BY: KATIE DOBOSZ KENNEY
On January 26, 2018 President Francisco “Lu Olo” Guterres dissolved a stalemate parliament in which no political party held a majority of seats after the July 2017 elections, rendering passing any government plans impossible. President Guterres called for new elections in the wake of this impasse, which are scheduled to take place on May 12 of this year, stating that “only the people can help solve the new challenges we face. Humbly, the president asks the people to vote again in fresh elections.”
The country’s two largest political parties, the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor (FRETILIN) and the National Congress of Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT) won a respective 23 and 22 seats, falling short of the 33 needed for a right-out majority. Though the parties had maintained an informal power-sharing agreement after Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao, a member of CNRT, stepped down in 2015, CNRT refused to form a majority coalition, a surprise to the new FRETILIN president Guterres and Prime Minister Mari Alkartiri.
Peaceful election processes and participation are very important to Timor-Leste’s still young democracy. An estimated 700,000 of Timor’s 1.2 million person population is registered to vote with 120,000 newly registered voters between 2012 and 2017 – this surge in young voters come primarily from the fact that more than half of the nation’s population is under the age of 30. Additionally, approximately a 70% voter-turnout occurred in the last two elections. Violence erupted in 2006 leaving 31 people dead, which led the government and civil society organizations to champion campaigns targeted at non-violent elections for the 2007 election cycle. One such organization is Ba Futuru/For the Future, whose superhero film series Feto Fantastiku (Fantastic Girl), who outlines ways that youth can positively engage with elections. The national efforts made way for peaceful elections cycles in both 2012 and 2017, but fear of a violent repeat of 2006 most certainly looms.
This election process is yet another opportunity for Timor-Leste to showcase stability and “peaceful-oriented values” as outlined in Article 1.1 of the ASEAN Charter.
In his address to the United Nations General Assembly in September 2017 celebrating the 15th anniversary of restored independence to Timor-Leste, President Guterres remarked on Timor’s tremendous growth both civil and political. From increased mortality rates and almost-doubled human development index, to a pronounced commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals, the Paris Agreement, nuclear non-proliferation, and the fight against terrorism.
Timor-Leste’s willingness to engage in dialogue and diplomacy with both its regional and global community is truly at the heart of what makes this tiny island nation so dynamic. They have all of the potential to be a leader for the collective voices of small nation states around the globe, a role that would be legitimized through their admission to the ASEAN. May the coming year bring a decision to solidify their membership.
Katie Dobosz Kenney holds an MS in Global Affairs from New York University with a concentration in Peacebuilding. An educator for almost 10 years, Katie had developed global and peace education curricula in Florida, Mississippi, and Timor-Leste. Katie currently works as a graduate program administrator at NYU’s Center for Global Affairs and has co-led study abroad programs to South Africa and the UAE.
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