borders published on 24 April 2018, Timor-Leste's global index for Freedom of the Press improved from 98 in 2017 to 95 in 2018.
Guterres said that challenges remain for media organisations in terms of lack of facilities and infrastructure.
This is why according to Guterres, the media's focus is mainly on the capital Dili and does not fulfil the need of all Timorese citizens to access information across the country.
"I urge the public to respect the work of media organisations and to give information to journalists when undertaking their duties on the ground so they can contribute to the process of democratisation of our country," he said during a march to mark World Press Freedom Day from the roundabout next to CCD to Becora to lay flowers at the plaque in memory of journalist Sanders Robbert Thones, from Holland, who died while on duty covering the events of 1999 in Dili.
Guterres also urged media organisations to put the public interest above political and economic interest because during this election campaign much of the space for information has been filled with commercial publication of political parties' materials.
In relation to the police notifying citizens for making critical comments on social media (Facebook), Guterres said the reasons for the notifications were not clear and created public confusion.
The notifications raised doubts because the citizens who shared critical commentary on Facebook used fake IDs. He added these are the types of challenges to freedom of the press and of expression in Timor-Leste.
Meanwhile journalist Carlos Malilaka de Jesus said freedom of the press in Timor-Leste is guaranteed in the Constitution in articles 40 and 41.
"As journalists, we must appreciate this and the freedom of the press we have, and improve the quality of information we produce every day," he said.
He urged all journalists to empower themselves and contribute to the national development through the information they provide, with credibility and that responds to the needs to the public to know what is happening regarding developments taking place around them.
Resident Silverio Dato said he appreciated the work of journalists so far but that despite progress the quality and reach of their work needs to be made available to all municipalities.
He said also that only professional and quality journalism will give dignity to the public, especially the readers.
"I urge you to follow on the footsteps of journalist Sanders Robbert Thones and his colleagues who sacrified themselves to defend the truth," he said.
Nelson de la Cruz, Dili An East Timor opposition coalition, including a party led by independence hero Xanana Gusmao, won a majority of the seats in the May 12 election, a court has confirmed.
The new ballot was called to end months of deadlock in the country, where there had been a minority government led by Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri since July 2017.
His party had protested about alleged irregularities during the vote, but the appeal court rejected the complaint.
The Alliance of Change for Progress (AMP) won 49.6 per cent of the votes, said Deolindo dos Santos, head of East Timor's Court of Appeal.
The alliance, a coalition of Gusmao's National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction and two other parties, secured 34 of the 65 seats in Parliament. The Fretilin party of outgoing Alkatiri won 34.2 per cent.
Fidelis Magalhaes, an official from the alliance, said the result should break the deadlock.
"East Timor must have a government that stands and comes from an absolute majority in Parliament," Magalhaes said by telephone.
He declined to comment on speculation that former president and prime minister Gusmao would stand again as prime minister.
The election campaign was marred by sporadic violence, though East Timor has been largely peaceful in recent years following recurrent bouts of political instability that it suffered since independence from Indonesia in 2002.
A 2017 parliamentary election produced no clear winner, with the Fretilin party winning just 0.2 per cent more votes than CNRT, and forming a minority government.
East Timor President Francisco "Lu Olo" Guterres dissolved Parliament in January and called for fresh elections, the fifth parliamentary election since independence.
Candidates in the election had campaigned on promises to develop education and healthcare and boost agriculture and tourism in the country of 1.2 million people.
Simon Roughneen, Dili A three-party alliance led by Timorese independence hero Xanana Gusmao ousted the short-lived Fretilin minority government in East Timor's election held Saturday, though the top party in the ruling coalition refused to concede the outcome late Sunday.
Gusmao and his allies won 49.59% of the vote, according to official figures released Sunday, with only a few ballots left to be counted. That gives the Alliance of Change for Progress 34 seats in the Southeast Asian country's 65-member parliament, a fragile majority.
Gusmao's alliance, which emerged as the Parliamentary Majority Alliance or AMP to oppose the Fretilin-led government formed last year under Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri, claimed before the vote that it could win up to 43 seats.
Fretilin, or the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor, appears headed for only 23 seats equaling its total from the July 2017 election despite receiving 34.18% of the vote, nearly 5 points higher than its result last year. Alkatiri, Fretilin's leader, said after voting Saturday that he expected his party to win at least 30 seats.
Fretilin did not concede after the official results became clear on Sunday night, complaining of what it termed "irregularities."
Fretilin's coalition partner, the Democratic Party, saw its share of the vote drop by nearly 2 points, a slump that likely will cost the PD two of the seven seats it won in 2017.
The outcome suggests that last year's election loss was a temporary blip for Gusmao after his victories in 2007 and 2012. Fretilin and Alkatiri took power after a landslide win in 2002, but lost narrowly in 2007 to Gusmao's National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction, or CNRT, a new party at the time.
Gusmao served as East Timor's first president after independence in 2002, but he left the ceremonial position to run for prime minister after the country nearly suffered a civil war in 2006.
Gusmao won a second five-year term as prime minister in 2012, but resigned in the middle of that period. He invited Fretilin's Rui de Araujo to take over as prime minister in early 2016 as part of a unity government with Fretilin. But that collaboration appears unlikely to be repeated after Gusmao and his allies forced an early election.
The AMP may announce details of its government Monday, said a CNRT official who requested anonymity. It remains to be seen whether Gusmao will take the prime minister's post, and a repeat of the deal when he stood down in 2016 would see him opt for the development ministry. The likeliest alternative for prime minister is Taur Matan Ruak, a former president and current leader of the People's Liberation Party, one of the three AMP parties.
Gusmao is seen as a national father figure, and the 74-year-old likely will be highly influential in any such arrangement, similar to the roles played by Lee Kuan Yew and Mahathir Mohamad after they retired from leading governments in Singapore and Malaysia, respectively. Mahahir returned to power in Malaysia at the age of 92 after a shock election win last week.
The result should give East Timor a stable government after a year of stasis following the 2017 election in which Fretilin's minority administration was unable to govern. The election also may end the revolving door through which the prime minister's job has mostly rotated between Alkatiri and Gusmao since Timorese independence in 2002.
The government, which depends on oil and gas for around 90% of its revenue, faces challenges in boosting employment and developing other sectors of the economy. About 70% of the country's 1.3 million people depend on agriculture.
Voter Maria de Sousa said on Saturday that she hoped the next government would be able to stay in office. "It is better that we have a system that gets things done," she said, an aspiration echoed by others lining up to vote in Dili, the capital.
Helen Davidson Timor-Leste independence hero Xanana Gusmao is expected to be appointed prime minister again after the country's second parliamentary election in less than a year.
Gusmao led a coalition of opposition parties that has secured more than 49.5% of the vote, with 99% counted. The official result will be announced later this month.
Gusmao's National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT) party joined forces with the Popular Liberation party, led by another former president, Taur Matan Ruak, and the youth-focused Khunto to form the Change for Progress Alliance (AMP), which defeated Fretilin, led by Gusmao's frequent rival Mari Alkatiri.
Alkatiri had struggled to hold onto power after winning just 0.2% more votes than CNRT last year, and his government was dissolved in January.
The campaign was marred by tensions and violence, and both leaders have in the past faced accusations of improper conduct including by Ruak when he was president.
Timorese journalist Raimundos Oki reported 18 CNRT supporters were injured in an alleged attack by Fretilin supporters last week. However, election day appeared to be peaceful, with the process and high turnout praised by the United Nations Development Program and election observers.
Fretilin drew more than 34% of Saturday's vote, as the Timorese abandoned the minor parties to choose between two sides of the country's "old guard". Sixteen years after regaining sovereignty, Timor-Leste's elections remain dominated by the leaders of its independence struggle.
Gusmao was prime minister from 2007 to 2015 and Timor-Leste's first president after independence, from 2002 to 2007.
Alkatiri was the country's first prime minister, briefly resigning after a political crisis in 2006 which included accusations of assassination plans. He led Fretilin to win the biggest number of seats in 2007, but the Gusmao-led CNRT formed a larger coalition and was able to form government.
The 2017 election produced no clear winner. Opposition parties blocked legislation, and in January the president, Lu-Olo Guterres, called for fresh elections to end hostilities.
In recent years, Alkatiri has led an ambitious infrastructure development project in Oecusse, as part of the government's attempts to diversify the economy before oil reserves on which Timor-Leste's economy depends dry up.
In March the government signed a maritime border treaty with Australia, largely ending decades of diplomatic negotiations, which included accusations of spying by Australian officials, and hostility over the division of billions of dollars worth of oil and gas reserves in the Timor Sea.
Last week the Guardian revealed Australia's decision to formally recognise the violent invasion and occupation of Timor-Leste by Indonesia in the 1970s was largely driven by its desire to secure an advantageous maritime border.
The prime minister elect, Gusmao, had led the treaty negotiations with Australia but just days before the treaty was signed he accused Australia of collusion. He did not attend the signing.
The exact division of the oilfields remains to be decided. Timor-Leste hopes to have the gas piped back to its purpose-built processing plant on its southern coast. Australia, and reportedly the proponents, want it to go to Darwin.
Michael Sainsbury, Dili Timor-Leste's national resistance hero Xanana Gusmao, a former president and prime minister, is headed back to power in the nation's second general election in 10 months via a three-party alliance that includes his former guerilla colleague Taur Matan Ruak, another former president.
Gusmao's AMP alliance gained more votes than incumbent Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri's Fretilin party, with a majority of seats in a new parliament where four groups are expected to be represented in the country's 100 per cent proportional voting systems.
The poll largely pitted two arms of the tiny nation's independence movement its combat leadership (AMP Alliance) and offshore diaspora diplomats (Fretilin) against each other. Voters deserted smaller parties with Fretilin gaining the largest swing of slightly less than 6 per cent, and the swing towards AMP was about 1.5 per cent.
The election was triggered when the Fretilin minority government, sworn in by President Francisco "Lu'Olo" Guterres in September, failed to get a working majority.
Pictures posted on the internet of Alkatiri at Fretilin headquarters in Dili on Saturday showed him to be inconsolable, having failed to gain the 30 seats he had predicted as he voted on Saturday morning and that would have given him his third chance at being prime minister.
The AMP alliance is likely to form government in its own right. In earlier counting it looked as if it might need to form a coalition with one or both or two smaller groups, the Democratic Party and the Development Democratic Forum, a collection of a number of parties.
After 95 per cent of the vote had been counted, the AMP alliance was looking set to have a clear majority in the 65 seat legislature. The most recent figures on Sunday had AMP with 34 seats and Fretilin on 23, with the Democratic Party on five and FDD three.
Once the government is set, Gusmao must resume negotiations with oil companies, including Australian Securities Exchange listed Woodside and US group ConocoPhilips, about exploiting an estimated $10 billion in energy reserves in the Greater Sunrise basin that Timor-Leste now controls. Timor-Leste inked a new maritime agreement with Australia in the lead-up to the poll, replacing the 2004 deal that Timor-Leste had argued was unfair and which was ripped up by a UN court in 2018.
Timor's present reserves, the country's major source of income that are now being pumped, are forecast to run out as early as 2026. The sticking point has been Gusmao's long held dream of bringing the pipeline to East Timor's remote southern cost, a promise repeated during the campaign, and the oil companies' view that this is not financially viable and they would only proceed if a pipelines went to Darwin. Loading
"After yesterday's election with over 80 per cent of the vote counted it's clear that the AMP alliance is in the lead currently with 48 per cent of the national vote followed by Fretilin with about 35 per cent of the national vote. Two other smaller parties are also likely to secure seats," Michael Leach, Professor of Politics at Melbourne's Swinburne University who is in Dili as an election observer, told Fairfax Media.
"We will have to wait for the final vote count to see a seat distribution, which will determine whether the AMP alliance gets a 33-seat majority in its own right, or the possible scenarios for a multi-party coalition government."
The FDD proved to be the dark horse in the race, its improved vote potentially the difference between an AMP or Fretilin coalition.
"My vote is very important for this country and for my people, Silvano, a 23 year old university student who lives in the mountain town of Ermera told Fairfax Media.
"I voted for the FDD because the presented real policy program including the urgent provision of clean water, better roads and housing for poor people."
Daniel Pires, who voted for AMP said he wanted to see the group develop the economy, culture, education and health "to develop this country like other countries".
What remains unclear, according to Leach, is how Gusmao will reconcile his economic preference for major projects with the grassroots approach advocated by his alliance partners.
There had been some complaints by Gusmao on polling day of voting irregularities but Leach said: "The preliminary report of the largest observer mission expressed concern over the allegations made, but has declared the process free fair and transparent, based on their own observations yesterday."
After a fractious and increasingly bitter campaign with personal insults from AMP leaders towards Fretilin leaders and the release, by the AMP, of details of tens of millions of dollars worth of single-sourced contracts to companies owned by Fretilin leaders and their families.
Neither side had made any comment at the time of publication.
Nelson de la Cruz, Dili A coalition of East Timor's opposition parties, including a party led by independence hero Xanana Gusmao, was heading for victory on Sunday in an election held after months of deadlock in the tiny Southeast Asian nation's parliament.
With more than 99 percent of votes counted in Saturday's poll, the Alliance of Change for Progress (AMP) was leading with 49.59 percent of the total, according to the latest count by the state election administration.
The AMP, a coalition of Gusmao's National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT) and two other parties, was on track to secure 34 of the 65 seats in parliament.
The Fretilin party of outgoing Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri was on 34.18 percent of votes. Official results are not due until May 27, but a senior AMP official said it looked certain that it had won.
"This victory is not a gift, but it is a mandate that people give us to work for them," said the official, declining to be named and urging supporters not to celebrate excessively.
Fretilin officials could not immediately be reached for comment.
The election campaign had been marred by sporadic violence, though East Timor has been largely peaceful in recent years following recurrent bouts of political instability that it suffered after independence from Indonesia in 2002.
The 2017 parliamentary election produced no clear winner, with the Fretilin party winning just 0.2 per cent more votes than CNRT, and forming a minority government.
East Timor President Francisco "Lu Olo" Guterres dissolved parliament earlier this year and called for fresh elections, the fifth parliamentary election since independence from Indonesia in 2002.
Former president and prime minister Gusmao could not immediately be reached on Sunday, but after casting his vote a day earlier had said he expected the election to end the political deadlock.
Asia's youngest democracy has struggled to alleviate poverty, stamp out corruption and develop its rich oil and gas resources. The energy sector accounted for around 60 percent of GDP in 2014 and more than 90 percent of government revenue.
Candidates in the election had campaigned on promises to develop education and healthcare and boost the agriculture and tourism sectors.
More than 700,000 East Timorese were registered to vote in the country, which has a land area slightly smaller than Hawaii and is home to 1.2 million people.
Isabel Ermelita The Chief of the Election Observers Mission Australia-Timor-Leste, Professor Damien Kingsbury said the Early Election 2018 was different compared to elections of previous years that were marked by peace.
He added the early election this year was tense between political parties' leaders and their militants.
"This year was less friendly, with high political pressure and aggressive talk during the time of the campaigns between political leaders and militants," said Kingsbury at Hotel Esplanada, in Dili.
He said the two previous general elections (Presidential and Parliamentary) held in 2017 were successfully organized, peaceful and very positive.
He acknowledged that there was a technical problem in last year's election but that this is normally and can happen during a general election.
He hoped that the militants, including the political leaders of the bigger parties' respect and accept the results of election.
He added there are currently 100 international observers from Australia, half the size of the group of 200 Australian observers that observed the 2017 Elections. "This year we have 48 groups and last year we had 80 groups," he informed.
The reduction in the number of observers is due to some having other commitments and other work. He added observers come voluntarily, pay their own way, and they had just been in Timor-Leste for the previous election some 10 months ago in 2017.
He said the observers have been placed across most municipalities except in Viqueque and in the special administrative region of Oe-Cusse-Ambeno. "We have 4 [groups] in Lospalos, 2 in Covalima, 7 in Bobonaro, 4 in Dili and in other municipalities," he said.
Meanwhile, International Observer from Vitoria University-Australia, Professor Michael Leach said political pressure during the campaign could lead to conflict and create instability within the country.
"I think there was a lot more tension during the campaigns this year, verbal attacks between the leaders of the bigger parties and between militants on the ground, on media including social media. Sharp words were said to one another," he said.
He said for example in Viqueque and in in Laga, Baucau municipality, the militants of the bigger parties attacked each other. "Whatever is the result of this election, it is important the people of Timor are happy," he added.
However, he said the early election this year has been very positive for the two state election bodies, the National Commission for Elections (CNE) and the Electoral Administration Technical Secretariat and that they have done a great job.
"Even with a limited budget, but they have performed very well throughout the election process," he said.
He added the observers are paying close attention at the voting centres, to the ballot boxes, the voting cabins, and the whole voting process.
He hopes that attacks during the campaign period will not impact on the process and on the results of the election.
Meanwhile, a national observer from RONETIL group, Caetano Alves said the general situation at the voting centres in Dili and at the voting centre at school 10 de Dezembru is well-organized and peaceful.
"There is no problem or conflict until now. Everyone is calm and taking part in the election," he said. He hopes everything is well-organized and successful until the end of vote.
There are over 400 national observers in total from RONETIL group placed in all municipalities, including all voting centres in the capital Dili.
Simon Roughneen, Dili, East Timor Voting took place today in East Timor to choose 65 members of parliament, who Timorese hope will form a stable administration after a year of political uncertainty and the quick collapse of a short-lived minority government.
"The winner is already here in front you," said Mari Alkatiri, leader of the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor, or Fretilin, speaking to the Nikkei Asian Review after voting shortly after 7 a.m. at a school near Dili's picturesque waterfront.
Alkatiri was prime minister of a short-lived government formed after the last election in July 2017. But his coalition held just 30 of the 65 parliamentary seats and its minority government soon fell, after the Parliamentary Majority Alliance opposition coalition declined to support Fretilin's program for government.
The main AMP party, the National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction, led by independence hero Xanana Gusmao, was in power from 2007-17.
