Weekly Insights and Analysis

In East Timor: Road to 2007 Elections

January 29, 2007

By Katherine S. Hunter

In 2007 East Timor will hold its first national elections as a sovereign nation after achieving independence in 2002. The elections are an important test for any young nation, but particularly for East Timor. After 400 years as a Portuguese colony and nearly 25 years under Indonesian administration, a 1999 referendum on the independence of East Timor led to widespread destruction by the Indonesian military and local militia groups. United Nations peacekeepers and civilian advisors helped to stabilize the country and administer the country’s first elections for the president and the legislature.

Violent unrest in 2006 led government leaders to invite 3,000 international troops to stabilize the security situation and the United Nations Security Council to agree upon an expanded police presence in the build up to the elections. The violence delayed the timetable for election preparations, and the passage of the country’s election laws did not take place until December 2006.

This is placing heavy pressure on President Xanana Gusmão to quickly set election dates in accordance with these new laws, while also maintaining the 2007 timetable. Setting dates of the first national elections is not as straightforward as it appears, and is spurring lively debate among constitutional and legal experts for analysis and interpretation of the country’s growing body of law. Analysis by respected lawyers Tiago Sarmento and Dionisio Babo Soares found that relevant provisions in key subsidiary laws do not comply with the constitution. Aside from legal considerations, others are concerned that holding to a compressed schedule for the parliamentary and presidential elections will not allow adequate time to educate citizens about the election and what they are voting for.

Related locations: Timor-Leste


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