Out of retirement . . .
On Tuesday, former independence leader and Nobel Laureate Jose Ramos-Horta was chosen in a run-off election to be Timor-Leste’s next president, securing nearly 62 per cent of the vote to defeat incumbent Francisco Guterres. Ramos-Horta is a veteran of the Timor-Leste political scene, having previously served as prime minister (2006) and president (2007-12). His return to the presidency demonstrates the continued dominance of figures who were part of the resistance era – individuals who were central to the movement to gain independence from Indonesia in the late 20th century.
Stoking party tensions . . .
Despite his strong electoral mandate, Ramos-Horta will take office amid considerable inter-party tensions. The National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT) party, which backed Ramos-Horta in the recent election, has long-standing animosities with Guterres’s party, the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor (FRETILIN). In 2006, conflict between the leaders of the CNRT and FRETILIN nearly ended in civil war. Moreover, both the CNRT and FRETILIN represent different interests for the country’s economic recovery. The government is 90 per cent funded by oil and gas revenues, and there are lingering grievances over the FRETILIN coalition’s pausing of the CNRT-backed Tasi Mane onshore energy processing project in 2020. Although there are concerns about the feasibility of the C$22.5 billion in international investment for the project, in a country whose total GDP is currently C$2 billion, Ramos-Horta’s victory could mean the revitalization of this costly economic venture.
From an independence movement to an international actor . . .
Ramos-Horta has pledged to gain membership in the 10-member Association for Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 2023. Although the country first applied for membership in 2011, member states are concerned about the perceived fragility of Timor-Leste’s statehood and its lack of capacity to participate in economic community building. While the peaceful transfer of power through the recent election should provide assurances about Timor-Leste’s democratic consolidation, it will have little impact on its bid for ASEAN membership, given the bloc’s diversity of regime types. Ramos-Horta’s presidency, however, will be an important test of the stability of this young democracy and a critical period for its engagement with the international community.
- The Interpreter: The not-so-hidden contest behind Timor-Leste’s presidential election
- Financial Review: Ramos-Horta victory has implications for Greater Sunrise
- Asia Times: Timor-Leste election opens door to China