9 August 2017
Early signs of human habitation in Lida Ajer cave on Sumatran (left) with an orangutan tooth for comparison
Tanya Smith and Rokus Awe Due
By Alice Klein
Two ancient teeth found in an Indonesian cave hint that our species had arrived there as early as 73,000 years ago – and may have had to deal with the biggest supervolcano eruption of the last few million years and also adapt to the challenges of living in thick rainforest.
Many archaeologists were puzzled by the recent discovery of 65,000-year-old stone tools and other artefacts in northern Australia. According to traditional thinking, early members of our species, Homo sapiens, were just beginning to venture out of Africa at this time.
To get from Africa to Australia, H. sapiens would also have needed to march across mainland Asia, then sail across the sea. The route should have included a stopover on the islands of Indonesia and Timor, but no H. sapiens artefacts older than 45,000 years had been found on these islands, until now.
Kira Westaway at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, and her colleagues have discovered that H. sapiens probably did set foot in these islands more than 65,000 years ago.
The team took another look at two teeth dug up by Dutch archaeologist Eugène Dubois in Lida Ajer cave on the Indonesian island of Sumatra in the late 19th century. Partly through comparisons with orangutan fossils found nearby, they confirmed the teeth belong to our species – and using a modern dating technique known as electron spin resonance dating, they dated them between 63,000 and 73,000 years old.
“This is a significant finding because it supports emerging ideas that modern humans left Africa and reached Australia much earlier than we thought,” says Michelle Langley at Griffith University in Brisbane.
The discovery is also consistent with recent genomic analyses suggesting that our ancestors left Africa over 75,000 years ago and reached Indonesia more than 60,000 years ago.
But the archaeology hints that the first members of our species to reach Sumatra faced a tough life. They may have been present in Sumatra when the island’s now-dormant supervolcano – Toba – gave rise to one of Earth’s biggest known eruptions, perhaps about 71,000 years ago according to recent estimates.
If that didn’t wipe out the early population, they would have had to adapt to Sumatra’s rainforest environment – very different from the savannahs of Africa where humans evolved.
The lack of carbohydrate-rich plants and large animals for eating would have made survival difficult, says Westaway. “Successful exploitation of rainforest environments requires the capacity for complex planning and technological innovations.”
Then again, the tooth fossils are not proof of humans living in and exploiting the Sumatran rainforest, cautions Langley. Further research will be needed to find signs of habitation, such as cooking, tool or craft artefacts, she says. “It’s possible they were just passing through.”
Journal reference: Nature, DOI: 10.1038/nature23452
WEEKLY INSIGHTS AND ANALYSIS
August 9, 2017
In July, Timor-Leste held its 4th parliamentary election, heralding in a new government, and potentially new leadership both within key ministries and at the prime ministerial level. Such leadership changes come at a critical time for the oil-dependent island nation, with warnings that if it doesn’t diversify its economy beyond oil extraction, the country’s petroleum wealth fund may be exhausted by 2030.
Timor-Leste’s new “Explore the Undiscovered” tourism campaign aims to change foreign perceptions of Timor-Leste and to attract visitors to travel. Photo Credit/Julian Apse
With Timor-Leste’s natural beauty, rich history, and cultural heritage, there is significant untapped potential to develop tourism as a diverse and inclusive industry to drive economic development. However, the Government of Timor-Leste has not dedicated sufficient resources to develop tourism, with the government’s tourism budget for 2017 at just $6.3 million, inclusive of salaries and operational costs. Limited financial resources, compounded by a failure to promote the country’s unique assets, has left Timor-Leste with a nascent tourism sector, which in 2014 generated an estimated $14.6 million.
Visitor numbers in Timor-Leste are also low. While the government frequently claims visitor arrivals to be synonymous with tourist arrivals, research conducted by The Asia Foundation suggest the real number to be far lower. The Asia Foundation found that in 2014 only 43 percent of the country’s total airport arrivals engaged in leisure activitiesof which only 17 percent traveled to Timor-Leste for the primary reason of holiday travel. Such proportions indicate that of the 59,811 passenger arrivals Timor-Leste received in 2014, no more than 5,000 were holidaying leisure travelers.
Unique environmental, historical, and cultural assets, coupled with an unsaturated tourist market, should sufficiently ensure that Timor-Leste has the capacity to attract travelers already mobilized in the region. In 2016 Bali received almost 5 million foreign arrivals. Leveraging existing low-cost carriers, if Timor-Leste were to attract only 1 percent of the already mobilized market visiting Bali, the result would have the capacity to double its current number of visitors, and have similar growth effects on the income generated from the tourist economy.