The AMP's combined strength makes it the more likely winner, but Alkatiri said Fretilin hopes to win more than 30 seats in today's vote, which closed at 3 p.m.
Vote counting is still ongoing. A rough idea of the outcome may be known by later tonight or early tomorrow, but full results may not be known for several days, partly because some paper ballots have to be transported across remote mountainous terrain in the small half-island country of 1.3 million people.
Gusmao, Alkatiri's main opponent and also a former prime minister, complained to media that there had been "irregularities" prior to voting day, amid rumors of parties handing out rice as an inducement to voters.
Gusmao arrived at his party headquarters shortly after the close of voting but declined to speak to the waiting media. AMP representatives told a brief press conference that several supporters' houses had been burned down in Oecusse, the westernmost district of East Timor. One of them, Roberto Caetano de Sousa, said, "We are identifying these incidents.... [We] need to check in the districts."
Gusmao is an iconic figure to many Timorese and returned to Dili to a hero's welcome in March, after successfully negotiating an agreement with Australia on a maritime boundary in the Timor Sea. The deal should in time see East Timor earn billions of dollars in oil and gas revenues from the Greater Sunrise field there.
Around three quarters of a million people were eligible to vote out of the population of 1.3 million, and turnout is expected to be at least 70%.
However, around two-thirds of Timorese are under 30 years of age, meaning that there is a widening generation gap between the country's leadership and the majority of the population.
Gusmao, Alkatiri and most of the country's political elite are veterans of the independence struggle against Indonesia, which invaded in 1975 after the previous Portuguese colonizers withdrew. East Timor voted to secede from Indonesia in 1999, after an estimated 200,000 people died during the Indonesian occupation.
East Timor's elites have discussed handing over control to politicians in their 40s and 50s, a process that was to begin after the election in 2012. Asked what his priorities would be after the election, Alkatiri said, "We need clean water, infrastructure, housing... and to hand over to the next generation."
For several years before the 2017 election, East Timor had a de facto national unity government made up of members of Fretilin and Gusmao's allies. And though Timorese politics have become more fractious since last year's inconclusive election, Fretilin has said it will ask its opponents to join it in forming a new government, if it wins enough seats itself.
"That is the policy," said Alkatiri. But asked if he would include Xanana Gusmao among the invitees, he said, "I prefer not comment on this now."
Estevao Nuno Timor-Leste's National Youth Council (CNJTL) warns youths against falling for political parties' trap and to not allow themselves to be used during the election campaigns for party interest.
The Manager for the Youth Forum for Communication (FKJ) Joao do Nascimento said the youths' who get involved in politics should deepen their knowledge about the parties.
"To change their thoughts, their behaviours, and attitudes to not be so radical," he said in Dili.
He added that many youths who get involved in political party's activities do not have a deep appreciation for policies of the party they are supporting and the party does not have adequate member structures.
"Our youths have no idea about the background and work of the party, this is the biggest weakness of our youth," he said.
He said the youth are needed to develop the nation, and not become stepping stones for groups or individuals to reach their objective. "Youths must not fall for these traps," he said.
He also called for political parties to share more information about the parties with the youth so they do not become pawns for politicians.
On the other hand, the Secretary of State for Youths and Employment (SEYE) Nivio Magalhaes said the youth but maintain discipline and contribute to peace and stability of the nation.
"The Youth must be united despite belonging to different parties because the future of the country is in their hands," he said.
Meanwhile a youth Januario Pereira said youths should have knowledge of civic education and should be responsible for this country.
"We must show our quality of thought, education, and politics and not just get involved in politics for no reason," he said.
Dili (Timor-Leste) Timor-Leste is set to hold an election at the weekend, after a campaign marred by violence and political mudslinging as the impoverished country struggles to buoy its oil-dependent economy.
It will be the second general election in less than a year after a months-long political impasse saw the 65-member Parliament dissolved in January.
Political parties on the tiny half-island nation of 1.2 million people made their final pitch to voters yesterday, wrapping up a tension-filled campaign.
Violent weekend clashes broke out between supporters of the Fretilin party and backers of the National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction led by former president and independence hero Xanana Gusmao. Some 16 people were injured and a couple of vehicles were torched, said the Australia Timor-Leste Election Observer Mission.
Timor-Leste a former Portuguese colony which won independence in 2002 after a brutal, 24-year occupation by neighbouring Indonesia has been wracked by violence before. In 2006, dozens were killed as political rivalries erupted into open conflict on the streets of capital Dili.
The fragile democracy wobbled again this year as Parliament was dissolved and new elections called amid tensions between former prime minister Mari Alkatiri's minority government and the opposition centred around Mr Gusmao's party.
Mr Alkatiri's Fretilin party, which narrowly won last July's poll, collapsed after its bid to introduce a policy programme and a new Budget was thwarted by a hostile opposition.
Ahead of Saturday's vote, Mr Gusmao has been leaning on his role as lead negotiator in settling a maritime boundary with Australia in March. The treaty, which ends a decades-long dispute over oil rights in the Timor Sea, could open the door to billions of dollars in royalties in a potential revenue-sharing deal from the Greater Sunrise offshore gas fields in the Timor Sea.
Mr Gusmao's party has an alliance with the People's Liberation Party and the youth-based Khunto, making the so-called Parliamentary Majority Alliance (AMP) the largest political bloc in the country.
"If AMP wins, we will support rapid economic development and bring oil to Timor Leste," Mr Gusmao told tens of thousands of flag-waving supporters at a rally on Tuesday.
Mr Alkatiri, a Muslim politician in the majority-Catholic country, has also promised to boost development, with the clock ticking on fast disappearing oil and gas reserves and putting pressure on any new government to diversify the economy.
Oil and gas pay for the bulk of government spending, but oil revenues are in steep decline, and the country has few other productive economic sectors.
Some 40 per cent of Timor-Leste's people live in poverty. Providing jobs for the large numbers of young people and reining in public spending will be key tasks for the new government, analysts say.
Simon Roughneen, Denpasar, Indonesia For the second time in less than a year, voters in East Timor will head to polling stations on May 12 to decide who will run the second smallest country in Southeast Asia.
The last elections held in July 2017 left Mari Alkariri of the Fretilin party, or the Revolutionary Front of Independent East Timor, as prime minister leading a shaky minority government. As its name suggests, Fretilin is made up of activists and fighters who opposed Indonesia's occupation of East Timor between 1975 and 1999.
Fretilin won the most seats then, with 23, but the coalition it cobbled together was vulnerable, holding just 30 out of a total 65 seats in the Dili parliament. Unsurprisingly, Alkatiri's government fell after the pointedly named Parliamentary Majority Alliance opposition refused to support his proposed budget.
East Timor's proportional voting system usually makes it difficult for a single party to win a majority, especially given that the flourishing democracy fielded more than 20 parties in last year's election.
Only eight parties are on the ballot paper this weekend and alliances seem to be more sharply defined than last year. "Another minority government is certainly possible, but it seems less likely than 2017 because so many parties have formed pre-election coalitions," said Michael Leach of Swinburne University and head of the Timor-Leste Studies Association.
The official name for East Timor is the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste.
Before Alkatiri's government, the previous administration was formed of representatives from most of the main parties. While that system was criticized by many for leaving the country without an effective opposition, some said "rule-by-consensus" was more suitable for East Timor than a "winner-takes-all" outcome.
Politics has since become more adversarial, however. This year's campaigns have been marred by vitriol, unheard of since elections in mid-2007. In August that year, riots greeted the announcement that Fretilin would cede control to a government led by Xanana Gusmao, another resistance fighter who was a political prisoner in Jakarta during Indonesian rule.
That 2007 vote came just over a year after a near civil war, when police and army factions fought on the streets of Dili and broad east-west divisions emerged in the tiny state. Early the following year, rebels tried to assassinate Jose Ramos-Horta and Gusmao, both former presidents and prime ministers.
Last weekend, the still-popular Gusmao called for calm after 18 supporters of his National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction party were injured, allegedly by Fretilin supporters. He told party colleagues not to respond to what he deemed provocation during campaigning in the east of East Timor, a Fretilin stronghold. Observers such as the U.S.-based International Republican Institute have reported that the campaign so far has otherwise been peaceful.
Previously allied with Gusmao, Ramos-Horta is supporting Fretilin this time, praising Alkatiri who he said "has articulated a very convincing vision and program on sustainable development."
Ramos-Horta had previously criticized Gusmao's governments for spending heavily on infrastructure projects and overlooking health and education.
Gusmao's stature as the leader of the country's independence movement ensured he retained his role as the lead Timorese representative in the maritime negotiations after last year's elections. He returned to Dili to a hero's welcome in March after agreeing a deal that month with Australia over maritime borders in the Timor Sea.
That "landmark" agreement, as it was described by Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, has not featured much on the hustings, however, except during the early days of the campaign a month ago. "Partly because all parties supported the outcome, it was not easy to turn to a partisan purpose," said Swinburne University's Leach.
Establishing the sea boundary will mean that East Timor can expect to get either 70% or 80% of the revenue from the Greater Sunrise gas field in the Timor Sea, exploitation of which had been delayed pending the boundary agreement.
Arrangements are yet to be confirmed on extracting and processing the submarine hydrocarbons, with East Timor holding out for a deal that will allow it to pipe the gas to its southern coast for processing there.
East Timor's $1.8 billion economy is about a sixth the size of Brunei's, another small and oil-dependent Southeast Asian country. The Greater Sunrise field could offer an economic lifeline to a government dependent on fast-depleting hydrocarbons for most of its budget.
While relying on energy resources for government expenditure, East Timor also hopes to develop sectors such as coffee and tourism. Despite its natural beauty and relative proximity to wealthy Australia, visitor numbers remain in the tens of thousands.
A small country that regained its independence, under United Nations tutelage, in 2002, East Timor's land area is slightly smaller than that of the smallest of Japan's four main islands, Shikoku. Its 1.3 million population ranks between those of Laos and Brunei, currently the two least populated member-states in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
East Timor's application to join the bloc is being discussed by current members, said Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, at the end of the April 25-28 ASEAN summit in the city-state. "Singapore's position is, we look forward to Timor Leste meeting the requirements to be able to be a member and that is something which is to be assessed and which we are happy to work with Timor Leste in order to make sure that they are able to meet those requirements," Lee said.
Michael Sainsbury, Dili It's 4 o'clock on a warm Tuesday afternoon in the East Timorese capital of Dili. Down a rabbit warren of alleys across from the Australian embassy, a dusty, cemented space opens up.
Scores of men have gathered, there is excitement in the air. Many are carrying roosters under their arms, others are collecting the greenbacks American greenbacks which remain the official currency of Asia's newest and poorest nation.
By 5pm, after an impenetrable series of negotiations, two strutting birds are ready for the daily cockfight at the pint-sized coliseum that looms behind the courtyard. The men gather around; the owners affix deadly weapons to the roosters' legs, unsheathing razor sharp blades that will determine which of these proud preening creatures will live to see another day.
For the past month, in the villages and towns of this deeply spiritual, mountainous half-island nation only 65 minutes by plane from Darwin, East Timor's preening old political roosters have unsheathed their own blades for what may be one last bout: the country's second election in 10 months on May 12.
Caretaker Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri, 68, who helped the independence fight from offshore is now leader of the guerilla force turned political powerhouse, Fretilin. Twice now he has failed to see out his term as PM.
Now, once more, he is taking to the ring with the nation's only real strongman: guerilla freedom fighter, former president and prime minister Xanana Gusmao. At 73, Gusmao is the nation's independence hero and talisman but he has never quite cut the mustard as a civilian leader.
Now he leads the CNRT (Timor-Leste National Reconstruction Party) and a newly formed coalition known as the AMP (Alliance for Change and Progress). Photo: AP
There are other old roosters, too: President Francisco "Lu-Olo" Guterres, 68; Nobel Prize laureate, former PM and president Jose Ramos Horta, 68; Abilio de Araujo, 69; Rogerio Lobato, 68, and other returnees of the diaspora. All are lined up with Alkatiri.
"In some ways it's become a contest between two former wings of the Gusmao-led resistance and the diplomatic efforts from those outside the country led by Alkatiri and Horta," says Michael Leach, professor of politics at Swinburne University and long-time East Timor observer. "It's history wars over who contributed more to independence."
Martin Hardie, professor of legal anthropology puts it more starkly. "This battle is more about two ways of doing politics: the tension between Timorese who are in tune with their culture, language and land, and those, generally from the outside or with mixed blood, that see themselves as modernisers, and who see themselves as better than Timorese people and look down on regular Timorese."
And while living standards have certainly improved at least in the bigger towns since independence from Indonesia in 2002, all the old roosters have had some hand in landing East Timor in the mess it is in.
The economy is stagnating GDP growth is now less than 4 per cent, which is low for a developing nation and a distance away from a high of 16 per cent a decade ago.
A new maritime treaty with Australia has been struck but so far with no guarantees that vastly increased undersea gas holdings will ever yield another cent for the country.
And hundreds of millions of dollars have been wasted on roads to nowhere, big houses, cars and swelling bank balances for the often corrupt emerging elite.
Alkatiri, who was forced from power during his first term as the nation's inaugural prime minister in 2006, took one more stab at the top job in the July 2017 general election, leading Fretilin to finish just ahead of CNRT.
He got there, but only just, with a coalition including the Democratic Party's five seats and eight from KHUNTO, an election surprise package of untested politicians using a martial arts network to appeal to younger voters.
A day before the official swearing in of the new government, KHUNTO walked away, but Fretilin's Lu-Olo proceeded to invest Alkatiri anyway. After six months of deadlock, rather than hand government to Gusmao's team, Lu-Olo opted for fresh elections.
All the while Gusmao was out of the country, renegotiating the country's 2004 maritime border with Australia.
The result was another election campaign, and it has been a spiteful, sometimes violent one. A video showing Gusmao on the stump accusing Alkatiri, a moderate Muslim, of eating the wrong kind of pork went viral.
Fretilin supporters have countered with shows of force, several times in recent weeks attacking convoys of opposition cars with rocks, once putting a three-year-old child in hospital.
The Australian government has issued a warning for travellers to "exercise a high degree of caution" in East Timor because of the uncertain security situation.
"The situation could deteriorate without warning," the warning says. There are rumours in Dili that Australian troops are on standby to fly in.
Security aside, there are also questions about what sort of development model will be used for the country.
"The CNRT has traditionally favoured a mega-project model while the PLP, has preferred direct funding to people and business. Now it's unclear what the AMP would do," Leach says.
A common theme, talking to people both inside and outside the political parties, is that fresh political blood is needed for the country whose population is unusually young, and has exploded from under one million to almost 1.3 million in just 15 years.
Some of the parties have taken tentative steps. Former president Taur Matan Ruak, who succeeded as an independent head of state from 2012-2017 is still, at 63, part of the next generation and heads a younger team in the PLP, which is lead in parliament by Fidelis Magalhaes, a 35-year-old.
KHUNTO, led by relative newcomer Jose Bucar Naimori, has benefited from targeting the youth vote. For the CNRT there is Dionisio Babo, 52, and Fretilin has another former PM Rui Maria de Araujo, 53.
"We have do things by stages. We have to have a vision for each stage. Party interests must be put to one side. The campaign is over, the election has begun but we must remain as one people," Gusmao told his followers this week.
Alkatiri told his group: "Fretilin as an organisation has had a long journey and once again is in a very long process of freeing the country. We have remained in the same spirit of fighting for the country and the people."
One of these old stagers will win the May 12 election, and given the remarkable return of Mahathir Mohamad to the top job in Malaysia this week, the old guard of East Timor is looking, by comparison, relatively young.
Avery Poole The people of East Timor are heading to the polls this week for the second time in 10 months. On May 12, a fresh round of parliamentary elections will attempt to overcome the legislative impasse in the current minority government.
The new government promised more stability and democratic progress. But this has been cast in doubt by fractious relations among the major parties, ultimately resulting in the government being unable to pass its mandate and the dissolution of Parliament.
East Timor goes to the polls this week. In the process, there is a risk that important issues such as addressing poverty and unemployment (particularly among young people), and improving basic services such as water supplies, are relegated to the background.
Last July's parliamentary elections were a tight contest between East Timor's two biggest parties. The leftist Fretilin, (with which President Francisco Guterres is aligned) won 23 seats, and the National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (led by former independence leader and the nation's first prime minister Xanana Gusmao), won 22 seats.
Fretilin ultimately formed a coalition with the Democratic Party, and their minority government controls 30 of the 65 seats in Parliament.
However, the coalition's attempts to govern were thwarted by the opposition, the most prominent member being the Alianca Mudanca ba Progresso (Change for Progress Alliance, or AMP), which comprises the CNRT, the Popular Liberation Party and the youth-focused KHUNTO.
The AMP effectively created a new majority alliance that rejected the government's plans to secure confidence and supply, meaning it could not govern effectively. Guterres ultimately agreed in January to the dissolution of Parliament and the calling of new elections.
East Timor remains relatively stable, having recovered considerably from the political violence associated with past elections (particularly the parliamentary elections of June 2007, when Fretilin and CNRT supporters clashed).
But the major parties' failure in 2017 to run a functioning parliament has undermined this stability.
Resolving the situation is important not just for the Timorese people, but for the region more broadly. Despite its past, East Timor has become something of a beacon of hope for democratic progress in south-east Asia, which is increasingly marked by democratic regression or "backsliding".
While East Timor is not a consolidated democracy, it scored the highest of its south-east Asian neighbours in The Economist Intelligence Unit's Democracy Index in 2017. Moreover, while East Timor's score on this index has remained fairly steady in the past decade, several other south-east Asian states, such as Indonesia and Thailand, have been declining.
Freedom House's Freedom in the World report, which measures political rights and civil liberties, categorised East Timor as "free" in 2017. It was the only south-east Asian state to achieve this.
But these elections are likely to be more contentious than last year's. As was the case in the 2017 elections, domestic and international election observers will be present to, ideally, vouch for the credibility and transparency of the election processes and result.
In the fray of coalition negotiations, there is a tendency for discussions about the challenges faced by the Timorese people to be neglected.
