PHNOM PENH — Visiting Dili in late August to mark the 20th anniversary of East Timor’s blood-soaked vote for independence from Indonesia, Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison declared the opening of a “new chapter” in bilateral relations. “In a region where some boundary disputes remain unresolved,” Morrison said, in a seeming reference to the disputed South China Sea farther north, “Australia and Timor-Leste have set an example by sitting down, as neighbours, partners, and friends, to finalise a new maritime boundary.” Though Morrison followed up by announcing plans to help upgrade East Timor’s internet connectivity and its navy, his Timorese counterpart Taur Matan Ruak was less gushing. “Today will mark a new beginning, a new phase for both countries,” he said. The implication, of course, was that the previous two decades of the relationship had been less than amicable. While Australia stood by the hundreds of thousands of East Timorese who defiantly voted for independence in the face of scorched-earth Indonesian-backed intimidation, sending 5,000 soldiers to the country shortly after the vote, it later stood accused of strong-arming its tiny and impoverished neighbour out of billions of dollars of vital oil and gas revenues – in part by refusing to delineate a maritime boundary in the Timor Sea until 2018.
DILI — When Joshua Kohn and Lea Mietzle set out backpacking around Southeast Asia, East Timor was not on their itinerary. But after visiting Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, the Philippines and then parts of Indonesia, the two young Germans revised their plans to include the region’s newest country, the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste. “We became interested [in East Timor], it was really cool” said Kohn. During their 12 days in the country they took in some of the main landmarks: trekking up the highest peak, the near 3,000-meter-high Mount Ramelau, followed by a bone-rattling motorcycle ride eastwards to Jaco, a tiny uninhabited island. With secluded white sand beaches fronting turquoise seas and kaleidoscopic reefs — all offering lush diving — East Timor aims to triple annual visitor numbers to 200,000 by 2030, part of a plan to diversify an economy that depends oil and gas for almost all government revenue.
DILI — Celebrating with party supporters at the headquarters of his National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction, or CNRT, Xanana Gusmao was his usual mix of backslapping and banter last Tuesday. “I’m anti-smoking, don’t be like me,” he said, laughing, before lighting one up. He could afford to be a bit facetious given that three days earlier the coalition he leads won a parliamentary majority in what was the second election in less than a year in East Timor, also known as Timor-Leste. The last vote in July 2017 led to a minority government led by Mari Alkatiri of the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor, or Fretilin. But Gusmao and his coalition allies in the Alliance for a Parliamentary Majority blocked Alkatiri’s budget, and soon after, in January, the government fell, only 4 months after it was sworn in. Alkatiri, a Muslim of Yemeni descent in what is one of only two Catholic majority countries in Asia, told me that he thought his party would win at least 30 seats, up from 23 last year.
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.
DILI — 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.
DENPASAR — 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.
JAKARTA — East Timor is a tiny country, with a land area around the same as the North of Ireland and a population of 1.3 million people. Its existing oil and gas reserves will be depleted in less than a decade, and with little sign of growth in other parts of the economy, it badly needs this deal with Australia How much money it ends up getting will depend on fluctuating oil and gas prices and on what subsequent deal is worked out to extract and process the underwater oil and gas. The companies with rights to drill in the field have floated, pun intended, the idea of a floating platform in the Timor Sea to process the gas there. But Australia wants to pipe to Darwin and use existing facilities, which would mean an 80% revenue cut for East Timor. The Timorese want pipe to East Timor and process there, giving a Dili 70% revenue cut but potentially allowing the Timorese to develop spin-off industries that could modernise its economy.
JAKARTA – East Timor will hold parliamentary elections for the second time in a year after President Francisco “Lu Olo” Guterres today dissolved the hung parliament that ensued after 2017’s inconclusive vote. Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri’s Fretilin party narrowly won the most seats in last year’s elections, but Fretilin’s attempts at passing legislation and a budget have been stymied by the opposition camp. President Guterres’ announcement comes after Alkatiri alleged that the opposition — led by independence hero Xanana Gusmao’s National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction — was trying to foment a coup last year. Guterres had the option of inviting Gusmao, himself a former president and prime minister, to try to form a replacement administration. The chance that Guterres, a Fretlin die-hard, would choose this route was always slim. “There is just no way they were ever going to hand over the government on a plate to Gusmao,” said James Scambary of Australian National University. “Lu Olo is Fretilin through and through and very loyal to Alkatiri, so he was not going to let that happen.”
SINGAPORE – East Timor, also called the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste, wants to delineate maritime boundaries in the Timor Sea with its neighbors Indonesia and Australia in a way that Dili believes could be worth up to $40 billion in oil and gas revenues. Frustrated at perceived stonewalling by Australia, the Timorese government initiated “compulsory conciliation” on April 11 under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea — a move that could lead to the establishment of a commission to report on the boundary issue to the U.N. Secretary General. That document could in turn be used as a basis for any future boundary negotiations. The dispute is becoming increasingly heated on both sides. In March, around 1,000 Timorese protested outside the Australian embassy in Dili at Canberra’s perceived intransigence.”The government and the people now consider that the establishment of permanent maritime boundaries is a national priority,” Timorese Prime Minister Rui de Araujo told a conference on the issue in Dili on May 19. Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade told the Nikkei Asian Review that “the Australian Government is disappointed that Timor-Leste has decided to initiate compulsory conciliation over maritime boundaries. Australia has repeatedly made clear to Timor-Leste our preference for a full and frank discussion of all issues in the bilateral relationship.” Citing a past agreement between the two countries to shelve the boundary issue, DFAT added that “both countries agreed to a moratorium on boundary negotiations to allow joint development of the resources. We also agreed not to pursue any proceedings relating to maritime boundaries — this includes compulsory conciliation.”
DILI – Bendita Fraga, a 40-year-old housewife living on a farm near Dili, said that electrification had allowed her family access to new sources of clean groundwater. Pooling with neighbours, the farmers in the village bought an electric pump to extract water from a newly drilled 12-metre well. “With the pump, we can drink cleaner water and grow more crops with the extra water,” Fraga said. That would have been impossible before the government’s recent expansion of the power supply, which now covers around 60 per cent of the population.