Debates on tourism development in a country like Timor-Leste, a small island nation with limited infrastructure and low tourist arrivals, are often centered on the causality effect, whereby low tourist numbers have been used to rationalize capital intensive infrastructure projects, in the hope that the “build and they will come” prophecy will prevail. While tourism private sector investment remains concentrated in accommodation development, and public investment focusing largely in infrastructure, limited activities on tourism promotion have resulted in international perceptions of Timor-Leste being marred by foreign government travel warnings and early years of post-independence instability. In 2016, as part of The Asia Foundation’s study to understand non-visitor perceptions of Timor-Leste, residents from Darwin who were directly connected to Dili by an accessible air route, but who had not previously traveled to Timor-Leste, were asked to describe their sentiment relating to Timor-Leste.
Findings from The Asia Foundation’s 2016 survey of non-visitors to Timor-Leste, to inform baseline perceptions of Timor-Leste in potential tourism target markets.
As the analysis demonstrates, while potential travelers are aware of Timor-Leste’s tourist attractions like its beaches and history, respondents still hold strong perceptions of war, unrest, poverty, and occupationdespite the country being free from instability for over 10 years.
Timor-Leste is already equipped with the natural strengths needed to promote the country as a tourist destination with unique and attractive offerings. To ensure a sustainable tourist economy driven by data of actual tourism demands rather than solely tourism supply, it is imperative that Timor-Leste develop competitiveness in the region. Tourism partnerships that address both supply and demand do not need to emulate the efficiency and functionality of Singapore, nor be shrouded by unmet tourist expectations by burdening itself with the Sisyphean endeavor of replicating another Bali.
Over the last 18 months, Timor-Leste’s Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture, with support from The Asia Foundation, has been developing an international tourism marketing campaign to change foreign perceptions of Timor-Leste and to attract visitors to travel. With funding from the Australian Embassy in Timor-Leste, we have conducted market research into target destinations, drawn on information collected from previous travelers, and utilized an inclusive and evidence-based approach to tourism marketing.
The newly approved logo, is a strong identifier for the country’s heritage. Comprised of the umalulik (sacred house), unique to Timor-Leste, and a rising sun, synonymous with the country’s name-sake, the logo has been designed in a manner that is visually appealing, while also being playful and welcoming to a largely untapped tourism market. Representing Timor-Leste’s linguistic relationship with the sun, and the umalulik representing the country’s balance between culture, family and society, the colors complete the logo and are reflective of the country’s history and flag design, evoking pride, resilience, and independence.
The “Explore the Undiscovered” campaign captures the essence of what awaits in Timor-Leste. Be it the country’s marine biodiversity, untrodden hiking paths, unique cultural traditions, or its richly defiant and proud history.
Designed to take Timor-Leste to the global market, the development of Timor-Leste’s tourism brand is an important step not only toward tourism promotion, but also toward the inclusive development of the sector as a whole. The existence of a brand has the capacity to build consensus amongst private sector actors, towards a concerted approach to tourism developmentan approach that has the capacity to improve the operating environment for government and non-government bodies alike.
Together with the country’s official tourism website, www.timorleste.tl, the brand serves as a vehicle to enable initial promotion of Timor-Leste to international markets in the region. Be it on social media, in flight magazines, or on the billboards of target markets overseas, the launch of a tourism campaign is the first step toward attracting visitors to travel to Timor-Leste.
However, to enable this, the newly elected 7th Constitutional Government of Timor-Leste must make sufficient budgetary contributions in the coming weeks and months, to enable targeted tourism marketing campaigns.
As Timor-Leste prepares for new leadership, the country’s incoming leaders are already equipped with promotional tools to charter new ground in tourism promotion, and explore undiscovered economic opportunities.
Gobie Rajalingam is The Asia Foundation’s Tourism program manager in Timor-Leste. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the individual author and not those of The Asia Foundation or its funders.
U.S. Congress supports Timor-Leste’s right to a fair maritime boundary with Australia
August 1, 2017 – The East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN) lauded the U.S. House of Representatives for urging a fair resolution to the maritime boundary dispute between Australia and Timor-Leste.
In July, the House noted that a fair and peaceful resolution to the dispute would set a positive example for the resolution of other maritime disputes in the region. (see text below)
Australia is now on notice that its key ally wants a fair conclusion to the talks on the maritime boundary.