Civil society groups such as Fundasaun Mahein and La'o Hamutuk are urging political candidates to focus on policy issues, rather than personalities and party politics.
Deficits in basic needs, employment and opportunities persist. In 2014 the World Bank estimated about 42 per cent of the population was in poverty, and life expectancy in 2016 was just 68.88 years.
Unemployment is difficult to measure in a meaningful way, particularly given the prevalence of people relying on subsistence farming and working outside the monetised economy, but is generally understood to be high.
These issues are particularly pertinent when it comes to young people. More than 60 per cent of the Timorese population is under 25 years old, and the average age is about 18. Many young people feel disenfranchised, and political parties are not necessarily addressing the challenges they face.
While the youth-focused KHUNTO gained seats for the first time in Parliament in 2017 and the Popular Liberation Party ran on a campaign focused on development and basic needs in 2017, both have now joined the AMP coalition with the CNRT, which is more focused on large-scale projects.
The recent agreement on the Timor Sea oil and gas reserves treaty with Australia has the potential to provide jobs for young Timorese people, but this depends in large part on whether East Timor is able to develop the processing facilities in Dili rather than in Darwin. This highly contentious issue remains unresolved.
It will be fascinating to see whether the elections on Saturday can help bring about a stable government able to facilitate economic opportunities and long-term development for the Timorese people.
East Timor is set to hold weekend elections after a campaign marred by violence and political mudslinging as the impoverished country struggles to buoy its oil-dependent economy.
It will be the second general election in less than a year after a months-long political impasse saw the 65-member parliament dissolved in January.
Political parties on the tiny half-island nation of 1.2 million people made their final pitch to voters on Wednesday, wrapping up a tension-filled campaign.
Violent weekend clashes broke out between supporters of the Fretilin party and backers of the National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT) led by former president and independence hero Xanana Gusmao.
Some 16 people were injured and a couple of vehicles were torched, according to the Australia Timor-Leste Election Observer Mission.
East Timor a former Portuguese colony which won independence in 2002 after a brutal, 24-year occupation by neighbouring Indonesia has been wracked by violence before.
In 2006, dozens were killed as political rivalries erupted into open conflict on the streets of the capital Dili.
The fragile democracy wobbled again this year as parliament was dissolved and new elections called amid tensions between former prime minister Mari Alkatiri's minority government and the opposition centred around Gusmao's CNRT.
Alkatiri's Fretilin party, which narrowly won last July's poll, collapsed after its bid to introduce a policy programme and new budget were thwarted by a hostile opposition. 'Spend less, deliver more'
For decades, the so-called 1975 Generation of independence heroes, including Alkatiri and Gusmao, have played an outsized role in the political landscape.
Gusmao, a leader of the resistance against Indonesia, was East Timor's first president between 2002 and 2007 and then prime minister from 2007 to 2015.
Alkatiri, who was forced into exile following the Indonesian invasion in 1975, served as East Timor's first prime minister between 2002 and 2006.
Ahead of the vote on Saturday, Gusmao has been leaning on his role as the lead negotiator in settling a maritime boundary with Australia in March.
The treaty, which ends a decades-long dispute over oil rights in the Timor Sea, could open the door to billions of dollars in royalties in a potential revenue-sharing deal from the Greater Sunrise offshore gas fields in the Timor Sea.
Gusmao's CNRT has an alliance with the People's Liberation Party (PLP) and the youth-based Khunto, making the so-called Parliamentary Majority Alliance (AMP) the largest political bloc in the country.
"If AMP wins, we will support rapid economic development and bring oil to Timor Leste," Gusmao told tens of thousand of flag-waving supporters at a rally on Tuesday, using an alternate name for the country.
Alkatiri, a Muslim politician in the majority-Catholic country, has also promised to boost development, with the clock ticking on fast disappearing oil and gas reserves putting pressure on any new government to diversify the economy.
Oil and gas pay for the bulk of government spending, but oil revenues are in steep decline, and the country has few other productive economic sectors.
About 60 per cent of East Timor's population is under 25, according to the World Bank, while some 40 per cent of its people live in poverty.
Providing jobs for the enormous amount of young people and reining in public spending especially on large infrastructure projects will be key tasks for the new government, analysts say.
"Everyone in Timor Leste has been talking about economic diversification and a focus on agriculture, but it is still unclear what they are going to do about it," Guteriano Neves, an independent policy analyst based in Dili, told AFP.
"You have to spend less and deliver more that is the hard task the future government will have to face."
John Dennehy When Asia's youngest nation heads to the polls for the second time in a year on May 12, Abel Da Costa just wants someone to win.
Da Costa, 66, is a school teacher in Manleuana, a quickly growing neighborhood at the edge of Dili, the nation's capital. His four-classroom school hosts 2,170 students and is in dire need of an expansion or a second building. The problem is, there is no one to ask.
"We have a proposal ready," he says. "We are just waiting for a stable government so we can ask them for help."
The parliamentary elections last July, meant to create a five-year government, ended in deadlock. Fretilin, the former guerilla movement that became a political party after Timor-Leste gained independence in 2002, had the most votes at 29.7 percent, beating out rival CNRT by about a thousand votes or 0.02 percent.
Fretilin formed a minority government with a smaller party but were not able to pass a budget. In December, the minority government collapsed and the president called for new elections. Ever since, the government has been operating at reduced capacity and many projects have been put on hold pending the formation of a stable government.
Da Costa has been paid because salary and wages are covered under the emergency budget that kicked in when none was passed. However, there is no funding for projects, such as building a new school in a rapidly growing suburb during a post-independence baby boom.
Even people whose employment is secure are affected. Brigida Soares, 37, continues to work in the Prime Minister's office, and while development targets will have to be pushed back because of delays this year, her salary is safe.
Her husband, however, who had worked as an adviser for the government, is out of a job. Nearly every adviser or government contractor is. "We try to save money wherever we can now," Soares explains. The couple has one child and is raising two more in their home. "We cook our own food much more now, and eat more vegetable and less meat."
Kym-Louise Miller, 50, is from Australia but has lived in Timor-Leste since the waning days of the Indonesian occupation in 1999. She has an adopted son and had been running a hotel and cafe. When the business moved to a new location last month, she decided to hold off reopening the cafe.
"Most of our clients were Timorese advisers and contractors," she explained, "and after the election we lost about 70 percent of the business." Miller says she's talked to clients who used to be regulars and many were now out of work, or had family out of work and were trying to save as much as they could and eating lunch out had become a luxury. She'd like to reopen the cafe, but is waiting until after the election to decide.
The hotel also had a lot of Timorese guests. About 20 bed nights a month came from government or NGO employees who were based in the districts but had to stay overnight in the capital for work. Those 20 bed nights a month have dropped to zero. "Some of them are probably out of work now, others are staying with extended family," Miller suggests.
Besides delayed projects and advisers and contractors out of work, people are also preparing for the worst. A deadly political crisis gripped the young nation in 2006 and continued into a disputed 2007 election. While nearly everyone on the streets of Dili today believes that the election will go smoothly, the memory of the last political crisis turning violent is still fresh and people are hedging their bets by saving money and hoarding basic supplies.
"We have extra rice and cooking oil stored at home," says Soares. "And we are trying to save as much as we can in case things get worse."
There are signs of the upcoming election on every street in the capital. Hanging from doorways and perched on rooftops, supporters have staked the flag of their party. After the worst of the tropical heat has passed each afternoon, groups of motorcycles and pickup trucks of human cargo parade through the streets beeping their horns and waving the same flags.
The familiar black and red of Fretelin stickers are plastered on road signs and walls. Their main rival, AMP, is a new coalition of parties including the CNRT and doesn't have familiar logos to compete. They have Xanana Gusmao, though. The face of the former guerrilla commander is splashed across billboards and banners, often using old photos of his more militant past, showing him wearing a beard, beret and green military fatigues.
There are physical reminders of the political impasse too. Fifteen fishing vessels, tied into groups of five and anchored indefinitely in Dili Harbor, have become a symbol of government slothfulness. The Chinese-owned ships were seized by the Timorese government in October on suspicion of illegal shark fishing, but the final decision of what will be done with them won't come down until a new government is in place.
"It's not difficult to determine technically; the delays are political," explained Lourenco Dos Reis Amaral, the National Director of Fisheries Inspection.
Each of the two main parties, both claiming roots in the nation's struggle for independence, has their own vision for how the young nation should develop, so besides budget restrictions no one is sure which projects will go forward and which will be scrapped.
In the meantime, people are feeling the crunch on the street. Anastacio Araujo, 23, was seven when Timor-Leste gained independence. His generation doesn't remember the independence struggle with as much enthusiasm as the one preceding it, but it is increasingly helping to grow and shape the nation.
When Araujo began renting his own motorbike he realized there was demand from locals for short-term rentals. In 2017 he got a loan and started renting out five motorbikes. Business was so good he sold out nearly every day and had to take reservations. "But business started to drop after the last election," he says. "People don't travel as much. They don't have money or don't want to spend it."
Araunja has stalled his plans to grow his start-up. "If this situation continues, it will affect business even more. I hope that after this election, that's it. Whoever wins that will be better than this uncertainty."
East Timorese independence hero Xanana Gusmao has called on supporters not to be provoked after campaigning for next weekend's elections was marred by violence.
Gusmao's National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction party said 18 of its supporters in Vikeke district were injured over the weekend and two vehicles were damaged in an attack by members of rival faction Fretilin.
The parliamentary elections next Saturday are the second in less than a year for East Timor after a Fretilin-led minority government collapsed in January.
After the alleged attack last Saturday, Gusmao said Fretilin was a party of violence that should be shut down but also urged his supporters to show restraint.
"I ask all of you not to respond to provocation from other parties' members," he said. "When you return home you should keep your own security and do not serve violence."
Jorge Ribeiro, a local official with Gusmao's party, said police and soldiers who responded to the violence have not arrested anyone. Vikeke police commander Antonio Mauluto said the incident was being investigated.
Mari Alkatari, secretary-general of Fretilin, said the police investigation should take its course and told supporters to refrain from violence.
The election pits a loose grouping of Fretilin and a minor party against a formal alliance of three parties led by Gusmao's party, which together voted against Fretilin's policy program and budget, resulting in the new election.
East Timor, a former Portuguese colony, was occupied by Indonesia for a quarter century. It gained independence after a UN-sponsored referendum in 1999 but reprisals by the Indonesian military devastated the East Timorese half of the island of Timor.
Today, the country of 1.3 million people still faces grim poverty. Leaders including Gusmao, who was East Timor's first president from 2002 to 2007 and prime minister from 2007 to 2015, have focused on big-ticket infrastructure projects to develop the economy, funding them from a dwindling supply of former oil riches, but progress is slow.
Presidential and parliamentary elections last year were the first held without UN supervision.
Estevao Nuno Program Coordinator for Timor-Leste's National Youth Council (CNJTL), Manecas Lobo dos Santos urges the upcoming VIII Constitutional Government to prioritize the creating employment for the youth of Timor-Leste.
He said it does not matter who won the early election, the main thing is the next government needs to create opportunities for unemployed youths. "So they can improve their economic condition," he said
He added many youth move from the municipalities to the capital Dili to find opportunities.
"How the new upcoming government can create jobs in tourism and agriculture sectors, these areas are large enough for them to work in," he said.
"There are also various in infrastructure they should be working in to make a living," he added.
Youth Juvencio da Silva Correia urges the new upcoming government to create job opportunities for the youths especially those currently unemployed.
"In the next five years, they must do something to eliminate unemployment in the country," he said.
He also urges the new government to develop professional trainings for the youth. "So they can then set up their own business," he said.
Meanwhile, a youth Leonardo Pinto asked the VIII government to create programs for youths, that will reduce the unemployment rate within the country because annually it is increasing.
"We see many youths just sitting around, on the streets, in the Largo, in front of the Palace including in Tasi Tolu. They just sit in groups at night," he said.
He feels that political parties during the campaign period did not present their vision for youth programs. "They did not present about youths programs, only kept talking about past history," he said.
He also called for youths to help each other, to strengthen the national unity, peace towards the country's stability.
Paulina Quintao According to the Labour Code of Timor-Leste, Law Number 4/2012, Article 59 about the entitlement to maternity leave, it states that female workers are entitled to maternity leave for a minimum of 12 weeks with full pay, yet some employers in Timor-Leste cut women's wages during their leave.
Hospitality female worker with initials PR said the law guarantees their entitlement to maternity leave with full pay but this is not being implemented across the board.
She said she has no idea if employers are aware of the law or not but some break the law because there is not enough control by the relevant institutions.
"We can take maternity leave, but our wage is split in two and we do not receive the full wage," said PR after participating in the march to mark International Workers' day in Mandarin, Dili.
She was upset because she makes the minimum wage of $115 per month, which is already not enough to respond to her family's need and yet it is then split into two so in the end she gets only half and it is not enough.
On top of it, she said, they are also not allowed to take any leave for six months after returning from leave and she is not allowed to take sick leave or even take her baby for treatment.
Another worker of a shop in Dili, with initials RS said workers are not being treated with the dignity from employers that the law prescribes. RS is a cleaner, she stocks shelves and attends customers.
"It is OK to cut our wage if we just do not turn up to work but I get upset when our wages are cut because our children are sick or when we get sick," she said.
While another female worker with initials VS also raised similar concerns about employers not caring about the health of employees, and only caring about having workers present at work.
"Sometimes we show them the medical certificate, but they don't care and cut our wages," she said. She said they also experience verbal violence from their employers in the workplace.
Meanwhile, the General Secretary of KSTL, Jose da Costa Conceicao said labour disputes continue to happen and the union gets three of four complaints from workers each week alleging violation of workers' rights.
"Workplace inspections are not effective so violations continue to occur," he said. He added most complaints are against local employers not foreign companies.
He said also that the government has an obligation to protect the citizens especially workers' rights prescribed by the law.
On the other hand, the Executive Director of Women's Organization Alola Foundation, Alzira Reis, agrees that workers are still suffering worker's violations and that there is research of the private sector that shows employers violate workers' rights, in particular a woman's right to maternity leave with full pay.
She urges the upcoming new government to pay attention to this issue, and to create better mechanisms that put pressure on employers to abide by the laws and regulations in place protecting the rights of workers.
Paulina Quintao According to the data from the Ministry of Health, the number of all HIV registered cases since 2013 increased to 725 in 2017, and from this number 92 people have died.
The Director for Education Programs of the National Commission for Combating HIV/AIDS Timor-Leste Venancio Coelho said the increase reflects the increased number of Timorese accessing health facilities to get tested for HIV through a blood test.
He said according to the data, people living with the HIV virus can be found in all municipalities across Timor-Leste so everyone needs to contribute to rai awareness in the community about taking risks that will contribute to transmission of the HIV virus.
He added that prevention methods prescribed by the National Commission for HIV/AIDS in Timor-Leste are based on the ABC method with A meaning Abstinence for unmarried individuals from entering into sexual relations, B meaning Be Faithful for married couples to be faithful to one another, and C meaning Control Yourself, for unmarried Timorese to not get involved in risk behaviours including abstinence that refers to unmarried individuals to abstain from sexual activity, B means fidelity that refers to married couples to practice fidelity in marriage, while C means control refers to unmarried individuals to control themselves and not get involved in risk behaviours include drug use and free sex or having sex with multiple partners.
In other countries, with the ABC method, the C refers to Condom use, that is, when having sexual relations where there is a risk, a condom should be used as the most efficient way to prevent contracting the HIV virus.
Coelho informed that Timor-Leste had adopted the international method of ABC for many years, A for Abstinence, B for Be Faithful, and C for Condom, but the number of HIV cases was nonetheless increasing because condom use does not offer 100% guaranteed against HIV infection.
"The commission does not say that in Timor-Leste we cannot talk about condom use for the prevention of HIV. We only say that there cannot be condom promotion in public spaces, because not everyone understands about condoms. People who do not understand it will use it as an alternative to spread free sexual relations," he added during an activity on HIV prevention in Auhun sub-village, in the Suku of Becora, in Dili.
He said that despite the national commission not talking about condom use to the public that organizations providing HIV/AIDS education to at-risk groups continue to promote its use including to commercial sex workers and those already affected by the virus.
According to data shared, from the 725-people infected with the HIV virus, identified between 2003-2017, 92-people have died with the remaining 633-people still living. From the 633-people with HIV, 285-people are currently undertaking treatment while the rest has not sought treatment.
The President of the Timor-Leste Red Cross (CVTL) Jose Pereira Conceicao appreciates the efforts of the national commission to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS and prevention in the communities, especially among youths.
"We cannot say the commission is responsible for reducing the incidence of new cases, but the commission provides information. It is us to each individual to be responsible for prevention," he said.
He added there is some controversy when talking about HIV prevention in Timor-Leste, especially in relation to condoms as part of the method, but it is important that everyone sits together to talk about it because the main objective is to reduce the transmission of the virus.
He also urged the youth to remain vigilant of the types of relationships they have because some are negative and can lead to greater risk of infection with the virus.
Meanwhile youth with initials GO said she knows that HIV is a virus that can ruin a person's immune system and when a person is with the virus, she or he will easily develop other chronic diseases.
She said based on information she has received, HIV is transmitted through blood, sexual relations, and through unsafe needle use. "I know I should use a condom if having sexual relations with other people," she said.
According to data from the Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) 2016, of all women and men aged 15-49 surveyed, only 8% of women and 15% of men have a comprehensive knowledge about HIV.
Paulina Quintao The Director of health from Dili municipality, Agustinha Seguerado is concerned with the growing waste problem within Dili that could harm communities' public health especially the health of children.
She said they have good coordination with the authorities from Dili municipality on diseases prevention, in particular provide to health promotion education to Community Leaders and the community by the Dili District Authority is responsible for waste management in the capital.
She said across Dili municipality, diseases including diarrhoea and dengue are endemic and a key contributing factor is the unclean environment that fosters vectors to develop and transmit diseases to humans.
"We also provide recommendations to the authorities to consider the rubbish issue everywhere, but they say the issue is the community lack of awareness," she added.
