East Timor: Elections in the World’s Newest Nation

Issue Date April 2004
Volume 15
Issue 2
Page Numbers 145-59
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East Timor has emerged as the world’s newest nation-state after belatedly achieving its full independence on 20 May 2002. Transition to statehood has also been accompanied by a transition to democracy. Since the 1999 Referendum in East Timor, in which the vast majority of East Timorese opted to leave the Indonesian state, East Timor has experienced elections for a Constituent Assembly and for a President. East Timor has adopted a semi-presidential model of government similar to that of Portugal or Mozambique. A much commented on political rivalry between East Timor’s President, Xanana Gusmão, and the ruling party, Fretilin, need not be threatening to democratic practice within East Timor if it remains in the realm of policy debate—which it has so far. Despite the paucity of free and fair elections in East Timor in the past, the general public, still largely without formal education, appear to have embraced democratic practice. As with any newly democratizing country, especially one that faces the myriad of development obstacles that East Timor does, this fledging democracy will continue to face challenges in its development.

About the Author

Anthony L. Smith is senior research fellow at the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies in Hawaii. He was previously fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore, and was an observer during 1999’s UN-sponsored Popular Consultation in East Timor. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, U.S. Pacific Command, the U.S. Defense Department, or the U.S. government.

View all work by Anthony L. Smith