The House directed the Secretary of Defense with the Secretary of State to brief the House Committee on Armed Services “on the potential security benefits that may result from the Australia-Timor-Leste conciliation process and how a peaceful resolution to the dispute might affect overall U.S. defense and security interests in the region.”
“We believe that a permanent boundary is Timor-Leste’s sovereign right and that the boundary should respect current practice under international law,” said John M. Miller, National Coordinator of ETAN.
“We welcome the U.S. House of Representatives attention to this important issue. Australia is now on notice that its key ally wants a fair conclusion to the talks on the maritime boundary,” Miller added.
Timor-Leste and Australia are currently participating in ” conciliation,.” a form of non-binding mediation under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
For the last quarter century ETAN has urged the U.S. and Australian governments, the United Nations and others to respect the sovereign rights of the East Timorese people to define the terrestrial and maritime limits of their territory.
The language concerning the maritime boundary dispute was included in the report accompanying the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018 (H.R. 2810), an annual policy-setting bill. The full bill passed the House on July 14, 2017. The statement about Timor-Leste was introduced by Madeleine Z. Bordallo (D-Guam), the Ranking Member of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness.
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES 115TH CONGRESS 1st Session REPORT 115–200
NATIONAL DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION ACT FOR FISCAL YEAR 2018 REPORT OF THE COMMITTEE ON ARMED SERVICES HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES ON H.R. 2810 together with ADDITIONAL VIEWS [Including cost estimate of the Congressional Budget Office] p. 210
Timor Sea Maritime Developments
The committee recognizes the strategic importance of the Indo-Asia-Pacific region and has a strong interest in ensuring processes to resolve territorial and maritime disputes are done fairly and peacefully in accordance with international law. Given the growing and complex regional maritime security issues in the Pacific, the committee believes that negotiations between Australia and TimorLeste to establish permanent maritime boundaries sends a positive signal to other states in the region regarding adherence to a rules-based international order. A mutually agreed upon resolution could serve as an example for resolving other disputes peacefully and have benefits to cooperative maritime efforts in the region. The committee directs the Secretary of Defense, in coordination with the Secretary of State, to provide a briefing to the House Committee on Armed Services, not later than September 30, 2017, on the potential security benefits that may result from the Australia-Timor Leste conciliation process and how a peaceful resolution to the dispute might affect overall U.S. defense and security interests in the region.
The DiplomatASEAN BEAT
The results are in from Timor-Leste’s parliamentary election. The hard part lies ahead.
By Khoo Ying Hooi
July 25, 2017
On July 22, 77 percent of Timorese cast their votes in the Timor-Leste’s parliamentary election, which was contested by almost two dozen political parties in a country of just about 1.2 million people. This election witnessed the expected victory of the two major political parties, the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor (Fretilin) and the National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT). The final count of ballots showed that Fretilin led with almost 30 percent of the vote, securing 23 seats, while the CNRT, led by Xanana Gusmão, was running second with a slightly lower percentage of the vote and 22 seats.
The much talked about new People’s Liberation Party (PLP), led by Taur Matan Ruak, trailed in third place with about 10 percent of the vote and eight seats, and the Partido Democratico (PD) locked in seven seats. A small element of surprise came from the success of another new party, Kmanek Haburas Unidade Nasional Timor Oan (Khunto), which gathered about 7 percent of the vote and five seats.
During the events leading up to the election day, the National Elections Commission (CNE) and the Technical Secretariat for Election Administration (STAE) conducted extensive civic and voter education programs. The CNE’s publication of the official campaign schedule helped not only locals but also media outlets and observers to cover campaign events. The election campaign has also proceeded peacefully, without any significant problems or instances of violence. Political debates were conducted vigorously.
Through the election, the Timorese showed how much they valued their hard-won democratic rights. Many turned up on election day, even before the opening of polling centers. This is a remarkable year for a country that just gained its independence 15 years ago, as both presidential and parliamentary elections were organized in a peaceful manner (the presidential vote took place back in March). On this alone, the Timorese deserve credit for their successful conduct of elections, as this is a major achievement in the maturing of Timor-Leste’s young democracy. The country has been able to move forward through an understanding of forgiveness and an awareness that political stability is particularly crucial for a young democracy like Timor-Leste.