She said efforts are being made to go down together to the sukus and raise awareness at the community level about the negative impact of throwing rubbish arbitrarily and the importance of diseases prevention. Meanwhile, the head of the Surveillance and Environment Health Department at the Ministry of Health Jose Moniz said inefficient waste management causes vectors to propagate and spread diseases in communities.
He said the Ministry of Health is not responsible for waste management. "We provide health promotion education to communities about the impact of waste to public health. On issues of waste management that is up to the relevant institutions to consider it," he said.
Deputy Dili Authority Administrator Zeca Smith acknowledged that rubbish is a major issue but that this is caused by communities that continue to throw rubbish 24 hours a day while sanitation does not have adequate capacity to address the issue.
He said in 2015, based on the Law Decree 33/2009 on sanitation, the government issued the schedule of throwing rubbish from 4 until 7 am and not at other times, but in reality, people just throw rubbish anytime they feel not respecting the regulations in place.
"To control people to adhere to the schedule we should create an adequate system, such as CCTV installation. If we just place the personnel to control this issue, it will be very difficult," he said.
He also acknowledged that the placement of the rubbish bins in the public spaces is not adequate to accumulate trash produced but that is all the government can do.
He the waste situation within Dili will be resolved if communities and shops follow the schedule to make it easy to sanitation teams to collect rubbish.
Muslims in Dili, the capital of predominantly Catholic East Timor, have welcomed Ramadan with great joy.
Julio Muslim Antonio da Costa, the imam of Dili's largest mosque An Nur, said as the holy month approached, the mosque council set up a committee to organize Ramadan-related activities, such as preparing meals for iftar (the breaking of the fast at sunset) and collecting alms.
"We had up to 400 people for iftar in on first and second day of Ramadan and we prepare the food everyday throughout the month," da Costa said.
Some congregation members stay in the mosque for the rest of the evening to perform the Taraweeh prayer and listen to sermons delivered by clerics from neighboring countries.
The clerics also "deliver sermons in other parts of the country, where there are smaller Muslim communities," da Costa said in an interview at the mosque.
Every Sunday afternoon, Nurul Habibah, 28, organizes Qur'an recital with her fellow members of Muslim women.
"We have sermons and recital after the Asr prayer, and we involve children from the adjoining orphanage," said Nurul who hails from Lombok island in Indonesia and whose husband, Fawwaz Akmal Fragoso, is a Muslim convert.
Muslims make up about 0.3 percent out of East Timor's 1.2 million population, most of them concentrated in Dili. Outgoing Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri, whose Fretilin party lost in parliamentary elections on May 12, is a Muslim of Yemeni descent.
"There is no problem with religion in my country. The problem is only when you mix religion with politics. But it's a problem at the high level. There is no problem at the people level," Alkatiri said in an interview at a hotel near the Fretilin party headquarters.
Despite its Catholic-majority population and the church having great influence, East Timor is secular and Muslims live in peace and harmony with the rest of the society. Both Eid Al-Fitr and Eid Al-Adha are public holidays in the country.
"Every Eid-Al-Fitr, the President comes to An Nur after Eid prayer to celebrate the day with the Muslim community. It is a symbol of religious tolerance in East Timor," da Costa said.
"What makes the Muslim community even more thriving here is the presence of Indonesian Muslims from Java island and Makassar in South Sulawesi," President of Center of East Timor Islamic Community, Arif Abdullah Sagran, said.
The offices of the president and the prime minister, as well as other government offices, send livestock for sacrifice to the mosque for the Eid Al-Adha festivities, Sagran said.
"But there were times when the leaders' offices sent the animals on Eid Al-Fitr instead of Eid Al-Adha," he chuckled.
Finding halal food is still a problem in the country and there used to be a misperception that food was halal as long as it was cleanly cooked, Sagran said.
"The lingering misperception now is that food is halal as long as it doesn't contain pork. We don't have yet a special body to regulate about halal food. But for the time being, we can get halal food and meat from Indonesian traders here," da Costa said.
An Nur, which is located in Dili's Campo Alor neighborhood, was built in 1950s during the Portuguese colonization of East Timor. It was developed further during Indonesia's occupation and officiated in March 1981 by then-Indonesian military commander in East Timor, Brig. Gen. Dading Kalbuadi.
"After our independence in 2002, the government built two towers in the mosque. Now the mosque can accommodate up to 3,000 people," da Costa said.
Paulina Quintao The Director for Becora prison, in Dili, Joao DomiNGOs said Becora prison can only accommodate 250 prisoners, but currently it hosts 606 prisoners which puts a strain on prison services.
He said the prison has big blocks with 23 cells for adults can accommodate a maximum of 101 inmates, and the small blocks cells can only accommodate a maximum of 80 inmates so that everyone has enough room.
He said he is in discussions with Gleno and Suai Prisons to transfer some of the prisoners to those other facilities as Becora Prison is overflowing.
"We don't have problems between inmates yet as they understanding this is the reality and they still get enough space," he said from his office at Becora Prison.
He acknowledged the prison has its limitations, in regard to equipment and human resources, but as Timorese they are committed to performing their duties as best they can.
On whether there are plans to build a new prison, he said that this will not sold the problem and it is more important that the community is aware they should not commit crimes.
He informed there are total of 139 staff at Becora Prison including prison guards, trainers and cleaners.
On the other hand, the Director of Human Rights Association (HAK) Manuel Monteiro said the current conditions of Becora Prison is not adequate and the facility needs to be rehabilitated because it was built during Indonesian times.
He has concerns with the limited space for inmates because some suffer from mental illness and other may carry contagious diseases including Tuberculosis and are in the same cell as other inmates.
"We have asked to place them in different areas for treatment and to access psychiatric services to treat their mental condition and so they can get recovery," he said.
He hopes the upcoming government will to look at this issue and create separate spaces for those who suffer from Tuberculosis and other contagious disease in order to not transmit it to the general prison population.
Paulina Quintao The executive Director of Luta Hamutuk organization (LH), Jose da Costa urged the new upcoming government to take responsibility for the special zones for social market economy of Timor-Leste (ZEESM-TL) as an investment for the Timorese people, especially those in the Special Administrative region of Oe-Cusse-Ambeno (RAEOA).
He said Oe-Cusse has developed significantly, although not everyone has enjoyed such development. He said the development in Oe-cusse is mostly felt regarding physical infrastructure.
"It is important we work together and continue to develop the country, in particular ZEEMS so it can serve as an example for other municipalities," he said in his office, in Farol, Dili.
He added the constitution of the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste (RDTL) considers ZEESM has an autonomy region of Timor-Leste so whoever take charge must continue developing it.
He urged the new upcoming government when considering the rest person for RAEOA not to base their selection on political reasons.
On the other hand, a resident of Oe-Cusse Yasinta Lujina acknowledged that physical development has been significant, in particular roads and bridges to facilitate the communities' movements in doing business because it was difficult for them to access those activities previously without bridges.
"I am proud and so privileged that Oe-Cusse has had significant progress in terms of development compared to other municipalities, but it should be more inclusive and equal for everyone," she said.
She said there are always negative and positive impacts in the development process. On the positive side, people have access to better conditions that facilitate their daily activities; but on the negative side, people have been asked to move from their homes, lost their assets such as their crops and basically their only source of income.
She said people are responsible for contributing to the development process within the country, but some compensation should be given to those affected.
She added another issue that needs to be considered is giving opportunity to local communities to be the authors of the development process of Oe-Cusse.
As a local resident, she urges exclusive development for the people of Oe-Cusse, but there must be better cooperation between local and foreign people to transfer the knowledge to each other.
She also called for the new upcoming government to continue to develop Oe-Cusse as one of the key indicators for Timor-Leste.
Amanda Hodge At a debate in East Timor's capital Dili ahead of next Saturday's elections, an argument flared between candidates and party flacks over who had the biggest dreams for the 16-year-old nation.
The National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT), the party led by resistance hero Xanana Gusmao which governed for 10 years until it lost power last July to long-time rival Fretilin, accused its successor of lacking ambition for East Timor's economic future.
"We have to dream big to realise our potential," insisted Francisco Monteiro, president of national oil company Timor Gap and one of three representing the CNRT-led coalition that night.
Gusmao's opposition Parliamentary Majority Alliance (AMP), which also includes the People's Liberation Party and youth-oriented Khunto, is tipped to wrest power from Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri's 10-month-old government following the most divisive election campaign in East Timor's short democratic history.
"It is not enough just to dream," countered Edio Guterres, a debater from Fretilin. "You must also have a good plan. Fretilin can talk of big dreams, so can AMP. But we have to think realistically."
In recent weeks it has been insinuated that Dr Alkatiri, as a Muslim in largely Catholic East Timor, should not hold high office.
He and former president Jose Ramos Horta, once the diplomatic faces of East Timor's resistance against Indonesia's 24-year occupation, have also been accused of strutting the international stage while their countrymen and women shed blood at home.
Others allege Mr Gusmao, prime minister from 2007 to 2015, allowed rampant cronyism during his party's decade in power. His nephew, Nilton Gusmao, has held lucrative government contracts and is said to be one of the country's wealthiest men.
Dr Alkatiri's government has been forced back to the polls after the AMP blocked supply, arguing the minority government was unconstitutional.
It was the pursuit of a dream in the face of near-impossible odds that helped East Timor achieve nationhood in 2002.
But the question for this election is whether the lofty ambitions of the CNRT government have brought the young country to the brink of crisis by sinking billions of dollars into two dubious megaprojects it insists will kick-start a sustainable economic future.
The multi-billion-dollar Tasi Mane petrochemical park on the south coast is intended to process gas from the undeveloped Greater Sunrise gas fields, while a $167 million free-trade zone, with airport, hotels and a marina, is being developed in the Oecussi enclave.
Gusmao's government "front loaded" public spending on both, reasoning they would lead to the development of a domestic oil and gas industry and provide roads, ports and electricity useful to industries such as agriculture, tourism and manufacturing.
East Timor must build up alternative income sources to oil, and quickly. About 90 per cent of the government's budget comes from dwindling revenues from the Bayu Undan oil and gas field which will be tapped out by 2023 and money from its National Petroleum Fund.
On current spending that fund will be exhausted before 2028, too soon to develop alternative income streams. Meanwhile, the logic behind the investment in Tasi Mane is looking flimsy.
The World Bank and IMF have repeatedly expressed doubts about its viability and warned the government's priority must be developing the non-oil economy.
La'o Hamutuk, a Dili think tank which has warned for years of the need to prepare for the end of oil revenue, has called for spending on Tasi Mane to be suspended until agreement is reached on the proposed Greater Sunrise pipeline. No party has signed up to that.
The think tank has sounded the alarm on the future sovereign risk of borrowing money for unviable projects from "less scrupulous" lenders, echoing concerns raised in the region in relation to Chinese loans, though its debt exposure is not high.
Tasi Mane's viability depends on piping an estimated $53 billion worth of gas from Greater Sunrise across a deep-sea trench to East Timor, when onshore LNG processing facilities already exist in Darwin. The joint-venture developers favour the Darwin option.
East Timor had hoped that in winning its dispute with Australia in March to establish permanent maritime boundaries, it could compel developers to agree to the pipeline. Instead, the UN Conciliation Commission which ruled in its favour on the border issue reaffirmed doubts about the Timor processing option, concluding it was commercially unviable.
During the election debate, the AMP coalition was asked repeatedly what its contingency plans were for Tasi Mane if the pipeline fell through. It did not answer the question.
"With every investment there is risk but we need to have a political decision to do things because if not, everything is impossible and this country will never move forward," says Mericio Akara, a co-founder of the People's Liberation Party with Taur Matan Ruak, Mr Gusmao's deputy during the resistance.
Until March last year Mr Ruak was East Timor's president and a one-man opposition force in the final few years of the CNRT government which formed a national unity government with Fretilin.
Mr Ruak accused Mr Gusmao and Dr Alkatiri in parliament of awarding lucrative contracts to family and friends while ordinary Timorese did without basic services. Yet his PLP party has now joined forces with CNRT.
"We know the problems, but what is to be done?" says Mr Akara. "If we have no infrastructure, investors will not come. This is the first step, so that we can attract other investors to invest in the non-oil sector.
"Those now saying 'we will collapse' that's not helpful. If all you do is worry the people, what are you achieving?"
But after years of watching the country's oil wealth poured into megaprojects at the expense of running water, schools and health clinics, ordinary East Timorese are worried.
UN figures last month, which showed almost half the population lived below the extreme poverty line and half of children under five suffered malnutrition-related physical and mental stunting, drew a furious reaction from Mr Ramos Horta.
"If I had been a prime minister for 10 years, I would have focused all those 10 years on quality education, on rural development and that means water and sanitation for the people," he said.
The issue is not just that the government has failed to invest sufficiently in lifting the lives of its people, but that many believe too much of that money has gone into the pockets of the elite.
Central to concerns is the lack of transparency surrounding multi-million-dollar contracts.
"Cronyism has become a hot topic this campaign because, after 10 years in power, what has Xanana done to make the lives of ordinary people better?" said one long-time activist. "If we leave it another five years to these guys, it will be a disaster for Timor Leste."
Jose Antonio de Jesus das Neves was a deputy anti-corruption commissioner until early last year when he ran unsuccessfully for president. Now Deputy Education Minister, he says previous efforts to hold government to account over graft and cronyism were sometimes frustrated by intervention from the highest level.
"We have a lot of unfinished projects, many of them with no clear result from money spent," he says. "There needs to be a transition of leadership from these big guys to the next generation. If we don't fix these problems soon they will become more complicated and difficult to solve."
Estevao Nuno Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) Timor Aid aims to preserve Timor's culture through book documentation to inform Timorese in the future about their culture.
The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Timor Aid, Florentino Sarmento said besides promoting the original culture of Timor, Timor Aid also attempted to regenerate cultures that are becoming extinct.
"When other countries refer to these things [books], then people will know that we are from Timor," he said in Dili.
He said every municipality has its own culture that needs to be promoted starting within the country and internationally.
He said the original culture of Timor-Leste "is in danger of extinction because schools do not teach culture and our youth learns other subjects, such as music and technologies which makes them forget our own culture," he said.
He said Timor Aid's mission is to preserve Timorese culture through documentation and archival to preserve history and then make it available to new generations of Timorese.
On the other hand, a student Tourism and Travel, Inacio da Silva Amaral acknowledged that the new generation is forgetting the culture and focusses more on modern culture.
He said culture is the country's identity and that is why they have developed the MICE program to remind the youth about their cultural heritage.
"We combine it also. There two types: original culture and culture with modern feel to show other countries that Timorese can also organize its own events," he said.
"We use our own culture such as Tais and other elements and then present them to the representatives from all municipalities in Timor."
He also has concerns that culture is being lost in Timor-Leste in favour of modern culture.
"Today's youths try to adopt modern culture from other countries but we ask all youths to maintain our culture, uphold our country by fixing the quality of Timor's culture," he said.
On the other hand, the President of the Youth Council from Dili Municipality, Manecas Lobo dos Santos asked the youths as the new generation, to take active part in preserving Timor's culture like tais weaving.
"Preserve our traditional activities and do not over modernize it and so we don't lose it," he said.
He said in rural areas some communities continue to maintain our culture such as weaving baskets and Tais weaving, but the worse thing is that young women who live in urban areas do not know about these practices.
"The young women are not interested in promoting our culture," he said.
Vincent Paunovic A country under siege for decades, Timor-Leste has more than its fair share of challenges as it seeks to develop, recover and move forward after decades of struggle under its occupation by Indonesia that only ended in 2001.
Some of the key problems Timor-Leste faces are environmental and economic (among many others) and these two in particular came to a head with the issue of crocodiles in the island nation.
Under Indonesian rule (and Portuguese before that) crocodile culling was the norm. However, crocodiles are sacred to the Timorese, so once the country gained sovereignty the government granted saltwater crocodiles a protected status as they sought to rectify a sense of national identity and culture.
Culling became outlawed in 2002, and the effect was detrimental to many communities, the majority of which rely on subsistence living like fishing.
The saltwater crocodile population skyrocketed growing to such an extent that it saw a dramatic increase in crocodile and human conflict. This has rendered many beaches in Timor-Leste largely un-swimmable and many communities live in constant fear of crocodile attacks.
In recent years Timor-Leste appears to have conquered its turbulent history and has seen relative stability.
The nation is in the process of rebuilding much needed infrastructure and slowly creating a tourism sector. President Taur Matan Ruak (2012 2017) knew of the crocodile related issues when he undertook a diplomatic trip to Australia in 2012, noticing how successful Australian management incentives were and how the correlating crocodile farms had also become a tourist draw.
This led him to make moves to institute similar management incentives in Timor. However for the Timorese, the crocodile holds an intense cultural significance in Timor-Leste, so any management incentives would then need to delicately cater to these animals and local customs.
With this in mind, I flew to Timor-Leste hoping to learn more about the cultural significance of the crocodile, and the outcome of the task force.
It was a hot humid day in Dili for my first interview. The locals crowded in the shade trying to find some reprieve from the intense heat and the streets were possessed with lethargy.
I crossed the road, navigating through a river of scooters and microlets (the brightly painted vans that serve as public transport in Dili), finally reaching the cool air-conditioning of the cafe in Hotel Timor, a five star hotel near the port and the Presidential Palace, to discuss the cultural significance of the crocodile with anthropologist Josh Trindade an expert on all cultural nuances of the 16 ethnic groups of Timor-Leste.
Trindade had been working as an adviser for the crocodile task force, assisting them with identifying potential cultural barriers that could arise as well as providing the task force with a crash course on the importance of the crocodile.
Timor-Leste's origin story lies with the crocodile, telling of its original ancestor Lafaek Diak 'The Good Crocodile' and a young boy; the crocodile sacrifices itself to create the land of Timor Leste, the mountains his spine, a home for the boy who had trusted him enough to ride his back to a new land.
The crocodile is a prehistoric and resilient animal and judging by Timor-Leste's history, this resilience is a characteristic that the people and the nation seemed to have inherited. The crocodile in Timor-Leste is considered lulik 'sacred' and the Timorese believe that they are ancestors often referred to as Abo Lafaek 'Grandfather Crocodile'.
