2018 Timor-Leste Update: At the crossroads?

Presented by ANU College of Asia & the Pacific

Timor-Leste's voters turned out in force on 12 May 2018 to elect a new parliament, under ten months since the previous parliamentary elections. That parliament was dissolved on 26 January 2018 after months of political wrangling which saw the proposed program and supplementary budget of the minority government led by Mari Alkitiri blocked by a united parliamentary opposition and moves by the opposition parties to pull the constitutional triggers for the dismissal of the government stymied procedurally. After a bitterly fought, attacking election campaign, the coalition of opposition parties with Xanana Gusmao at its head emerged with a majority of seats in the parliament and the two parties of the outgoing minority government, FRETILIN and PD, have accepted the outcome and pledged to serve as a strong parliamentary opposition. 

The incoming government will confront some pressing policy challenges. Recent reports from the IMF and the World Bank warn of the risk of a downstream 'fiscal cliff' and call for bold fiscal and structural reforms. Existing petroleum revenues are depleting, and prospective revenue from new developments is many years into the future. Options for significantly curtailing public spending are daunting, with large segments of the population - veterans, the elderly, vulnerable women and the large public sector - dependent on public outlays and nationalistic sentiment driving expansive infrastructure development. While a swollen cohort of young people struggles to find employment in a labour market unable to absorb them, much of the population is still dependent on subsistence farming and undernutrition rates are amongst the highest globally. The hard-won stability underwritten by a generous peace dividend could be jeopardised should the population see their prospects narrow, leaving the new government caught between the opposing forces of fiscal rectitude and social harmony.

The 2018 Timor-Leste Update will focus on future directions for Timor-Leste across the political, economic and societal domains. It will address such questions as: has the political landscape shifted fundamentally over the last year; what are the prospects for the development of the non-oil economy and the agrarian sector in particular; and what kind of social contract is emerging in Timor-Leste and what does this mean for prospective stability? In a final session, the Update will also reflect on the signal event of the signing of the Maritime Boundaries Treaty which has been hailed by both states as marking "the beginning of a new era in the relationship between the two neighbours".

The Update organising committee wishes to acknowledge with thanks the grants provided by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and The Australian National University's Southeast Asia Institute, which have made the Timor-Leste Update possible.


Conference program: 

Day 1 Thursday 21 June

8.30am Registration

9am Opening session 

Chair: Dr Sue Ingram

Dr Nicholas Farrelly: acknowledgement of country and welcome to ANU

Professor John Blaxland: introductory remarks

Ambassador Abel Guterres: introductory remarks

Professor Michael Leach: A analysis of political developments since the 22 July 2017 elections and the implications for the future political landscape

10.30am Morning tea

11am Political futures 

Chair: Dr Sue Ingram


  • Dr Rui Feijo: the effect of the last year on Timor-Leste's political institutions
  • Nelson Belo: Leaders and voters: reflections on the political process in Timor-Leste
  • Guteriano Neves: Political power and future policy choices

12.30pm Lunch

1.15pm Fiscal and economic futures

Chair: Professor Andrew McWilliam


  • Charles Scheiner: Sustainability of Timor-Leste's state finances
  • Professor Brett Inder: Key issues for economic development in Timor-Leste
  • Hergui Luina Alves: Growing domestic agricultural produce markets

3.15pm Afternoon tea

3.45pm Societal futures

Chair: Dr Lia Kent


5.30pm Reception

Day 2 Friday 22 June

9am Rural futures

Chair: Professor James Fox


  • Professor Andrew McWilliam: Agrarian transitions
  • Mariano Ferreira: The new land laws and their likely impact in rural areas
  • Helen Abbott: 'Buka moris' seeking a living: local livelihoods and development on Ataúro Island

10.30am Morning tea

11am The Maritime Boundary Treaty 

Chair: James Batley


  • TBA: the significance of the Treaty for Timor-Leste and the way ahead
  • Justin Whyatt: A new chapter - the Maritime Boundary Treaty
  • Professor Don Rothwell: Finalising the Australia/Timor-Leste maritime boundary - a continuing process

12.30pm Closing remarks



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