While negotiations are now still ongoing, both the Fretilin and the CNRT are anticipated to continue their de facto partnership to form a government. Whatever the make-up of the next government, it faces huge challenges and some very difficult negotiations on much-needed reforms. With half of Timor-Leste’s population living in poverty, the government will need to find ways to improve the livelihoods of its 1.2 million people.
The economy, corruption, and the government’s failure to utilize the wealth generated by oil resources to support development and create jobs dominated the political discourse during the political campaign. These issues will not go away until a feasible solution is crystallized. For example, the 20-year Strategic Development Plan (2011-2030), the “brainchild” of CNRT’s Gusmão, is in need of another revision in view of the public frustrations over widespread social and economic injustices in the country. At the end of the day, democratic leadership also requires a shift in Timor-Leste’s development principles.
From blogs, Facebook, public forums, and community spaces across Timor-Leste, the public sphere has been vibrant and dynamic during the election season. This is an indication of a popular interest in Timorese politics among its people. Public discourse is now much more important in the country than it was during the past.
For outsiders, the democracy in Timor-Leste can seem bewildering. Compared to many countries in Southeast Asia, Timor-Leste is boldly democratic. But Timorese want to be better and are eager to see more. Timor-Leste is without a doubt better prepared to face the future than it was five years ago, at the last elections, but progress is long-term and could not be measured in months.
While democracy is flourishing in Timor-Leste, at the same time, there are problems. The political society, with its multi-party politics and public elections, has functioned somewhat well, for instance, with reasonably high voter turnouts. Yet the Fretilin and the CNRT are still the dominant powers in the country. A power-sharing agreement between them might arguably be the best model for Timor-Leste; however, the risk of a weak opposition voice remains a concern. This could potentially undermine the further development of democratic norms.
As the excitement and surprise at the results of the election begin to settle, decisions will be made about the formation of the next government and the appointment of ministers. The new government will basically need to tackle a series of unsolved problems that were left by the outgoing government. Increasing rural-based development is critical but it will not be simple; progress here is also intertwined with the issues of governance and balanced development. Over-dependence on foreign aid is gradually becoming another key challenge and the new government would want to avoid falling into the aid-dependency trap.
These are some of the issues that cannot be neglected in Timor-Leste’s political discourse, as the problems are obvious in every part of the country. The next government is going to have to do a lot of deal making. The worry, though, is that the capacity to do all this still remains quite limited.
Economically, the new government following the election will have much to do but will probably lack the capacity to get it all done. In economic and social terms, sustainable transformation in Timor-Leste requires a continuous investment in the capacity building and empowerment of its own people. The new government will have to work hard to prevent vested interests from leading the resource-rich country to fall prey to the “resource curse” as well as implement reforms in key areas that remain under-explored, such as agriculture and community-based tourism.
Meanwhile, whoever the next prime minister is, in five years’ time he or she will face the thorny question of how to bring this young democracy a step ahead by diversifying its economic opportunities and development as well as moving away from its aid and oil dependency. Ultimately, the real test for this young democracy’s survival is whether tolerance and understanding of the different aspirations of the people can prevail for the betterment of the country.
Dr. Khoo Ying Hooi is Senior Lecturer at the Department of International and Strategic Studies, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, University of Malaya.
14 JULY 2017
Although another power-sharing government seems likely, generational factors could play a larger than expected role
The ’75ers live on: East Timor’s new president, Francisco Guterres, and former president Xanana Gusmao after the presidential election in April this year. Antonio Dasiparu/EPAguterres
Twenty-one parties will contest sixty-five parliamentary seats and decide who governs Timor-Leste in national elections on 22 July. In a population with a median age of just under nineteen years and a voting age of seventeen, a fifth of Timor-Leste’s 750,000 registered voters will be participating for the first time. This is just one of the factors making the exact composition of the new parliament, and the complexion of the government, hard to pick.
The current government was formed in extraordinary circumstances in early 2015, when former independence movement leader and prime minister Xanana Gusmão handed the prime ministership to an opposition Fretilin figure, Rui Araújo. Best seen as a power-sharing executive rather than a formal government of national unity, this de facto “grand coalition” between Timor-Leste’s two largest parties – the National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction, or CNRT, and Fretilin – was a remarkable development. As recently as 2012, bitter tensions had existed between the two parties.
