Asia in Review Archive


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6 October 2020

Timor-Leste: National petroleum industry development on hold

(nd) The price drop for oil and gas following the Covid-19 pandemic has put at least a hold to plans by former prime minister Xanana Gusmao to build an onshore LNG plant and oil refinery to develop a domestic petroleum industry and limit dependence on foreign aid. The proposed  $18 billion Tasi Mane project that would build the respective infrastructure connected to the Greater Sunrise field via a 286 km pipeline across cross the Timor Sea. Deemed a nationalist prestige project, it remains unclear whether political leaders are willing to jeopardize the country’s independence by appealing to China’s state-owned Exim Bank for a $16 billion loan and possibly ending in the same kind of debt-trap other countries in the region already have. 

A growing number of politicians therefore deem the risky project logistically  and financially senseless, asserting due to the need of experts, no local jobs will be created. Additionally, the party of supporter Gusmao National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT) fell from power  this year in a struggle with Prime Minister Taur Matan Ruak and his People’s Liberation Party (PLP) over the passing of the budget. Gusmao has  resigned as chief negotiator of the Greater Sunrise gas field. 

With a tighter budget due to Covid-19 measures and repercussions, politicians seem less likely to add to the already spent money for buying out shares of foreign oil firms and building infrastructure near the proposed onshore plant. The political situation and the coalition remain unstable with frequent new forming governments , although all power transitions were peaceful. Additionally, new parties emerged, diversifying the political representers: Ruak’s PLP emerged in 2017, and KHUNTO party, gathering disenfranchised youths and, as an analyst called it, the “political wing” of the country’s martial-arts groups, which were outlawed by Gusmao in 2013 due to  criminal activity. [Nikkei Asia] [The Diplomat]


7 July 2020

Court upholds Australian government refusal to release documents on Indonesia’s 1975 invasion of Timor-Leste

(lm) An Australian court last week upheld the government’s refusal to release diplomatic cables and cabinet documents relating to Australia’s involvement in Indonesia’s 1975 occupation of Timor-Leste. Since the hearing began in 2018, academic Kim McGrath had repeatedly sought access from the National Archives to documents that record border negotiations between Indonesia and Australia in the 1970s.

Under the Archives Act, cabinet documents are made public after 30 years – currently transitioning to 20 years – however, the law also provides legislative protection to Commonwealth government records, which is why successive governments had blocked her applications for the documents over a number of years. In its decision, the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) upheld various reasons for refusal, including that disclosing the documents “could reasonably be expected to cause damage to the security or international relations of the commonwealth”. [The Guardian]


12 May 2020

Timor-Leste: MPs petition Court of Appeal to investigate President Francisco Guterres for violating constitution 

(jk) 18 MPs have petitioned the Court of Appeal to investigate the country’s President for violating the constitution by not allowing nine other MPs to take up their nominated positions in cabinet since 2018 when the last parliamentary elections were held and by not dissolving the national parliament after it failed to pass a budget back in January. [Asia in Review No. 9, March/2020, 1] [Oekusi Post

What the legal challenge means for the government is yet to be seen. For now, the current PM who was down and outmaneuvered by a former ally not long ago, but then withdrew his resignation in the face of dealing with Covid 19, now looks to remain in government for the foreseeable future. [AiR Timor-Leste] [UCA News]


14 April 2020

Timor-Leste: PM withdraws resignation to tackle coronavirus

(jk) Prime Minister Taur Matan Ruak of East Timor who had tendered his resignation in late February after failing to pass a budget for 2020 [Asia in Review No. 9, March/2020, 1], has temporarily withdrawn his resignation to fight the Covid-19 crisis. [The Straits Times]

17 March 2020

Timor-Leste: Coalition led by Xanana Gusmao ready to form government

(jk) After the government coalition collapsed and the prime minister resigned last month over the failure to pass a budget in parliament [Asia in Review, No. 9, March/2020, 1], a six-party coalition is ready to form a government led by the first president, former prime minister and independence hero Xanana Gusmao. 

