Timor-Leste’s voters turned out in force on 12 May 2018 to elect a new parliament, under ten months since the previous parliamentary elections. That parliament was dissolved on 26 January 2018 after months of political wrangling which saw the proposed program and supplementary budget of the minority government led by Mari Alkitiri blocked by a united parliamentary opposition and moves by the opposition parties to pull the constitutional triggers for the dismissal of the government stymied procedurally. After a bitterly fought, attacking election campaign, the coalition of opposition parties with Xanana Gusmao at its head emerged with a majority of seats in the parliament and the two parties of the outgoing minority government, FRETILIN and PD, have accepted the outcome and pledged to serve as a strong parliamentary opposition.
The incoming government will confront some pressing policy challenges. Recent reports from the IMF and the World Bank warn of the risk of a downstream ‘fiscal cliff’ and call for bold fiscal and structural reforms. Existing petroleum revenues are depleting, and prospective revenue from new developments is many years into the future. Options for significantly curtailing public spending are daunting, with large segments of the population – veterans, the elderly, vulnerable women and the large public sector – dependent on public outlays and nationalistic sentiment driving expansive infrastructure development. While a swollen cohort of young people struggles to find employment in a labour market unable to absorb them, much of the population is still dependent on subsistence farming and undernutrition rates are amongst the highest globally. The hard-won stability underwritten by a generous peace dividend could be jeopardised should the population see their prospects narrow, leaving the new government caught between the opposing forces of fiscal rectitude and social harmony.
The 2018 Timor-Leste Update will focus on future directions for Timor-Leste across the political, economic and societal domains. It will address such questions as: has the political landscape shifted fundamentally over the last year; what are the prospects for the development of the non-oil economy and the agrarian sector in particular; and what kind of social contract is emerging in Timor-Leste and what does this mean for prospective stability? In a final session, the Update will also reflect on the signal event of the signing of the Maritime Boundaries Treaty which has been hailed by both states as marking “the beginning of a new era in the relationship between the two neighbours”.
The Update organising committee wishes to acknowledge with thanks the grants provided by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and The Australian National University's Southeast Asia Institute, which have made the Timor-Leste Update possible.
Chair: Dr Sue Ingram
Dr Nicholas Farrelly, Acting Dean, ANU College of Asia and the Pacific: introductory remarks
Professor John Blaxland, Director, ANU Southeast Asia Institute: introductory remarks
Ambassador Abel Guterres, Embassy of the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste: introductory remarks
Professor Michael Leach: A analysis of political developments since the 22 July 2017 elections and the implications for the future political landscape
Chair: Dr Sue Ingram
Chair: Professor Andrew McWilliam
Chair: Dr Lia Kent
Chair: Professor James Fox
Chair: James Batley