Power-sharing executives are not uncommon in the Pacific region, and generally award ministries to any parties winning a significant number of seats. They tend to facilitate political stability, but they can also reduce the accountability of government to parliament by incorporating all significant parties into the executive government. The fact that the smaller Partido Democrático, or PD, kept its ministries when its formal alliance with CNRT ended in 2015 suggests that this is an emerging informal feature of the East Timorese political system. Its dynamics are likely to influence the result of this month’s election.
Members will be elected under Timor-Leste’s proportional system, with voters selecting a party rather than individual candidates. Each party registers a list of sixty-five candidates in order of election, giving party leaders substantial power over candidates anxious to appear high on the list. But the system also allows for progressive features, like the requirement that every third candidate be a woman, which has given Timor-Leste one of the highest percentages of female MPs in Asia, at 38 per cent.
The system isn’t strictly proportional. To get any of its candidates into parliament, a party needs at least 4 per cent of the vote, up from 3 per cent in 2012, which effectively awards a bonus to parties that clear the hurdle. The 4 per cent might be a substantial barrier, but the large number of parties participating in the election attests to the relative ease of party registration and political participation. This feature reflects Timor-Leste’s relatively open society and pluralist culture, which saw it ranked as the most democratic country in Southeast Asia in the Economist’s 2016 Democracy Index.
The March election to the presidency of Fretilin’s Francisco “Lú-Olo” Guterres appeared to solidify the de facto accord between the major parties, with Gusmão’s endorsement helping Guterres draw some 60 per cent of the national vote. The figure suggests that voters like the power-sharing arrangement between CNRT and Fretilin, which could continue beyond this election, though not necessarily in the same form.
Seeking to challenge the major parties, immediate past president Taur Matan Ruak and his new Partidu Libertasaun Popular (Popular Liberation Party, or PLP) have focused on basic health and education spending rather than the megaproject-led development favoured by the government. The PLP vocally opposes the unpopular life pensions for politicians, and has also raised allegations of patrimonialism and the growth of “money politics” in awarding government contracts.
While these issues have the clear potential to resonate in the electorate, the present government’s success in maintaining political stability and reducing political conflict within Timor-Leste’s political elite remains a major electoral asset. In a country with a long history of conflict and memories of the 2006–07 political crisis, this factor alone undoubtedly means that CNRT and Fretilin will remain highly competitive. Irrespective of which major party comes first, their ability to coexist will remain central to political stability in Timor-Leste.
Nevertheless, the PLP and other smaller parties will take encouragement from recent polls suggesting that far fewer people are happy with the direction of the country than three years ago, including just 50 per cent of those under twenty-five, down from 80 per cent in 2014. While anti-corruption campaigns have rarely swayed votes in the way spending programs can, alternative development visions focused on basic development indicators may resonate in communities where infrastructure spending programs have provided few benefits to date.
The parties’ electoral campaigns have played to their respective strengths. Xanana Gusmão’s personal legitimacy and popularity as the former resistance commander remains the cornerstone of the CNRT’s appeal. Though the party also includes extremely competent and senior ministers, including minister of state Agio Pereira, the CNRT has been criticised for being little more than a political vehicle for Gusmão and entirely reliant on his charismatic legitimacy – a perception reinforced when a new PM was not chosen from within the party, and again when the party decided not to field a presidential candidate.
In fact, posters featuring the wider CNRT team of ministers were dropped in the early weeks of the parliamentary campaign in favour of images of Gusmão alone. The current party slogan, “Vote for our future,” suggests continuity with earlier CNRT campaigns focused on rapid modernisation through government-led infrastructure spending, in line with Gusmão’s Strategic Development Plan.
For its part, Fretilin’s parliamentary campaign seems the most modern and professional, reflecting its status as the most disciplined and well-established of the East Timorese parties. With the slogan “For a more developed Timor-Leste,” Fretilin’s campaign materials promise improved outcomes in education and health using images of East Timorese making a “plus” sign with crossed fingers. Because resistance credentials remain central to political fortunes in Timor-Leste, the loss of the party’s most senior Falintil veteran, Lú-Olo, who can’t campaign actively as president, has been notable.
Fretilin’s social media campaign has been at pains to counter suggestions that the current government represents a coalition with CNRT, reiterating their view that prime minister Araújo and other ministers participate in the current government as individuals. The party says that it remains committed to working with Gusmão after the election in the interests of stability, but that formalised cooperation with the CNRT more broadly is a different proposition. It is by no means clear that Fretilin would again accept ministries if it finished in second place, though it acknowledges that tough decisions may need to be made in the interests of national stability.