It is hard to gauge an accurate number of crocodile related deaths or attacks per annum as the stigma that surrounds a crocodile attack quite often keeps communities silent.
Many believe that a crocodile attack is a punishment by their ancestors for familial transgressions, and it is not uncommon for families to not report a crocodile related death or disappearance due to the stigma that comes with an attack.
The beliefs that surround the crocodile vary from region to region, there are some clans that keep them as pets and believe they can communicate with them, others who consider lulik crocodile more as a warning and keep their distance.
Josh Trindade believes that the success of the crocodile management incentives will largely be dictated by the relationship that the task force develops with the communities involved, and an awareness that each situation relating to a problem croc will need a case by case sensibility due to the variation of the beliefs.
It's hard to come to terms with the true spiritual significance of the crocodile when discussing theory and studies; it became clear that I would need to meet eyes with a Lafaek to understand the visceral mysticism that surrounds the crocodile... Luckily I had been tipped off on the whereabouts of some crocodiles in Dili.
I reached the Bairo Pite markets just before lunch and the heat and humidity had already drenched my t-shirt and shorts. I had been getting confused stares from locals at shop stalls a tall malai 'foreigner' walking through the labyrinth of alleys and shacks in Bairo Pite, carrying three frozen chickens and asking about Lafaek. Officers at the BOP compound
Finally, I reached the BOP (paramilitary police) compound. The BOP guards at the front gate see my chickens and immediately understand my purpose. "Lafaek? Lafaek?" they repeated.
Three uniformed elite police led me five feet from the guardhouse to where a goliath saltwater crocodile lived. His name was 'Aminu' which means bodyguard. I was taken aback by its sheer size and prehistoric gaze.
It was well over 12 feet long and its head was roughly my height (6 foot 2). Its attention was immediately drawn to me as it started to follow me around the perimeter of the enclosure. As Aminu began to lean and claw against the fence with his sheer predatory mass, the mesh wire warped and bent; I began to question the structural integrity behind meshed number 8 wire as a means of holding back the force of the apex predator.
Meanwhile, the BOP guards cheered and encouraged their gargantuan friend as he crushed a frozen chicken in his jaws with ease.
The BOP headquarters houses three rehabilitated crocs: Aminu (Bodyguard), Sparro (Sword) and Rama (Beret). They have essentially been adopted as totems by the BOP who have named three special divisions after the crocs, with each divisions' barracks being accordingly placed near the correlating Abo Lafaek. They sleep next to and maintain the wellbeing of the totem under their watch, and vice versa.
The military also has its own larger crocodiles which are cared for in the same way. It was clear to me watching the guards feed the crocodiles that the BOP officers love their crocs. It gives them a fortified sense of strength which fits in well to the very masculine-centric world they inhabit. The enclosures for the crocs are unfortunately small, but this is in no part a reflection of the care that the crocodiles are shown.
More a reflection of Timor-Leste's lack of funds and budget for such things. If possible the BOP would give their grandfather crocodiles larger enclosures, but the little Government spending available is prioritized towards development of the basic infrastructure that is lacking in Timor-Leste.
I was surprised to find out that the crocodiles at the BOP headquarters are not advertised as an attraction for tourists, although the officers seemed more than happy to accommodate a visit and show me the Lafaek.
I had assumed that maybe the Ministry of Tourism was unaware that tourists would actually want to see the crocs, or that perhaps the motions were being made to introduce them into a paid controlled tour. A later meeting with the head of the task force would elaborate as to why these police crocodiles are not common knowledge to tourists or foreigners.
I would have been lost and stranded had I not organized a last minute translator for my next interview. Having the local geographical knowledge of Cosme Rubilai de Oliveira was a lifesaver when trying to locate a building which shared the name with half a dozen other buildings in Dili. I showed him a photo of the building and he recognized it from memory.
We hailed a microlet and walked through the pastels of the Indonesian district, spending half an hour navigating the halls of the government building asking for Flaminio Gusmao, who had been the acting head of the Crocodile Management Task Force.
The people most affected by crocodile attacks are rural communities; as Timor-Leste's human habitat expanded, so too did the crocodile habitat until it lead to a series of flashpoints. Agricultural workers, fisherman and children were most at risk, as it was these groups that would most often wander into crocodile territory. Many crocs began to adopt local fishing grounds and waterways as hunting grounds.
Much of the work done by the crocodile management came in the form of educating local communities on how to identify and avoid habitats, and essentially manage Lafaek themselves. This was one of the greatest successes of the task force due to its effectiveness and its affordability. The Australian-trained handlers were only called in if the community was dealing with a particularly aggressive croc.
During the progression of the interview I was saddened to hear that the Crocodile Management Task Force had its funding cut, essentially leaving it defunct this was partly why the crocodiles at the BOP base were not advertised as an option for tourists.
Again the importance of the task force paled in comparison to the other issues the country was facing. Solace could be found in the fact that the task force had instituted educational programs which can largely be sustained within the communities affected, but for Flaminio he had future goals that he hoped to achieve through the task force.
He wanted to help develop a crocodile farm with suitably large enclosures that could be used to humanely house the aggressive crocodiles that would have to be re-habitated. The crocodiles would be handled and cared for by local spiritual handlers named lenai who respect the cultural importance these prehistoric predators hold within the country.
He hoped that this would in turn create a community driven ecotourism network that would give back to the community and sustain itself.
The crocodile management incentives had been a push in the right direction for Timor-Leste, a clever and progressive solution to a problem faced by the young nation, essentially catering to the local customs and cultural nuances while also trying to improve other sectors mainly tourism and environment. However the lack of funds has shown the struggles still faced.
Throughout Timor-Leste you see a large proportion of those involved in the tourism sector pushing for eco-sensitive methods. Many expats and locals who were present for the turmoil the country has suffered through are wanting to assist in creating a regenerative and sustainable tourism industry to breathe new life into its struggling economy.
Looking at the natural beauty of the beaches, the current stability and safety, rainforests, culture, and the largely untraveled mystique of the land leaves me with high hopes for the future of Timor-Leste and its 'Abo Lafaek'.
Edward Cavanough, Dili Timor Leste headed to the polls on May 12 in its second general election in as many years, with the opposition coalition of parties led by the National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT) claiming victory.
Over six months of political stalemate had forced President Francisco Guterres to absolve the parliament in January 2018, calling an early election for the first time in the nation's short history.
The resulting campaign centered largely on economic issues, leaving gender issues under-debated. In particular, there is no clear policy on offer to recognize the key role women played during the country's resistance against Indonesia from 1975-1999.
Like most Timorese elections since independence, the May 12 poll was a contest between two former military leaders Mari Alkatiri and Xanana Gusmao demonstrating how high-profile male veterans of the resistance continue to leverage their heroics for political gain.
The dominance of the male protagonists of the resistance in Timorese politics reflects the societal and economic advantages of male resistance fighters, who benefit from policies and social attitudes that rightfully valorize their war-time bravery.
But for the women who also played a central role in Timor-Leste's independence war, recognition for their contribution is muted, constrained by policy settings that marginalize the essential role women played in liberating the nation.
It's hard to understate the all-encompassing nature of Timor-Leste's generation-long resistance against Suharto's Indonesia. It was a conflict that resulted in the loss of a quarter of Timor-Leste's pre-war population, and necessitated all to contribute including thousands of Timorese women.
Occasionally, women did fight alongside men on the frontline. But more often, they were actively involved in the clandestinos, a sophisticated network of undercover informants responsible for smuggling supplies, medicine, weaponry and information to the front. Sixty percent of the clandestinos were female.
Over late night coffee in Dili's Villa Verde district, I sat with Simona Tilman, a nurse whose secret job during the war is illustrative of the mosaic of roles women played, which are rarely recognized by the state.
From her office at the International Red Cross in Dili, Tilman would coordinate with her fellow clandestinos to distribute medicine to those fighting in the mountains.
"We would send medicine to the front... to Xanana [Gusmao]," she said. "We would steal supplies [from the Red Cross offices] and distribute them to those fighting on the front lines."
Thousands of others were actively engaged in similarly secret, illegal operations often right under the nose of Indonesian authorities in Dili. It was dangerous, vital work, but it was work without a title. It is these contributions that Timor-Leste's government has failed to adequately recognize.
Dr. Lia Kent of the Australian National University has spent much of her career exploring the role of women in post-war Timorese society. She fears that women's roles in the resistance are "under-recognized."
"There is little official effort to remember women's contributions to the liberation struggle," Kent says.
Of chief concern is the effective exclusion of women from government schemes intended to "valorize" and reward veterans for their service.
Kent believes the nature of these schemes is such that they prohibit women from ever really being able to access their benefits as a result of their personal contributions to the resistance.
"The schemes calculate pension amounts on the basis of a person's 'rank' within formal resistance structures. Women are far less likely than men to have held a formal rank," says Kent.
While many women receive a "survival pension," this is dependent on them having lost a spouse in the war. It ignores the women's own contributions.
"97.5 percent [of women receiving compensation] were receiving the survival pension," Kent and Naomi Kinsella, a human rights consultant, wrote in a 2015 study. "[This] means they were not receiving a pension in recognition of their own contribution, but that of a family member."
Kent's concerns are echoed in a 2010 report by the International Center for Transnational Justice.
It found that "By choosing to valorize the armed and clandestine sides of the resistance movement, the state has marginalized the role of women during the civil war and Indonesian occupation."
Similar conclusions were drawn by the Asian Development Bank in 2015: "Despite their active involvement, many women feel their contribution has not been sufficiently recognized."
This enduring lack of recognition, however, is not the only challenge faced by women in contemporary Timor-Leste.
During my time in Dili, officials, locals, and expatriates I spoke with stressed that the question of wartime recognition was just one of a range of gender issues in the country, and hardly the only example of policy failing Timorese women.
Domestic violence was only outlawed in 2010, and both sexual and physical violence remain prevalent.
The Asia Foundation in 2015 reported that 59 percent of Timorese women in relationships between the ages of 15-49 have experienced some form of sexual or physical violence. Perhaps as alarmingly, the research found that over 80 percent of Timorese (men and women) believe it is "justifiable for a husband to hit his wife under certain circumstances."
The prevalence of sexual violence is especially abhorrent considering the extent to which Timorese women suffered the same kind of trauma during the Indonesian occupation, when sexual assault was weaponized against the local population often clandestinos.
Further recognizing the role women played in Timor-Leste's resistance won't eliminate these scourges in modern Timorese society. But doing so would demonstrate the government's commitment to valuing and respecting Timorese women more broadly.
Despite war's undoubted impact on women, conflict can, paradoxically, also fast-forward women's rights. In the West, the horrors of war were juxtaposed by numerous advances in gender equality. The all-consuming nature of conflict necessitated that everyone contribute to the effort, on the frontline and the home front, creating new opportunities for women.
But once the guns fall silent, postwar societies often reject the societal change that conflict brought.
In the West, the postwar years saw a fierce resistance to the advances in gender equity of the 1940s. The following decade saw many of those advances simply rejected: after so much progress, gender equity took a backward step.
This dynamic risks being replicated in Timor-Leste today. Should policy continue to fail to protect women and marginalize their contribution to the country's liberation, it is hard to see a better deal for women in Timor-Leste on the horizon.
As my evening ended at Tilman's, I put down my empty mug and leaned back in the lounge chair on her patio.
"Do you think the women of the resistance will ever receive the recognition they deserve?" I asked. Tilman replied with only the faintest optimism. "Maybe. Maybe one day."
Helen Davidson Newly declassified documents have revealed that Australia appeared driven by a desire for oil and gas rights when it was deciding to legitimise the Indonesian occupation of Timor-Leste.
The documents, which date from the early 1970s, were among files subject to a long running freedom-of-information dispute between an academic and the National Archives.
A five-day hearing went before the administrative appeals tribunal (AAT) last week. Much of the government's evidence was given in secret, with the applicant, the academic and author Kim McGrath, and her lawyers prevented from hearing the reasons successive governments blocked her applications over a number of years. The tribunal reserved its decision.
Under the Archives Act, cabinet documents are made public after 30 years, with exemptions. However, during the hearing, the National Archives released some of the files in question, including cabinet submissions and diplomatic cables.
McGrath claims they supported her research findings that federal governments appear to have deliberately hidden the key role its interests in oil and gas reserves had in Australia's diplomatic history with Indonesia and Timor-Leste.
Indonesia invaded Timor-Leste in 1975, and in 1979 Australia became the only western nation to formally recognise its sovereignty. The violent occupation continued until 1999.
McGrath, who last year published a book, "Crossing the Line: Australia's Secret History in the Timor Sea", said the documents made public this week suggested the Australian government was "embarrassed" to publicly reveal that border negotiations were the key issue motivating Australia to give legitimacy to Indonesia's occupation.
"It wasn't just that we wanted to appease Indonesia for the sake of being friendly with a big neighbour. It was because we had a direct commercial interest."
A newly unredacted 1978 cabinet submission by the then-foreign affairs minister, Andrew Peacock, discussed the implications of moving towards either "de facto" recognition of Timor-Leste as effectively but informally under the control of Indonesia, or to formally declare "de jure" recognition of Indonesia's sovereignty.
De jure recognition would allow the two countries to formally negotiate.
"In the material that was released, there's a line that used to say 'a natural and steady progression to de facto recognition' and then it was redacted the next few lines," McGrath said.
"What's been revealed underneath the black ink is that it goes on to say 'and ultimately, by falling in with international developments, full acceptance of East Timor as part of Indonesia so as to allow the negotiation of the seabed boundary between Australia and Indonesia in the missing link section adjacent to East Timor'."
The submission from Peacock who had been vocal in opposition to Indonesia's actions recommended the government use the term "full acceptance" before moving towards de jure, which would allow for a speedy track towards negotiations, but cabinet later amended the submission to use de facto, effectively sabotaging his speed-up efforts, McGrath said.
It was one of at least three newly unredacted paragraphs of Peacock's submission that referenced seabed negotiations.
Another suggested using the commencement of negotiations to mark Australia's formal recognition of Indonesia's sovereignty but warned against appearing anxious, lest Indonesia use it to bargain a better deal for themselves.
The deliberations, of which treaty negotiations now appear to have been a driving factor, came amid a worsening humanitarian situation on Timor-Leste.
McGrath said the released documents also illustrate the government's attempts to avoid backlash from the public. At the time, members of the public and some members of parliament were uneasy with Australia's diplomacy with Indonesia and angry about the human rights abuses, including mass starvations, in Timor-Leste, which were at a peak in 1978.
While critical of the invasion, in early 1978 Peacock publicly justified having closer ties with Indonesia and recognising its sovereignty with the need to work with its government to provide humanitarian aid to Timor-Leste and facilitate family reunions.
The public statements were silent on the maritime boundary negotiations, McGrath said.
In December, Peacock and the then Indonesian foreign affairs minister, Mochtar Kusumaatmadja, announced Australia's recognition of an incorporated East Timor would be marked by the start of seabed negotiations.
Two diplomatic cables from 1972 also released this week including one from Australia's ambassador to Indonesia, also suggest the government was fully aware international law was trending against its position in treaty negotiations with Indonesia in that the border should be at the edge of Australia's (wide) continental shelf, instead of a midpoint between the two land masses as was increasingly favoured by the international community.
Australia's fractious negotiations over maritime borders with Timor-Leste and Indonesia stretches back decades and is marred by diplomatic disputes and accusations of espionage.
In March they largely came to an end, as Timor-Leste and Australia signed a treaty agreeing to a permanent maritime border and establishing a "special regime" area to share the untapped multibillion-dollar gas field in the Timor Sea. Exactly how that will be divided and where the extracted gas will be processed remains in question.
Human rights groups and observers claimed the treaty confirmed Australia had been profiting for years from resources that had been Timor-Leste's all along.
The foreign affairs minister, Julie Bishop, told Guardian Australia the treaty established a joint development framework "for the benefit of both countries".
"Both governments deemed this treaty to be fair and equitable," she said. Bishop declined to comment on other matters before the AAT.
At the beginning of the tribunal hearing, 24 files remained in contention, nine of which were produced by the department of foreign affairs, the rest by the attorney general's department, the cabinet office, and the departments of external territories, natural resources, and of prime minister and cabinet.
The majority of them related to negotiations between Australia and Indonesia on the continental shelf boundaries and law of the sea delimitation with Timor-Leste.
A spokeswoman for Gordon Legal, which is representing McGrath pro bono in the case, said the secret hearing of the government's defence for withholding the documents was "deeply concerning".
"Transparency and accountability on the part of governments is a key part of our democracy, the fact we can't scrutinise why the government won't hand over documents in this case leaves Kim [McGrath] with more questions than answers in her pursuit of the truth about our involvement in Timor."
The National Archives has been contacted for comment.
Jose Belo, Dili, Timor-Leste Timor-Leste's parliamentary elections on May 12 have returned Xanana Gusmao to the Government Palace in Dili in an alliance that gives him enough votes to govern in his own right.
While Gusmao has won an election held only 10 months after the July 2017 poll, his CNRT (Party for Timorese Reconstruction Party) lost to FRETILIN (Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor) in the earlier election, albeit by a small margin. This forced him into an alliance with sometime rivals to secure the latest poll.
This suggests the people of Timor-Leste trust him, but they are not so happy with his previous government.
Timor-Leste voters sent a wake-up call to their leaders in the recent election. They are asking that the leaders, and most importantly, Gusmao, to continue governing but change their ways.
This all comes after a decade of high level government spending fueled by oil and gas riches. But questions remain. Has Timor-Leste gotten value for their money? Has the government's spending priorities reflected the wishes and needs of ordinary Timorese voters?
Gusmao is seen as a leader with historical legitimacy, a man who has brought many good things to Timor-Leste since independence.
He resolved the 2006 political crisis, albeit despite being complicit in precipitating it, compensated petitioners, gave pensions to the veterans, initiated the beginnings of a social safety net for the poor, brought rural businesses into the private sector, brought electricity to the villages, and made many other positive changes.
Most recently he won a victory for Timor-Leste's maritime sovereignty with a boundary agreement with Australia although some see the deal as rushed for political expediency ahead of the recent poll.
