East Timor Becoming a Failed State?

Updated On: Jul 10, 2007


The election commission president Faustino Cardoso announced on Monday (9 July) thThe youngest state (and democracy) in Southeast Asia might be enroute to be a failed state.

Since its independence from Indonesia in 2002 which was marred by massive destruction of the state’s infrastructure (by the departing Indonesian troops), East Timor has not been able to enjoy political stability. at seven parties (out of the 14 political parties which contested the elections held on 30 June) have crossed the 3 percent threshold and would take up seats in the parliament.

The recent parliamentary elections has seen a high turnout with 80% of the 529, 198 registered voters casting their ballots. 

The ruling party Fretilin won the highest number of seats in the elections (21 seats out of the total 65 seat parliament). However, it is not likely to form the next government. This is because the party with the second highest number of seats, the National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT) is trying to form a coalition government without Fretilin. The CNRT led by former President Xanana Gusmao has won 11 seats.

Fretilin secretary-general Mari Alkatiri responded that his party was “open to any party to form a coalition, but if they are against us, Fretilin will form a [minority] government.” Alkatiri argued that his party has the right to form a government because it won 29 percent of the vote, 6 percentage points ahead of its closest opponent, CNRT.

However, Alkatiri might not have his way. Nobel Prize winner and President Ramos Horta said at the weekend that he would approve a prime ministerial suggestion based on “which of the various parties can persuade me they are in a position to form a government that is stable, that is long-lasting.” He has called for a government comprising of all the major Timor political elements but he has also backed Gusmao for the prime ministerial position. Ramos Horta has the authority to decide who forms the next government.

The confrontation between Fretilin and CNRT could trigger yet another year of political instability. Last year, East Timor was wrecked by political chaos and violence after some soldiers were dismissed. In April and May last year, the country of 1 million people descended into chaos when fighting between police and soldiers led to gang warfare, looting and arson, causing 37 deaths and driving 155,000 people from their homes.

Relative peace was restored after 3,000 foreign peacekeepers arrived but serious economic problems have persisted. About half of the population is unemployed and 40% of the population lives in poverty. About 10 percent of the people still live in refugee camps or with relatives, too scared to return home due to continuing gang violence.

Agricultural production has also been adversely affected by the instability. In particular, the coffee industry which is East Timor’s biggest money earner and employer, has been hit by not only by the bad weather conditions but also by farmers fleeing their farms to UN refugee camps, too afraid to harvest the crops.

The independent Washington-based Fund for Peace recently ranked East Timor 20th in the “alert” category, behind SudanIraqSomalia and Zimbabwe, among others in its  2007 “failed states index.” The rankings are based on 12 social, economic, political and military indicators measured in 177 countries.  (9 July 2007)


Seven parties to sit in Timor Leste's parliament (Agence France Presse [reproduced in ChannelNewsAsia], 9 July 2007)

Power showdown looms in E Timor (The Australian, 9 July 2007)

Rival of East Timor independence hero proposes alternative government (Associated Press, 7 July 2007)

ASIATimor's coffee farmers powerless as crops rot (Australian Associated Press General News, 6 July 2007)

East Timor May Be Becoming Failed State  (Associated Press, 6 July 2007)

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