For the PLP, the focus on Taur Matan Ruak as leader draws on two sources of symbolic strength: his legacy as the final commander of Falintil during the resistance era, and his more immediate presidential legacy as the closest thing to a national opposition leader from 2015. Ruak attacked the government in parliament over accountability issues in early 2016, and vetoed the initial version of its budget; his relationship with Gusmão has yet to recover from this episode.
Supported by a host of younger Western-educated East Timorese from Dili’s intelligentsia, the PLP campaign represents a transitional point between an older mode of resistance legitimacy and generational change. Campaign rallies have focused on opposing discrimination, criticising the vast expenditure on “megaprojects,” and urging the greater focus on basic health, education and agriculture spending frequently recommended by Dili’s civil society organisations. Reflecting its position at twelfth place on the national ballot, the PLP has talked of using “Vitamin 12” to combat corruption. More controversially, it backs obligatory military service, though it argues this is best seen as a nation-building program of public works projects and employment creation.
Unlike the large setpiece rallies of CNRT and Fretilin, which see supporters (known as “militants”) trucked in from elsewhere in the district, the PLP has focused on smaller rallies at the posto, or subdistrict, level. The smaller scale reflects its smaller budget, and the idea that it is running a grassroots campaign. At rallies, the party points out that millions have been spent on the south-coast Tasi Mane petroleum project while the locals still have poor educational and health outcomes, and that – despite the brand new south-coast highway – the more important road from the southern town of Suai to Dili remains poor. The PLP also campaigns against the new “unelected leaders” of the exclave of Oecusse – a clear dig at Fretilin’s leadership of the Special Social Market Economy Zone project in the Oecusse district, known as ZEESM.
Ruak has been joined onstage at rallies by some important characters, including well-known Falintil veteran “L4” and one of Fretilin’s early leaders, Abílio Araújo, who was later expelled from the party. PLP sources privately estimate winning between ten and twenty seats, though local political commentators assess the likely range more modestly at between five and fifteen. Either way, these low and high estimates have very different implications. At the low end, the PLP would at least represent a welcome reinvigoration of parliamentary opposition. At the upper end, it would become a potential coalition partner.
Many have written off the PD, the CNRT’s former alliance partner, but what little polling exists in Timor suggests its support is alive and well – if somewhat diminished by the untimely death of leader Fernando “Lasama” De Araújo in 2015, and by the rise of the PLP, which draws on some of the same clandestine youth resistance networks and associated imagery. The PD’s profile was boosted by the surprisingly sound performance of António da Conceição in the presidential campaign in March, in which he received the backing of the PLP. By contrast, the fourth party in the current parliament, Frente Mudansa, appears to be in considerable trouble after one of its key figures, Jorge Teme from the exclave of Oecusse, threw his lot in with the PLP.
With an outright majority for any one party unlikely, and in the absence of reliable polling, local commentators have been looking for reasons why the major-party vote shares from 2012 (CNRT 36 per cent, Fretilin 30 per cent) might change in 2017. Some point to growing popular dissatisfaction with the direction of the country, arguing that it opens space for the PLP to gain seats. But it is also possible that new entrants like the PLP will take votes from smaller parties, which together received 20 per cent in 2012, and were excluded by the hurdle requirements. Others argue that the political value of stability will prevail, and that there is a real chance of a “business as usual” result. Reinforcing this sense, the election campaign has been very sedate, and even dull, with the most interesting question being how well the PLP can perform.
For Fretilin, positive comments by José Ramos-Horta about the role of Mari Alkatiri and Lú-Olo in stabilising East Timorese democracy in recent years have been welcomed by the party and highlighted in social media. More recently, Ramos-Horta has made the same comments about Gusmão, and has also encouraged Ruak to reconcile with him. At the district level, the impact of Fretilin’s stewardship of the ZEESM project will be interesting to watch in Oecusse, as will the CNRT vote in the district of Covalima, where the massive Tasi Mane project is closely associated with Gusmão’s party.
It is too early to say whether the “build it and they will come” approach to attracting private investment has been successful. Certainly, the rapid development of new infrastructure has resulted in some high-quality bridges and roads, but it has also created resentment and displacement in local communities governed by older customary land use practices. These two district votes will therefore offer an interesting mini-analysis of the local reception of ambitious development plans.