But, there are complaints that the new government needs to address, and do so quickly in the first year of the new AMP (Alliance of Change and Progress) government.
Firstly, trust must be restored in the country's leadership and to do that the lifetime pension for politicians needs to end. Office holders must likewise be held accountable through an annual declaration of assets.
Any forms of corruption must be stamped out among the country's politicians and civil servants.
The people think, rightly, that leaders seek positions in order to make big salaries and look after themselves. Salaries and benefits need to be cut to reasonable levels. If the leaders give up benefits and stop corrupt activities then only then can the leaders ask people to work hard, sweat, and build a better country.
Secondly, the government must strengthen anti-corruption laws and pursue corruptors at all levels in Timorese society, from the remotest mountain village to Government Palace.
Looking ahead, Timor-Leste needs to move beyond its reliance on oil and gas and the government needs to prioritize the needs of the people who also need to become a community that can create wealth rather than just consume it.
The Petroleum Fund was large but it is getting smaller and it will not last forever. Revenues from it could cease as early as 2026.
After ten years the country has built many things, but not enough for the land, human resources and environment. It is no small feat required of the people. We need to change focus.
Timorese are an agricultural people and it is a strength that needs to be prioritised and improved. More resources must be driven into building up the agricultural productivity and diversification. Funds need to be allocated to improving our farmers' skills and their output so they can move from subsistence agriculture to agri-business.
Ordinary Timorese are not educated enough. Millions and millions have been spent on government scholarships to build the skills of technical experts, but the chiLdren have been left behind. The primary, secondary and tertiary educational institutions are underfunded and under prioritised.
The country would rather pay high tuition fees for international universities than improve the education of the 10-year-olds. This needs to stop or there will be a generation of Timorese who cannot contribute to the nation.
The country must change ways in the education sector to protect the future. School feeding programmes need improvement: a hungry child is not a child that can learn well.
The health of the people is poor, they are eating too much sugar and drinking too much beer. Timor-Leste need to dramatically improve public and preventative healthcare. The voters are asking for it.
Rural clinics are an embarrassment. The country would rather send the rich and leaders to hospitals in Indonesia and Singapore than improve the standards of the children's healthcare. It is not right nor is it wise. There can be no prosperity without good healthcare.
Timor-Leste needs to focus on its people in the rural areas. They need improved electricity access, improved rural roads, water and sanitation facilities. Improving these important assets will improve the ability of farmers and rural people to do business, the healthcare standards of people in the mountains and for schools to be where they should.
For sure, highways airports and bridges are important, but there needs to be a refocus on rural communities and their basic infrastructure needs such as water and sanitation.
About 65 percent of Timorese live next to or within sight of the sea. Timor-Leste has been negotiating maritime boundaries with Indonesia and managing new boundaries with Australia. With these boundaries come opportunities and challenges.
Future oil and gas resources need to be protected and developed very carefully. The fisheries can and should be an important source of sustainable income for Timorese for generations to come. The sea can also attract tourists to the coastal regions.
If Timor-Leste can protect and enhance its coastlines, tourists will be enticed to the villages creating jobs and income in a sustainable manner. But the sea can also bring problems. Rising sea levels, disasters, and smuggling. A coordinating ministry of maritime affairs is needed, just as Indonesia has done.
Again, there is much the Timorese need to do and they need to begin work today. The country just needs a trustworthy government to lead the way.
Hao Duy Phan On May 9, 2018, the Conciliation Commission in the maritime boundary dispute between Timor-Leste and Australia issued its report, marking the conclusion of the first-ever conciliation proceedings under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
This ground-breaking conciliation case culminated in the report by the Commission and settled a long and acrimonious maritime boundary dispute a serious obstacle in the otherwise very good relationship between the two neighbors.
Australia and Timor-Leste are separated geographically by the Timor Sea. Under UNCLOS, each coastal state is entitled to a 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone, but as the nearest distance between the two neighbors is approximately 243 nautical miles, there are overlapping areas that need to be delimited.
After Timor-Leste gained independence in 2002, it entered into negotiations with Australia, but the two states were not able to agree on the guiding principle for delimitation. Australia favored the natural prolongation principle that a coastal state's maritime boundary should, as far as possible, be drawn where the natural extension of its land mass ends. Timor-Leste instead relied on the median line principle that the boundary should conform to a median line, every point of which is equidistant from nearest points on the baselines of the two states.
Australia and Timor-Leste are both parties to UNCLOS. Two months before Timor-Leste's independence, Australia made a declaration closing the door to arbitration or adjudication on maritime boundary disputes. Under the Convention, however, such disputes may still be subject to compulsory conciliation, which can be initiated unilaterally "at the request of any party."
On April 11, 2016, Timor-Leste initiated the conciliation proceedings. On June 25 of that year, a five-member conciliation commission was constituted. On September 29, 2016, in response to Australia's objection to its competence, the Commission issued a unanimous decision, finding that it had the competence to conciliate the dispute. It then convened 13 rounds of meetings with the parties to examine their claims, propose confidence-building measures, and assist the parties in resolving their differences and reaching an amicable settlement on maritime boundary. It also met with representatives of relevant oil and gas companies to facilitate arrangements on joint development of the resource, and the sharing of the resulting revenue.
While UNCLOS conciliation is not binding, its outcome is significant. The Convention requires the Commission to produce a report recording any agreements reached and, absent an agreement, its conclusions and recommendations on questions of fact or law relevant to the dispute. The two states then have the obligation to negotiate an agreement based on the conclusion and recommendations of the Commission. If the negotiation fails, they have the obligation to submit the dispute "by mutual consent" to binding adjudication or arbitration.
With the facilitation of the Commission, the parties agreed on a settlement treaty, which was signed on March 6, 2018. The Commission issued its report on May 9.
The settlement treaty establishes a permanent and binding continental shelf and exclusive economic zone boundary between the opposite coasts, which is largely an adjusted median line. Some parts of the compromised lateral lines are provisional and subject to possible adjustments depending on the outcome of the ongoing maritime boundary negotiation between Timor-Leste and Indonesia.
The treaty also establishes a special regime for the Greater Sunrise oil and gas fields. It provides that the ratio of revenue sharing will depend on the location of the pipeline. Specifically, if Dili is chosen to be the destination of the pipeline (option 1), Australia will receive 30 percent of the revenue and Timor-Leste will receive 70 percent. However, if Darwin is chosen to be the destination of the pipeline (option 2), Australia will only receive 20 percent while Timor-Leste will receive 80 percent of the revenue. The parties have not reached an agreement on either option. Timor-Leste prefers option 1 while Australia prefers option 2.
The report recalls the background to the dispute, provides a procedural account of the conciliation process and offers the Commission's reflections on the proceedings. It records the agreements reached by the parties and recommends that the parties implement the agreements. It also recommends that the parties continue their discussions and reach an agreement regarding the development of Greater Sunrise.
Although there remains unfinished business, the outcome has been very positive. There are several factors that have contributed to this encouraging outcome. First, the compulsory nature of the proceedings is largely responsible for compelling Australia to engage in the conciliation process. After its objection to the commission's competence failed to prevail, Australia has participated in the proceedings in good faith.
Second, the nonadversarial nature of the conciliation process allows the Commission to consider not only the legal arguments but also the political and economic concerns of the parties in finding a solution that was acceptable to both sides. As the Commission observes in its report, this is a "hallmark advantage of conciliation as compared to adjudication" and "effective conciliation requires that a careful mix of diplomatic and legal skills, backgrounds, and approaches be deployed in varying combinations at different stages of the process."
Third, the one-year time limit and the requirements on the content of the report were helpful as well in creating pressures on both parties and the Commission to come up quickly with a workable proposal.
Fourth, the parties were fortunate to have an active, united, and strong Commission. The critical importance of an effective Commission should not be discounted, especially in providing a favorable environment for settlement with its trust-building measures, shifting the parties' focus away from their "deeply entrenched" legal positions and towards the settlement by taking a problem-solving approach and advancing its own proposal of a package deal that was eventually accepted by the parties.
Finally, leaders of both parties have showed the political will to work with the Commission to settle the dispute.
As the first compulsory conciliation case under a multilateral treaty, the Timor-Leste-Australia conciliation has set a very positive precedent of using conciliation to settle interstate maritime disputes. The case shows the functionality of UNCLOS conciliation, as it was able to resolve a decades-long and highly complex dispute in such an efficient manner. States with boundary disputes, and a distaste for arbitration and adjudication, should take a good look at this case.
Conciliation is nonadversarial and could effectively facilitate an efficient bargaining outcome. Given the goodwill on both sides, conciliation in either compulsory or voluntary form can be used to peacefully settle international disputes that may otherwise prove intractable in an adversarial process.
Rebecca Strating and Clive Schofield In April, Australia and Timor-Leste reached agreement on their maritime boundaries in the Timor Sea. This resolved a longstanding source of contention between them.
The potential benefits of this historic breakthrough are now in peril, because the critical issue of how the shared oil and gas of the Timor Sea are to be developed remains in dispute.
Australia and Timor-Leste's boundary agreement was achieved thanks to a unique dispute resolution process: the United Nations Compulsory Conciliation Commission. The commission was initiated under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
Because both Australia and Timor are parties to UNCLOS, Timor was able to invoke a compulsory conciliation process. It was the first time this has occurred.
Australia was at first reluctant to engage in the UNCC process. It lost its argument that the commission did not have the competence to negotiate the dispute. Australia did then engage with the process in good faith.
Indeed, the success of the UNCC was in large part due to the willingness of both parties to participate in good faith. A series of "confidence building" measures in 2016 helped build trust between the states.
By January 2017, Australia had agreed to terminate the existing Certain Maritime Agreement on the Timor Sea (CMATS). In return, Timor-Leste dropped two international legal cases it had initiated against Australia.
The process set up a neutral commission to run facilitated negotiations over a year, although sessions ultimately ran from July 2016 to February 2018.
While participation in the conciliation was compulsory for the parties, it differed from an arbitration process, such as an international court, because the commission's recommendations could only be non-binding. A crucial aspect of these facilitated negotiations were the discussion papers that allowed both states to think creatively about solving the dispute.
Ultimately, the process succeeded in its primary aim of helping Australia and Timor-Leste to resolve their long-running dispute in the Timor Sea. The breakthrough came in July 2017, when the countries outlined to the commission the points on which they were willing to compromise.
On August 30, an agreement on maritime boundaries, revenue split and an action plan for their engagement in the joint venture was reached. The maritime boundary treaty was signed on April 6 2018.
On May 9 2018, the commission, to little media fanfare, released its report and recommendations on the conciliation.
The report provides valuable insights into the ongoing disputes over development of the Greater Sunrise complex of gas fields located in the Timor Sea a critical issue for Timor-Leste's future economic security and development.
Australia and Timor-Leste asked the UNCC to extend its mandate to include the development concept for Greater Sunrise. This extended the sessions beyond the initial one-year period.
Despite its significant success in helping the states agree on maritime boundaries in the Timor Sea, the report indicates little progress was made on the question of how Greater Sunrise gas would be processed.
Crucially, Timor-Leste's lead negotiator and newly re-installed prime minister, Xanana Gusmao, has consistently advocated a pipeline to the south coast of Timor-Leste to support the development of a Timorese oil and gas processing hub.
The Sunrise Venture Partners (SVP), led by Woodside, have preferred either a floating platform or, more recently, back-filling an existing processing plant in Darwin. Australia, for its part, describes itself as "pipeline neutral", but supports the decision of the commercial venture partners.
To address this issue, the SVP was invited to participate in the commission process. The report suggests very little progress has been made between the three parties Australia, Timor-Leste and the SVP on this dispute.
The commission considered two development concepts, based in Darwin and Timor Leste respectively. According to Gusmao, the pipeline to Timor-Leste is "non-negotiable". Yet, there is little impartial evidence that this concept would be commercially viable.
In an effort to find a way out of the impasse, the commission employed an independent consultant from a London-based firm, Gaffney, Cline & Associates, to comparatively analyse the two development concepts.
The specialist's assessment, provided in Annexe 27 of the report, said that for a Timorese processing hub to achieve an acceptable return, the Timorese government or another funder would have to subsidise the project to the tune of US$5.6 billion. This is about four times Timor-Leste's annual GDP, or more than one-third of its Petroleum Wealth Fund.
A letter from Gusmao leaked to the commission in February 2018 after the last round of UNCC meetings accused the commission of lacking impartiality, preferring the Darwin concept to the Timor-Leste concept.
The letter also rejected the comparative analysis provided by the independent expert. It accused the technical expert of not having the "appropriate experience or understanding from working in Timor-Leste" and of having failed to consider the socioeconomic development benefits of the Timorese proposal.
In contrast, the commission's report noted that Gaffney, Cline & Associates had previously worked for Timor-Leste, but that Australia had not objected to the appointment.
The report suggests that the three parties Australia, Timor-Leste and the SVP are no closer to agreement on how to process Greater Sunrise gas.
The need to resolve the development issue is increasingly urgent. Timor-Leste is rapidly running out of revenue and development options. Over 90% of its annual budget comes from revenues from oil fields that are expected to be depleted within the next five years. Economically, Timor-Leste does not appear to have a plan B if its strategy for bringing gas to the southern shores of Timor-Leste fails.
Given its precarious situation, one might wonder why Timor-Leste is taking what appears to be a risky approach to this issue, and about what kind of agreements it has sought with other actors or states. In any case, the central element of the Timor Sea dispute seems far from resolved.
Jonas Guterres Through the fresh election held on May 12, Timor-Leste has for the time being put an end to nearly half a year of political impasse.
The Alianca de Mudanca para o Progresso (AMP), led by former Timorese Presidents Xanana Gusmao and Taur Matan Ruak, won an absolute majority in the National Parliament with 34 seats out of 65, which gives them the constitutional right to form what is likely to be a stable government for the next five years. There will, however, also be a strong opposition in the Parliament, led by FRETILIN with 23 seats, the Democratic Party with five seats, and (depending on how they see their future) the newly-created Frenti Dezenvolvimentu Democratiku (FDD) with three seats.
While the new government is likely to provide stability, whether it will also exhibit good governance remains to be proven. It faces not only a strong opposition, but also what may be an uphill battle to deliver on political promises made during a month of somewhat fierce and divisive campaigning. In the eyes of many, the government's commitment to fight corruption in order to fully invest in its people's wellbeing, and in economic diversification, will be its greatest challenges.
Timor-Leste's oil and gas revenue has been the primary engine of public expenditure, with almost 80 percent of the annual state budget derived from that source. However, oil revenue has dropped significantly from $1 billion in 2015 to just $400 million in 2016. Furthermore the current active oil and gas fields will be depleted in the next few years. In total, $14 billion has been spent in the past 10 years, but relatively little has been done to elevate the wellbeing of the people and drive economic development. Unemployment remains high, the poverty level is still at 30 percent, GDP per capita is just $1,239, and malnutrition of children stands at 40 percent. Education levels remains low and health service is poor.
These glaring economic and social statistics are underpinned by corruption, which remains an endemic disease and a significant contributor to the distortion of economic development, the stifling of investment, and the growth of social inequality and poverty. These issues exemplify the United Nation's identification of corruption as "the single greatest obstacle to economic and social development."
More precisely, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has elegantly noted that:
"Corruption attacks the foundation of democratic institutions by distorting electoral processes, perverting the rule of law and creating bureaucratic quagmires whose only reason for existing is the soliciting of bribes. Economic development is stunted because foreign direct investment is discouraged and small businesses within the country often find it impossible to overcome the "start-up costs" required because of corruption."
In the past 10 years corruption has been found to be pervasive in Timor-Leste, as evinced in the surveys conducted by country's Anti-Corruption Commission and the steady increase in the number of corruption cases investigated and leading to convictions every year involving high profile players, be they politicians or key position holders in public institutions. There is also widespread discontent among the public that lucrative government contracts only benefit the elites and their networks. The public moreover has to deal with bureaucratic hurdles when systems do not work well, and ordinary people are left in a bind, needing to give a bribe even just to get work done or to obtain licenses they need.
Internationally, Timor-Leste ranks 91st out of 180 countries rated by Transparency International in 2017. Worse still, the World Bank report on "Ease of Doing Business" ranked Timor-Leste 178th out of 190 countries.
Timor-Leste, like any other new and young democratic country, has focused on consolidating a democratic culture and democratic institutions, including by putting in place numerous anti-corruption institutions. However corruption has nevertheless grown tremendously. As Samuel Huntington noted, corruption "seems to be most prevalent during the most intense phase of modernization of a country" and generally declines with the institutionalization of democracy. This does not, however, mean that the problem of corruption will automatically solve itself over time.
Timor-Leste's fifth Constitutional Government formulated development goals in the Strategic Development Plan 2030, and also adopted United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) as the guiding path for development. However, the experience of economic development to date has shown that major contributing factors to missed development and non-oil economy diversification goals are corruption, poor governance, the general quality level of government programs, and the quality of the people who implement the programs.
Addressing corruption is therefore a key to achieving the objectives of the Strategic Development Plan 2030 and the MDGs. The incoming seventh Constitutional Government must put much greater emphasis on transparency, accountability, integrity, and efficiency in public expenditure. Moreover it should work harder to address governance bottlenecks, move quickly on measures which can help to stamp out corruption, and at the same time develop, as a priority, an integrated national anti-corruption strategy that will build in strong preventative measures and allow the public to track public expenditure.
Timor-Leste is a democratic country, in which the principles of democracy such as respect for human rights and the upholding of the rule of law, economic rights, and social and cultural rights, are brightly enshrined in its Constitution. Corruption not only hinders economic development and non-oil diversification, but also hinders the process of fulfilling the civil, political, economical, social, and cultural rights of every citizen as demanded by these democratic principles.
It is no exaggeration to say that the performance of the incoming government in fighting corruption will determine the future of the country not only in the next five years, but also in the decades to follow.
Sophie Raynor After ten months of political gridlock and one dissolved parliament, Saturday's decisive parliamentary election result represents one kind of victory for Timor-Leste's fledgling democracy.
