East Timorese Politics: A New Dawn or Return to Business as Usual?


As the newest nation in Southeast Asia, Timor-Leste has been independent for just over 20 years. Timor-Leste is regularly ranked the most democratic nation in the region, and since reclaiming independence in May 2002, the country’s political situation has grown increasingly complex, with the emergence of new parties, new coalitions and new leaders. Yet the recent presidential election in April 2022 delivered the return of a familiar face: Jose Ramos Horta, once an activist in exile, and now President of Timor-Leste for a second time with the powerful backing of politician Xanana Gusmão.

Joining Dr Natali Pearson on SSEAC Stories, Professor Michael Leach analyses the implications of Jose Ramos-Horta’s return to the presidency in Timor-Leste, exposing two fundamental competing trends in national politics. On the one hand, the recent electoral campaign was testament to the dynamism of Timorese politics, with a broader field of candidates vying for the presidency. On the other, the ballots laid bare the continuing influence of the 1975 generation of male politicians on national politics. Looking forward, Professor Leach reflects on the significance of these results for the parliamentary elections to be held in early 2023.

About Michael Leach:

Professor Michael Leach is a comparative political scientist with twenty years research experience in Timor-Leste and the Pacific. He is a leading commentator and analyst of the politics and history of Timor-Leste, and a co-founder of the international area studies association, the Timor-Leste Studies Association. He is the author of Nation-Building and National Identity in Timor-Leste (Routledge, 2017); and co-editor (with Andrew McWilliam) of the Routledge Handbook of Contemporary Timor-Leste (Routledge, 2019).

For more information or to browse additional resources, visit the Sydney Southeast Asia Centre’s website: www.sydney.edu.au/sseac.

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Natali Pearson

Dr Natali Pearson is Curriculum Coordinator at the Sydney Southeast Asia Centre, a university-wide multidisciplinary center at the University of Sydney, Australia. Her research focuses on the protection, management and interpretation of underwater cultural heritage in Southeast Asia.

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