Gusmao, who initially supported the now resigned PM and was part of his governing coalition, was essential in bringing down the government by withdrawing his support over the budget. Now, he expects to return to power at the helm of a newly formed coalition. [Channel News Asia]

3 March 2020

East Timor: Government coalition collapses and PM resigns

(jk) After failing to pass a budget for 2020, the government coalition supporting Prime Minister Taur Matan Ruak of East Timor collapsed last week. The PM has since tendered his resignation but has said he will stay in office until a solution can be found. [Reuters]

10 September 2019

Timor-Leste: Domestic troubles but steady improvements on foreign relations 

(jk) On the occasion of the 20th anniversary of East Timor’s independence last week [AiR 36, September/2019, 1], this short background article looks at the young country’s relation with its neighbors, specifically Australia, Indonesia and ASEAN more broadly. While the country is facing some domestic issues with regards to mistrust between President and government, fanned by allegations of corruption, East Timor’s foreign relations are more hopeful and it continues to pursue its aim to join ASEAN. [RSIS]

3 September 2019

East Timor: 20 years of independence

(ls) The current developments in Papua remind of events two decades ago in what is now East Timor. The country just celebrated 20 years since a UN-backed vote ended a decades-long occupation by Indonesian forces and paved the way for it to become an independent nation. However, there has been little justice for the families of those killed in a wave of bloodshed unleashed by the Indonesian army after the 1999 independence vote. Efforts to prosecute army commanders for crimes against humanity have largely been unsuccessful. East Timor, or Timor-Leste, was recognized as an independent state in 2002. [Channel News Asia]

The Timorese independence movement Fretilin began to oppose Portuguese colonialism in the early 1970s, while developing a revolutionary program that included the emancipation of women. The Conversation offers an overview of the historic events that unfolded since then. [The Conversation]


Date of AiR edition

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24 July 2018

East Timor: Parliamentary Elections 2018

(jk) For the second time within the span of a year, the citizens of East Timor have elected a new Parliament. As the parliamentary elections in East Timor on 22 June 2017 failed to produce a clear majority and a stable government. Subsequently, the President called for new elections which were held in May. The new parliament convened for the first time on 13 June and then elected Taur Matan Ruak, former President, as the new Prime Minister [Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung].

10 June 2018

“Timor-Leste is not a failing state”

(ls) Last month, Timor-Leste’s citizens elected a new government, with Xanana Gusmao the likely new prime minister. But the country’s prospects remain uncertain. In the New Mandala, Bobby Anderson argues that Timor-Leste is not a failing state. Rather, he writes that Timor-Leste’s bureaucratic problems, which can be described concretely, are concentrated in its capital Dili, an often insular center that lacks understanding of, and experience in, the rural areas where most Timorese live. According to his analysis, the problems involve ineffective logistics, haphazard supply chains, a lack of facilities standardization and maintenance, centralization of fiscal policy and procurement that takes no account of local conditions, and lengthy delays in payments and financial acquittals. [New Mandala]

13 May 2018

Timor Leste: General elections this weekend

(ls) Timor-Leste is set to hold the second general election in less than a year at the weekend. After a months-long political impasse, the 65-member Parliament was dissolved in January. In 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 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. [The Straits Times]

11 February 2018

Timor-Leste: An example of a well-functioning democracy in Southeast Asia?

(ls) With Vietnam and Laos remaining one-party communist states, Cambodia dismantling the opposition, Thailand being under military rule and Myanmar under military control, the Philippines exposed to President Duterte’s attempts to undermine democracy, and Singapore and Malaysia never having been tested by a change of political parties in government, Luke Hunt argues in the Diplomat that Timor-Leste displays a remarkable resilience to maintain its democratic system. After last month’s dissolution of parliament and new elections called, he holds it likely that elections will take place in an orderly manner, showing the small country’s early democratic maturity. [The Diplomat]

29 December 2017

Timor-Leste: Uncertainty at home and in the region

Up until just after the general elections earlier this year, the political situation in Timor-Leste looked comparatively stable and on track. The third general elections since its independence went smoothly and with the Philippines as ASEAN chair, an advocate for its ASEAN accession held the keys to setting much of the regional agenda. After the election however, Timor-Leste has failed to form a government and new elections might be necessary to break the gridlock. With Singapore taking over as ASEAN chair, ASEAN will be guided by an opponent to its accession instead and the opportunity to make strides towards accession under more auspicious circumstances appears to have withered away [East Asia Forum].