Winning an unusual outright majority of 34 seats in the 65-seat parliament, experienced coalition Change for Progress Alliance, or AMP, will seize government from Fretilin, whose failure to pass its program led to parliament's premature end five protracted months ago.
The clear result, high voter turnout, and a largely peaceful campaign period have garnered Timor-Leste high praise, and this is deserved.
But praising newfound political stability at the hands of an old guard fails to recognise the country's most pressing development challenges, and effectively silences half the population: speaking against authority isn't particularly welcomed, so won't meaningfully happen until yesterday's leaders voluntarily step aside.
Saturday's election and its July 2017 predecessor represented the first time Timorese born after the country's 1999 independence could vote, and roughly half its 784,000-strong electoral roll is aged under 25.
On paper, Timor-Leste's huge youth population appears influential. But in practice, decisions are still made by an elite group of ageing leaders from the country's fight for independence.
Young leaders were meaningfully represented in parliament for the first time in the July election, with martial arts-linked youth-unemployment party KHUNTO securing five seats.
Turfed out of Fretilin's minority government after demanding ministries in excess of its size, KHUNTO joined the AMP coalition with resistance hero and perpetual politician Xanana Gusmao's National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT) party and former president Taur Matan Ruak's grass-roots development-focused Popular Liberation Party in an ideologically conflicted marriage.
But hundreds of thousands of voters and KHUNTO's fed-up young candidates in government mean little when the system is weighted in favour of an older generation.
Social hierarchies and the lingering glory of the country's independence heroes make it difficult for young Timorese to criticise current septuagenarian leaders. Resistance-era leaders remain atop folklore-ish pedestals and enjoy stirring and ongoing public support. (AMP's successful election campaign featured attractive imagery of a 30-years-younger Gusmao in fatigues.)
Young voters are interested and engaged in politics, according to research conducted in late 2016, and are more interested in human development and job-creation than the large-scale infrastructure projects favoured by successive governments. Young people remain cynical about their leaders and despondent about the country's direction: public polling before the July 2017 election had 50% of young voters distrusting the country's direction, compared to only 20% two years previously.
In Dili ahead of Saturday's election, young voters cited agriculture development, job creation, education, and health as key development priorities areas largely neglected by successive megaproject-obsessed governments lead by Gusmao and Fretilin chief Mari Alkatiri.
Timor-Leste's resistance-era leaders have contributed significantly to their country, and their continuing influence is understandable. The value of stability for a country whose recent history is mired with conflict cannot be underestimated.
But rising public sentiment is calling for new, young leadership which can clearly only be meaningfully delivered with the endorsement and will of titans such as Gusmao.
The installation of Fretilin's then 50-year-old Rui Maria de Araujo to the role of prime minster in 2015 appeared an exciting shift in leadership. A lamb in an unusual power-sharing agreement between Gusmao's CNRT and Fretilin, its fierce rival, the softly spoken de Araujo presided for two years over a CNRT government, leaving Gusmao free from the scrutiny of the prime minister's office, and Alkatiri to preside over millions of dollars of infrastructure megaprojects in the special economic zone of drought-stricken Oecusse enclave.
Hopefuls saw de Araujo's appointment as a declaration that it was time for a new era of younger, policy-focused leadership, endorsed and enabled by the old guard.
But policy-focused de Araujo was replaced by 68-year-old Alkatiri, a combative figure in Timor-Leste's personality politics who was previously forced to resign as prime minister during Timor-Leste's 2006 political crisis.
Timor-Leste's youth population remains unheard and ill-considered by the country's leadership, and will stay bound to the whims of old heroes.
KHUNTO's presence in the AMP government offers a weak promise securing 7% of the vote on its own in 2017, it's unlikely to play a leading role in the expected new Gusmao-led government.
The presence of smaller parties in that election indicates that while participation in the resistance remains a powerful factor influencing voters, new voters are perhaps less compelled than older citizens to follow the old heroes.
But ultimately, until Gusmao, Alkatiri, and co. swallow their pride and step aside for a new generation of leaders, Timor-Leste's young voters remain shackled to an already stale new leadership and shut out from influencing the country they will inherit.
Guteriano Neves After nearly a year of political deadlock resulting from a minority government, and a divisive political campaign, Timor-Leste is set to have a stable government after an early election, held on May 12. The forthcoming government will face an uneasy task in delivering on the promises made during the campaign.
The result of the election brought four parties to be represented in the Parliament. The Alianca de Mudanca para o Progresso (AMP), helmed by resistance leader Xanana Gusmao, won an absolute majority in the latest polls, securing 34 seats out of 65 seats in the Parliament. This will be sufficient to pass the program and budget in the parliament, both of which the previous minority government failed to do.
Frente Revolucionariu de Timor-Leste Independente (Fretilin) came in second, maintaining its 23 seats despite a significant increase in the number of votes. The Democratic Party and Frenti Dezenvolvimentu Demokratiku (FDD) a new political force secured five and three seats, respectively.
The result sets Timor-Leste up to end nearly a year of political impasse resulting from the previous minority government. The country can now expect have a stable government for five years to come. Having a stable government is one thing, but delivering on political promises is another. The latter is not easy, given the context in Timor-Leste.
At the macro political level, the government is expected to face strong opposition from the opposition bench in the National Parliament. Outside of parliament, the government will face enormous pressure from the public to deliver the promises made during the campaign. This includes delivering good quality infrastructure, high quality public services mainly education and health and building an economy that can employ a significant number of the young population. The last point is critical for Timor-Leste's long-term peace and stability.
The biggest task is economic: striking a balance between current domestic consumption and long-term investment, in a context where the current government reserve is depleting.
In general, public and private consumption in Timor-Leste have been growing during the last 10 years, becoming the engine for non-oil economic growth. One could view the growing domestic consumption level as an increase in purchasing power and wellbeing. However, this growth is primarily fueled by public spending, using petroleum revenue.
Increased consumption also incentivizes the emergence of small private sector activities, primarily the wholesale and retailer industry in Dili. This sector provides a large proportion of jobs in the private sector, particularly in Dili, according to the Business Activities Survey.
Growing domestic consumption has also contributed to the reduction of the poverty level. Nonetheless, 41 percent of Timorese still live below the national poverty line, and many households still depend on the government's cash transfer programs. Therefore, maintaining the current consumption level is important for short-term growth and maintaining the well-being of individual households.
Meanwhile, the public sector is the biggest contributor of investment in Timor-Leste. Currently private sector investment is still less than 10 percent of the total non-oil GDP. Therefore, the government's investment has been critical for economic growth during the last 10 years, and job creation in the construction sector.
In the last decade, the government focused its attention on physical infrastructure, primarily electricity and roads. There are political as well as economic reasons for this. The public demand for infrastructure resonates throughout the country, and the existing infrastructure is deteriorating rapidly due to poor maintenance. The economic rationale is that public investment in infrastructure is necessary to enable an environment for the private sector to grow.
But Timor-Leste needs to give more attention to long-term investment in its people. Education and health services, particularly, serve this purpose. In the last decade, as the government prioritized physical infrastructure, public investment in health and education has been relatively low by regional standards.
While there have been significant improvements in many indicators, the issues of malnutrition and education quality are still big challenges. In education in particular, there is an immediate need to improve the basic supporting infrastructure. Teacher training is widely regarded as a critical issue, but it requires long-term approach. The country will pay a high economic and social cost in the future if there is no significant improvement in these sectors.
Finally, the country also needs to work on its institutional framework to support long-term development. Various organizations, laws and regulations, and policy frameworks, both formally and informally guide the way actors behave by creating economic incentives. The roles of different institutions are critical, including the parliament, judiciary, ombudsman office, and anti-corruption commission. The government also needs to strengthen internal control mechanisms to strengthen accountability and efficient use of existing resources. Extra-parliamentary oversight mechanisms, such as investigative journalism, critical voices from NGOs and academics, and space for public participation, will contribute here.
In order to strike this balance between short-term and long-term goals, the government needs to be realistic, pragmatic, and strategic in choosing instruments and setting targets. A significant proportion of domestic consumption is public consumption. The government's intervention could focus on unnecessary public consumption, where spending cuts can be made in order to improve efficiency in public spending.
As for physical infrastructure, it is necessary for the government to focus much of its attention on basic infrastructure, such as roads, water and sanitation, and the infrastructure to support public service delivery. There is a need to revisit all investment projects, particularly big projects that do not have clear investment returns, which could become "white elephant" projects for the country in the future if the economy does not have sufficient capacity to operate and to maintain such assets in the long run.
In the last 10 years, thanks to petroleum revenues, the government was able to adopt a "frontloading fiscal policy" to boost domestic consumption and finance largescale public investment. Nonetheless, having disproportionate public spending creates loopholes for misappropriation of public resources, particularly when coupled with less efficient public administration. Consequently, certain groups of people profit disproportionately from the contracts. Unnecessary spending discourages productive activities and inflates the prices of goods and services, thus affecting resource distribution within the economy. This adversely impacts the government's intention to develop Timor-Leste's non-oil economy.
Since petroleum revenues have declined steeply, there is a need to impose certain fiscal disciplinary measures to constrain the temptation posed by available cash in the Petroleum Fund. Budget cuts do not sound appropriate in a context where poverty is still significantly high, and public spending is the engine to keep the economy moving. But without fiscal discipline, Timor-Leste would be more likely to repeat the same policy that has been ineffective in responding to the country's needs. The new government needs to be more pragmatic and realistic in deciding how much to spend, setting the sectoral priorities, and acknowledging the tradeoffs involved.
These tasks are not easy, but they are not impossible. It requires decision makers to be realistic in spending and setting targets, strategic in choosing their policy instruments, and courageous enough to bear the tradeoffs resulted from policy options.
David Hutt Preliminary results from Timor-Leste's general election on Saturday indicate that an opposition coalition has clinched victory, winning enough seats to form a majority government and end the country's political stalemate.
The Change for Progress Alliance (AMP), fronted by former independence leaders Xanana Gusmao and Taur Matan Ruak, won an estimated 49% of the popular vote with more than 99% of votes counted, giving it 34 of parliament's 65 seats, according to the state election administration.
Independent observers don't think the final official tally will be significantly different when it is announced on May 27. Saturday's election in Timor Leste, also known as East Timor, was called less than 12 months after the inconclusive result of last year's parliamentary poll.
Fretilin, the party of the small nation's independence movement against Indonesian colonial rule, won the most seats in parliament last year but it was only able to form a minority government, even with the additional seven seats of the Democrat Party (PD) which allied with it.
Not long after parliament reconvened last year, three opposition parties which held a majority of seats banded together to form the Parliamentary Majority Alliance, the precursor to the AMP. After the alliance twice rejected Fretilin's political program, President Francisco Guterres called for fresh polls.
Fretilin reportedly won 34% of the popular vote at Saturday's polls, giving it 23 seats in parliament the same number it won last year. The PD is thought to have won just five seats this time around. Thirty-three seats are needed to form a majority government. Xanana Gusmao, independence hero and the country's first president, shows his ink-stained finger after voting in the general election in Dili, East Timor, May 12, 2018. REUTERS/Lirio Da Fonseca Xanana Gusmao, independence hero and the country's first president, shows his ink-stained finger after voting in the general election in Dili, May 12, 2018. Photo: Reuters/Lirio Da Fonseca
Neither Gusmao nor Fretilin's Mari Alkatiri, the outgoing prime minister, had commented on the preliminary election results when Asia Times went to press.
After a year of a weak and unstable government, the AMP coalition's electoral mandate to form a majority government is crucial for Timor-Leste, the poorest nation in Southeast Asia.
Political gridlock and the lack of a functioning government had frozen and destabilized what was already a weak economy. If the AMP government can pass quickly its budget in parliament, its first task, the economy should bounce back, analysts predict.
The AMP is composed of three parties, the National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT), the People's Liberation Party (PLP), and the youth-aligned Khunto party. It remains unclear if the PD or FDD will ally with the AMP.
This could be necessary to form an even larger and more stable majority in parliament. Post-elections alliance are typical in Timor-Leste because of its proportional voting system, which rarely results in large single party majorities.
Prior to last year's general election, Fretilin and the CNRT had shared power in an informal "unity government." In 2015, the two parties' leaders, Gusmao of the CNRT and Fretilin's Alkatiri, agreed to step aside for a younger generation of politicians. Gusmao resigned as prime minister that year allowing Rui Maria de Araujo, of Fretilin, to take the top position.
But historic personal tensions between Gusmao and Alkatiri, and more broadly between the CNRT and Fretilin dating back to Timor-Leste's 24-year independence struggle against Indonesia, resurfaced after last year's general election.
There was an initial expectation that the CNRT would again form an informal alliance with Fretilin. When this wasn't forthcoming, recently elected President Guterres, also of Fretilin, asked Alkatiri to form a minority government a move the Parliamentary Majority Alliance opposed. When its political program was twice voted down, President Guterres was constitutionally forced to call new polls.
Campaigns ahead of Saturday's election were more fractious than a year ago. However, many electoral observers believe the election was conducted freely and fairly, another victory for Timor-Leste's budding democracy.
On the campaign trial, politicians reverted to personal insults in speeches and mudslinging on social media, while the AMP is alleged to have leaked business contracts of firms owned by Fretilin politicians and their families in an attempt to portray the party as corrupt.
There were also reports of violence. AMP campaigners were reportedly pelted with rocks in the east of the country, a historically restive area. On May 5, CNRT and Fretilin supporters clashed, leaving 13 people injured and several vehicles damaged.
These isolated events pale in comparison to the widespread violence seen in 2006, which included assassination attempts on political leaders. Timor-Leste's last three elections have now taken place without United Nations peacekeepers.
Timor-Leste regained its independence in 2002, after a 24-year occupation by neighboring Indonesia. It was previously colonized by Portugal for centuries.
Ahead of the May 12 ballot, the AMP alliance had cast dispersions on certain electoral institutions, claiming that the National Electoral Commission (CNE) in particular was tilting the playing field towards Fretilin.
Even as the elections were underway, Gusmao reportedly complained about how electoral authorities were conducting the poll and claimed that the result might have been compromised, according to electoral watchdogs.
Most political analysts, however, have praised the CNE, which they say acted professionally and transparently, even more remarkable given its shortage of funds after two elections last year. A presidential election was also held in 2017.
In a statement, the Australia Timor-Leste Election Observer Mission, an independent, volunteer election observer group, expressed concern over the "injudicious and inappropriate language of some political representatives prior to and during the election campaign, relating to the conduct of the election."
Derek Luyten, regional director for Asia at the International Republican Institute, a pro-democracy advocacy group, said that despite some concerns that a tens environment before the elections would affect the ballot, "both Timorese voters and politicians responded with maturity and respect for the process in determining their next government."
"This is very much a positive step for democracy in Timor-Leste," Luyten added.
Moreover, unconfirmed reports contend that voter turnout was the highest in years, not an easy feat given the difficulty voters face in actually travelling to polling stations in rural areas.
How the AMP goes about forming a government is the next step to an orderly democratic transition. President Guterres is expected to ask the AMP to do so once the results are finalized.
It is likely that Gusmao will become prime minister for the second time unless he decides to hand power to another politician. Aside from passing an annual budget, the new government will also have to quickly tackle negotiations with Australia over oil and gas rights.
Gusmao has been the main representative in negotiations with Australia over maritime borders of the Timor Sea, which proportions oil ownership and revenue. In February, the two nations reached an agreement over how to distribute revenue of the Greater Sunrise gas fields, which could yield anywhere between US$30 billion and US$45 billion, with the majority going to Timor-Leste.
Disputes remain over where the oil should be processed, however. Timorese negotiators stubbornly claim it should be conducted at an on-shore facility on the country's remote southern coast, part of its so-called Tasi Mane petroleum corridor project.
However, Australia and the partners of the Greater Sunrise Joint Venture composed of Woodside Petroleum, ConocoPhillips, Royal Dutch Shell and Osaka Gas argue this would be too expensive and complicated. Australia has offered Timor-Leste a higher percentage of profits if it agrees to offshore processing.
Negotiations are set to continue once Timor-Leste forms a government. An early agreement would be in the Southeast Asian nation's interest, since the vast majority of its state funds come from oil revenue saved in its sovereign wealth fund. But this could be depleted by 2026, analysts think.
Offshore processing, an easier solution, would mean more money, more quickly for Timor-Leste. Moreover, it is likely that Gusmao will be less stubborn at the negotiating table now that the elections are over, given how combustive the issue is domestically.
Another source of debate will be how an AMP government formulates its political policy. While none of the political parties advocate for less government spending, despite economic analysts advising it's a more prudent path, they are divided on how best to allocate it.
The CNRT has long favored high-cost mega-projects. But its alliance partners, especially the PLP, contend that this is a waste of money. Instead, the PLP and Khunto argue more money should be spent on education, health care and infrastructure projects that develop the country's nascent economy.
These two parties also argue that more money needs to go to the countryside and not to Dili, the capital, which has boomed in population after years of considerable investment.
It will be several days until a formal announcement is made on the election results and possibly weeks until a new government is sworn in. It is yet to be seen who in the AMP coalition will take the largest ministries, especially the all-important Ministry of Finance.
What is clear, however, is that this weekend's elections demonstrated again the strength of Timor-Leste's young democracy. Despite reports of violence and mudslinging, voters went to the ballots free and fairly.
Just as important, it is likely that there will be a strong adversarial parliamentary opposition, something missing in Timor-Leste for years.
When Fretilin and the CNRT ruled under their "unity government", there were complaints that this left parliament without an oppositional voice, given the two parties held almost all of the law-making body's seats at the time.
From 2016 onwards, then-President Ruak was often forced to go beyond his constitutional duties in trying to hold the "unity" government to some scrutiny.
After his presidency, he founded the PLP specifically to be an opposition voice in parliament. Now, with Fretilin set to become a party in opposition, there will be an even stronger voice to hold the prospective AMP government to account.
Michael Leach After nearly ten months of political uncertainty, Saturday's parliamentary elections in Timor-Leste delivered a decisive result.
