East Timor, also known as Timor Leste, will hold its fifth presidential election on Saturday, March 19, with Nobel laureate Jose Ramos-Horta, incumbent leader Francisco “Lu Olo” Guterres, and 14 other candidates in the running.
Here are some facts about Asia’s youngest democracy:
The territory was colonized by Portugal in the 18th century and remained under is control until 1975. When the Portuguese withdrew, troops from Indonesia invaded and annexed East Timor as its 27th province.
A long and bloody struggle for independence ensued, during which at least 100,000 people died, according to a 2005 report by an independent truth commission that also blamed the Indonesian military for systematic human rights violations.
The East Timorese voted for independence in a 1999 UN-supervised referendum, but that unleashed even more violence until peace-keeping forces were allowed to enter. The country was officially recognized by the United Nations in 2002.
East Timor has applied to be a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). It currently holds observer status.
Politics and economy
In nearly 20 years since independence, East Timor’s presidential and parliamentary elections have been dominated by many of the same faces. Resistance heroes like Ramos-Horta, Guterres, and Xanana Gusmao have run for and held various positions of power and continue to feature prominently in the running of the country.
In East Timor’s political system, the president also shares some executive powers and appoints a government and has the power to veto ministers or dissolve parliament.
East Timor depends on revenues from its offshore oil and gas reserves which account for 90% of its gross domestic product.
It has an agreement with Australia to split revenue from the Greater Sunrise gas field, which is worth an estimated $65 billion. Its main revenue stream, the Bayu Undan gas field, is set to dry up by 2023 and the country is now planning to collaborate with companies like Australia’s Santos to turn it into carbon capture facilities.
But the government has been criticized for failing to capitalize on its natural resources to fund development and
diversify its economy in a country where about 40% of the population languishes below the poverty line.
East Timor comprises the eastern half of Timor island, the western half of which is part of Indonesia. It spans a 15,000 square km (5,792 square mile) land area – slightly smaller than Israel – and it’s 1.3 million people are predominantly Roman Catholic. – Rappler.com