The Change for Progress Alliance, or AMP, a coalition of three parties led by Xanana Gusmao, won 49.6 per cent of the national vote, delivering thirty-four out of sixty-five seats and winning a narrow majority in its own right. In Timor's proportional system, where outright majorities aren't common, this was a strong vindication of the decision to combine the forces of Gusmao's CNRT with Taur Matan Ruak's Popular Liberation Party, or PLP, and the smaller youth-focused party KHUNTO in a formal pre-election coalition.
This was a polarising election. The AMP achieved a swing of 3.1 per cent on their collective 2017 results, though the entry of a new party saw their tally of seats fall by one. Fretilin received 34.2 per cent of the national vote, and twenty-three seats, maintaining its 2017 seat tally. This represented a substantial swing of 4.5 per cent, though it proved insufficient to overcome the formidable AMP coalition, as the swings to both major groupings came at the expense of smaller parties. The result sees Xanana Gusmao back as PM, at least in the initial phase of the new government, ousting the Fretilin-Democratic Party minority government led by Mari Alkatiri. The Democratic Party is also back in parliament with five seats (down from seven in 2017), and a new coalition, the FDD, has three. The AMP government is likely to form a ministry from within its own ranks, though the FDD may well be invited in later. With many residents back in their home districts to vote, Dili was unusually quiet in the wake of a divisive and heated campaign. Though observers remain alert to the potential for trouble in coming weeks, there seems no immediate prospect of it occurring in the wake of the poll. The campaign and its divisive prelude in 2017 clearly drove the electorate towards the larger players, with 84 per cent voting for the two major blocs and over 97 per cent of the vote going to four parties. The entire electorate seemed to want to ensure their votes would count, and abandoned the parties unlikely to clear the 4 per cent hurdle to win seats. Turnout was a strong 81 per cent, up 5 per cent on last year.
Some results in the districts were significant. Repeating similar patterns since 2007, the AMP won the ten western districts. Of particular interests was the large swing against Fretilin in the district of Oecusse. It was here that Fretilin recorded its only fall in votes in any district. The fact that the party has had sole responsibility for the district's Special Economic and Social Market Zone project in recent years will no doubt play on the minds of party strategists, and local Fretilin chief Arsenio Bano apologised publicly for the performance to his leader on Saturday night. In Dili and the eastern districts of Viqueque and Baucau, on the other hand, Fretilin performed strongly, gaining large swings.
With an AMP government and a Fretilin president, the next few years will demonstrate what "cohabitation" looks like in Timor-Leste's semi-presidential system. Given that previous presidents have been independents, this will be a first, and is likely to test the constitutional relationship between president and parliament, and the scope for presidential vetoes of legislation. Some vetoes are reversible by a simple majority in parliament (though vetoes of decree laws issued by the government are irreversible), but reversing certain other vetoes requires a super-majority of two-thirds. These includes legislation in such key areas as "the budget system," which means the president has the power to veto future budget legislation or refer it to the courts to test its constitutionality a power former presidents Jose Ramos-Horta and Taur Matan Ruak used at different times.
An important difference between Ruak's veto of the 2015 budget and any potential veto during this parliament is that Ruak was exercising his powers in the era of the de facto national unity government, which meant the government could draw on a supermajority to reverse it. Fretilin's twenty-three seats in the new parliament means that non-Fretilin forces are one short of the super-majority of forty-three seats.
The political stalemate of the past ten months, and the effective freeze on government spending, have inevitably affected the economy. Given this, insiders believe the president is highly unlikely to veto the first budget, but could, like other presidents before him, do so in future, and with fewer prospects for reversal. This indicates the potential scope of "cohabitation"-related standoffs over the next few years.
With a clear majority, the AMP will now set about forming a new government and passing a much-needed budget. The major question yet to be answered is how the coalition will reconcile the CNRT's focus on megaproject-led spending with the PLPs focus on basic development spending in health, education and agriculture. On the campaign trial, Gusmao acknowledged "mistakes" by his previous governments and gave the floor to the PLP and KHUNTO leaders to address these issues in rallies a sign he was listening and open to change. Some AMP supporters see this as a second chance for the great resistance leader to consolidate his other legacy as a leader of government. Though his previous governments brought social stability, economic growth and much else, there is a sense that spending on basic development measures has lagged badly, and far too much has been spent on big infrastructure projects.
Election day passed without major incidents, though comments from Gusmao on the day that he "would not accept the result if it was not fair" were unhelpful, and built on a series of complaints from AMP in the campaign which were not backed by strong evidence. In its preliminary report, the largest observer mission referred to the "injudicious and inappropriate language of some political representatives" and noted that allegations about the election process are "serious in character and, if made, need to be supported by evidence." On Monday, Fretilin raised similar concerns over the vote in Oecusse, again without immediately offering compelling evidence. Timor-Leste's two electoral agencies again did an excellent job despite the pressure of the re-run campaign and limited budgets.
Saturday's win for the AMP win was a clear and decisive one, and many in Timor will be relieved at the end of political uncertainty and protracted coalition negotiations. Though some in AMP saw the election as a chance to put Fretilin away for good, and some projected a massive win, the Fretilin vote grew significantly for the first time since the post-crisis election of 2007, demonstrating the impact of new affiliations by independents and, perhaps, new support from elements of the church. Though Fretilin is deeply disappointed by the defeat, it has increased its support base in 2018, and is likely to remain the biggest single party in the country. The AMP may come to see Fretilin's continuing strength as a reminder of the need for discipline and unity in their three-party coalition, and hence as a positive.
Great challenges lie ahead for the new government, including the need to diversify the economy before the sovereign wealth fund, based on finite oil and gas reserves, depletes somewhere in the late 2020s. In this process, it its clear it will face a strong opposition determined to hold it to account.
Jose Belo Timor-Leste's general election in 2018 will prove to be like no other.
This is the first time in East-Timorese history that a minority government and the president of the republic have been forced into early elections less than a year since the last general election in July 2017.
The May 12 election comes as a result of the current Fretilin and Democratic Party (PD) minority government having failed to pass any legislation in the government program in 2017.
Following the July 2017 election they formed a minority government in September since no party had won a clear majority.
Fretilin tried to form a coalition with the National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT), People's Liberation Party (PLP) and the Kmanek Haburas Unidade Nasional Timor Oan known as Khunto but all disagreed with Fretilin's approach to power sharing and declined.
Since then the opposition Parliamentary Majority Alliance (AMP) comprising CNRT, PLP and Khunto, has placed considerable political pressure on the Fretilin/PD coalition with the result being the decision for early elections.
It is a make-or-break event in Timorese politics and there is clear intent on both sides to try and get a resounding victory and politically sideline their opponents. However, the story is much more nuanced, complicated and fundamental.
The governing principle behind the Fretilin administration is that it alone controls the primary levers of state it does not share power easily, if at all.
Despite the gentleman's agreement between leaders Xanana Gusmao and Mari Alkatiri in 2015 to step aside from the premiership role the Fretilin government has done many things in breach of this agreement.
This comes as a result of fundamentally differing styles of leadership. The Alkatiri model is domineering, rigid and inflexible. Gusmao's, however, was flexible and one in which many people were brought into a big tent. It was designed to compromise and rule, rather than dictate and rule.
This comes from different historical experiences during the liberation struggle.
Gusmao's clique managed a system of governing in the jungle based on internal compromise and negotiation. Meanwhile, the Alkatiri clique of exiles took ideological stands that were rigid in their stance.
It was easy to take Alkatiri's position while in exile, but for those in the jungles and prisons of Timor-Leste, flexibility was needed to survive and in the end prosper and be victorious in the liberation struggle.
In 2002, when the first post-restoration of independence Fretilin government was formed it was dominated by outsiders such as Alkatiri, Rogerio Lobato, Roque Rodrigues, Ramos-Horta, Ana Pessoa, Estansilau da Silva and many others.
This group alienated the population, and eventually brought about a crisis in 2006, after which they fell from power.
Having been returned to the Government Palace in 2017, the same group has been on the ascendance and once again has refused to accommodate. As a result the people that fought in the jungles, towns and prisons of Timor-Leste and Indonesia are now once again lined up against the outsiders in the battle for power.
It is an open secret that Gusmao and Taur Matan Ruak are seeking to put an end to Alkatiri's political career and return to government in the short term.
However, the long-term goal is to remove Alaktiri from the Fretilin Party structure and in effect reform the party from the outside in.
Michael Leach After a tense month-long campaign and two rest days, East Timorese cast their votes tomorrow in the country's latest parliamentary elections. With the campaign characterised by considerable bitterness between the major parties, much is at stake.
Despite narrowly prevailing at the election just nine months ago, the Fretilin-led minority government failed to gain parliamentary support for its program and budget during 2017. The president also from Fretilin dissolved parliament and called tomorrow's poll. The East Timorese electoral agencies, short of funds after last year's election and the parliamentary impasse, have risen to the occasion extremely well. And, in a remarkable testimony to Timor-Leste's young population, the electoral roll has grown by 3.1 per cent to 784,000 voters, with around 24,000 voters turning seventeen in just over nine months since last July.
Last year's campaign came in the wake of a national unity government involving informal power-sharing between Xanana Gusmao's CNRT and Fretilin. But relations quickly soured after an election that Fretilin won narrowly with twenty-three seats to CNRT's twenty-two. In the end, Fretilin was only able to attract the Democratic Party, with its seven seats, to its minority coalition government, giving prime minister Mari Alkatiri thirty seats in the sixty-five-seat parliament. Within weeks, the remaining parties had formed the Parliamentary Majority Alliance, or AMP, a coalition controlling thirty-five seats, and had voted down the government's program and budget.
Fretilin feels aggrieved that it did not receive parliamentary support after narrowly finishing ahead last year, despite an alternative coalition having been ruled out publicly by Xanana Gusmao in the immediate wake of the July election. For its part, the AMP feels bitter about Fretilin's parliamentary tactics last year, which delayed the second presentation of the government program and prevented it from falling before the six-month mark, when the president could dissolve parliament and call fresh elections. AMP figures feel that their alliance should have been installed in government during the life of the parliament. How these issues have influenced the voting public will be known tomorrow.
This year's campaign has been marked by the resurgence of the "history wars," the clash between the two wings of the East Timorese resistance during the Indonesian occupation. The AMP has reunited Xanana Gusmao and his CNRT with former president Taur Matan Ruak's Popular Liberation Party, or PLP, which were at loggerheads during the 2017 election. Both were leaders of the armed resistance, Falintil. The campaign has been frequently depicted as a contest between the armed front and members of the diplomatic front, who were outside the country during the occupation, including prime minister Alkatiri and key diplomatic figure Jose Ramos Horta, who has thrown his weight behind the Fretilin campaign. Though he has not responded to them, Ramos Horta has evidently been hurt by the attacks on his legacy, some of which have sought to diminish the contribution of those who struggled for independence in the international arena.
This division over resistance history has lent an unpleasant air to a campaign that has also been marked by exchanges of personal slurs between the major party leaders, including some outbursts of anti-Muslim sentiment directed at the Fretilin leader Mari Alkatiri, and fractious personal debates on Facebook.
From the east of the country have come reports of rock attacks on AMP caravans in Viqueque, bringing back memories of the divisive 2007 election, which occurred in the wake of the 2006 political-military crisis. The AMP parties have also complained of low-level attacks in Laga region of Baucau, were temperatures still run hot over the death of dissident veteran Mauk Moruk in 2014. Yet the campaign has been remarkably peaceful on the whole, with colourful mass rallies of party supporters generally well behaved throughout most of the country.
The campaign has also been marred by a handful of accusations of favouritism and irregularities against the electoral agencies, prompting the head of the National Electoral Commission, or CNE, to publicly defend the organisation in press conferences. Several complaints originated on AMP's Facebook page, including concerns over printing errors in the ballots, which were quickly identified and cancelled, and suspicions about meetings between CNE and political parties that turned out to be part of routine investigation of previous complaints. The CNE has responded quickly and satisfactorily. With domestic and international observers closely watching the process and extremely professional electoral agencies, there is very little scope for manipulation. The CNE and the Technical Secretariat of Electoral Administration have done an excellent job under trying circumstances with limited budgets.
While the parties have discussed differing visions for the future, especially during the series of TV debates, considerable energy has been diverted into personal and historical debates within the small political elite. The new AMP alliance brings together two parties that ran last year on fundamentally different development agendas, and it remains to be seen how the CNRT's focus on major infrastructure spending can be reconciled with the PLP's more grassroots focus on basic development spending on health education and agriculture. How voters have received this new combination will be known tomorrow. For their part, supporters of Fretilin and the Democratic Party, or PD, have been on friendly terms throughout the campaign, suggesting the alliance seems to be holding, though this relationship could be easily revisited in the inter-party negotiations that follow the election.
The AMP is a formidable coalition of parties that received 29.5 per cent, 10.5 per cent and 6.5 per cent last year: a total of 46.5 per cent. It could also receive the support of the Democratic Development Front, or FDD, the coalition of the smaller parties most likely to exceed the 4 per cent threshold required to get seats. This is not certain, though, and there are at least some rumblings of dissent from one of the parties inside FDD. On the other side, Fretilin received 29.7 per cent in 2017, and its partner in the minority government, the PD, received 9.8 per cent.
No polls have been taken to indicate the likely result tomorrow. As a baseline indication, if last year's vote is notionally combined into the new party coalitions that have formed, the AMP would start with a nominal allocation of thirty-three seats the minimum majority required. In turn, Fretilin, PD and the FDD would receive twenty-one, six and five seats respectively. If FDD can't clear the 4 per cent hurdle, these notional numbers rise to thirty-six for the AMP, twenty-two for Fretilin, and seven for PD.
The AMP therefore starts as favourite on paper, but the outcome tomorrow can easily change from the 2017 results., As a rough guide, Fretilin requires a swing of just under 4 per cent (if FDD does not take seats) rising to more like 6 per cent if the FDD gains seats and backs the AMP. These are clearly challenging targets for Fretilin, though not impossible, especially in the former case. It may be that the smaller coalition becomes instrumental in the final result if things run close.
Some longer-term trends are striking. At a forum on the elections I conducted in Dili yesterday, younger Timorese commented that though they are often reluctant to openly criticise their resistance-era leaders, young people are more interested in the development policies of the government and how they will help to create future jobs. There was also a sense in last year's election result that while resistance-era legitimacy remains important to political fortunes, it is starting to offer diminishing returns for East Timorese leaders as the median age of the voting public falls, and voters look for solutions to entrenched development problems. The young people at the forum also felt that the direst warnings of potential trouble if one side or the other loses tomorrow have come from political insiders themselves, with most ordinary people confident that the national police can manage any post-election troubles.
Young voters also said Dili's noisy and active social media has played a mixed role allowing more opportunities for debate, on the one hand, and especially for women's and young people's voice to come through, but also distributing fake news and rumours, and not fully representing rural voices. Another potential sleeper trend is the changing attitude of the Catholic Church to the major parties. The Church responded positively to the concordat with the Vatican orchestrated by the PM of the previous national unity government, Fretilin's Rui Araujo. Despite occasional slurs against Mari Alkatiri, most of the older political leadership from the 1970s does not identify strongly with the church, though younger Timorese broadly do.
As tomorrow's poll approaches, both sides are supremely confident of victory in their public statements. Either way, it is likely that Timor-Leste will be in good hands, and the real issue as always will be how the unsuccessful parties accept the results. After last year's uncertain result, East Timorese will be hoping for a clear and decisive outcome
Jerry Courvisanos For the last year, the people of Timor-Leste have expected and received little from their government except deadlock.
From a political standpoint, there's been gridlock for nearly a year after the Fretilin party eked out a victory in parliamentary elections last July, kicking independence hero Xanana Gusmao's National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT) party out of power for the first time in a decade.
However, Fretilin's minority government found itself blocked at every turn by CNRT and its allies. It finally collapsed in December, forcing the beleaguered president to call for new elections, to be held on Saturday.
At the same time, there's been economic deadlock, as well. The vast riches of the oil and gas fields in the Timor Sea have been locked away due to Timor-Leste's seemingly intractable negotiations with the Australian government over a disputed maritime boundary.
In March, a boundary treaty was finally signed between the countries, which could lead to billions in royalties for Timor-Leste. But disagreements remain on how to develop the untapped Greater Sunrise basin that lies across this boundary.
In the past, Timor-Leste governments have focused on a "big development" economic strategy to exploit the country's limited fossil fuels, which Jose Ramos Horta, the Noble Peace Prize laureate and former president and prime minister, has called "an absolute necessity for the future well-being of this country".
The recent political impasse has put serious discussions about the future of the country on hold. For starters, the tenor in the run-up to the election has been acrimonious and personal, with the leaders of each party trading insults and playing up their contributions to the war of independence against Indonesia instead of debating policy.
Candidates have focused their campaigns on voting for the best "fatherly" figure of the revolution, with little regard for the country's youth, who suffer from high unemployment rates and have largely been marginalised from the political process.
The economic development of the country, meanwhile, has been left out of the debate. The candidates all stress the need for "big resource development" and the need to build massively expensive gas processing infrastructure on the south coast of the country. But what's lacking is any indication of whether gas can (or will) be developed in the long term by any multinational gas producer.
Also lacking is any real discussion about the future of the economy and how best to wean the country off its reliance on fossil fuels to drive economic growth. This has long been seen as a risky and unsustainable strategy.
Based on my own research in the country, as well as the work of other academics and development experts, the new Timor-Leste government will need to take a different strategy more in line with the [United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals], encouraging private investment and developing non-oil exports in agriculture, community forestry and coffee exports. Timor-Leste has committed itself to these SDGs, even if it is struggling to meet them.
According to tradition, a sacred house in Timor-Leste is formed by four pillars. If two of those pillars are in a sloping position or broken, it will impact the house as a whole. When that happens, the elders will ask the young people to find new pillars to replace the ones that are damaged.
Timor-Leste now finds itself with two broken pillars the leadership of the country and the dysfunctional parliament. The situation requires the attention of all Timorese to help fix the broken pillars and right the country.
The big question is whether the politicians who are elected on Saturday will listen to the people and bring an end to the deadlock holding the country back.