Overall, the key question for 22 July is whether the CNRT and Fretilin can withstand the challenge from the former president’s PLP, and what sort of reconstituted cross-party government would follow. While the March presidential poll suggested a welcome reinvigoration of parliamentary opposition, it also raised the real possibility of a “business as usual” outcome in the parliamentary elections, at least in terms of seats. The nature of any arrangement between the major parties may, however, change considerably. Meanwhile, the PLP and other parties have had another four months to campaign widely and expand their national vote. Sources inside the PLP expect to do well in Ruak’s home district of Baucau, where the personal vote is strong, in the populous Western town of Maliana, and in Oecusse.
With a new Fretilin president already installed, a key question will be the identity of a new prime minister in the event that CNRT and Fretilin return to some form of power-sharing arrangement. While it seems likely that a new PM would come from CNRT, no one in Dili seems sure who this might be. Obvious candidates include Agio Pereira and state administration and justice minister Dionísio Babo-Soares. Certainly, it seems clear that Gusmão himself no longer desires the role, happy to direct the government from the Ministry of Planning and Strategic Development.
For its part – assuming it is unable to form government – the PLP will need to decide if it will accept ministries if they are on offer, and thus effectively join a power-sharing executive. Or will it act as an unfettered parliamentary opposition? The poor relations between Gusmão and Ruak suggest that ministries are not likely to be on offer immediately, though this might be somewhat more likely in the event that the biggest party is Fretilin, where relations are more cordial. Either way, given the capacity of the East Timorese leadership to “hug it out” over apparently insoluble grievances, this issue may confront the PLP sometime in the life of the next government.
For East Timorese society in general, the 2017 elections represent an important transitional moment, with a full fifth of the electoral roll voting for the first time. These new voters don’t remember the Indonesian era, nor necessarily the political crisis of 2006–07. The election has also seen the welcome rise of domestic political commentary for an international audience, written by an increasingly confident and well-informed East Timorese commentariat.
Despite these shifts, a generational transition of power from the “1975 generation” of leaders seems further away than five years ago. The last two years have seen a stronger reassertion from the older generation of leaders, including Gusmão and Alkatiri, of the need for patience among younger political leaders – a notable change in tone from the “transitional” rhetoric of 2012. The promised transition to younger leaders at the Fretilin party congress didn’t occur, and Gusmão himself has remained firmly in control despite moving from centre stage. While the key roles of prime minister and chief justice are indeed filled by the younger generation, as the major parties point out, the 1975 generation remains the key power-holder behind the scenes.
For Australia, there appears to be little prospect of a change in direction in the foreign policy positions that unite the major East Timorese parties, including the determination to demarcate maritime boundaries between the neighbouring states. Both parties to the current Timor Sea conciliation process in The Hague privately report substantial progress in recent negotiations, though numerous difficult issues remain to be addressed. On balance, the likelihood that Canberra will face a substantially different government in Dili after 22 July seems low.
Michael Leach is Professor of Politics and International Relations at Swinburne University of Technology.
It’s a little surreal to be back here in June 2017. The problem of how to share the resources of the Timor Sea is one of the easiest problems in world politics to solve. When you compare it to the Kashmir dispute, the competing claims in the South China Sea, the Israel-Palestine conflict, and other disputes, this one’s a no-brainer. Anything north of the median line between Australia and East Timor should be theirs, and anything south of the median line should be ours.
This saga, which began in the 1960s, could’ve been solved immediately after the Australian-led peacekeeping force, InterFET, entered East Timor on 20 September 1999.
All that was needed was a maritime border in the Timor Sea halfway between our two coastlines. Such a border would allow East Timor to enjoy its fair share of the $40 billion in oil and gas resources under the Timor Sea.
You’d think Australia had a stake in seeing East Timor’s 1.2 million people prosper and thrive, and come to regard us as a good friend and a natural ally.
But incredibly, since East Timor gained independence in 2002, successive Australian governments have refused point blank to agree to a maritime border. When Timor tried to bring the matter before an independent umpire, then-Foreign Minister Alexander Downer unilaterally withdrew Australia’s recognition of the maritime boundary jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice and the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea.
No maritime boundary was negotiated in the Labor Government years either, from 2007 to 2013.
It’s welcome news to hear that, now that it’s in opposition, Labor’s national conference passed a resolution about the maritime border dispute. It would help if Labor states explicitly that it would agree on a border halfway between the two coastlines, and commit explicitly in its resolution to the words ‘median line’ or ‘lines of equidistance.’ That’s what it once said back in 2000, when Laurie Brereton was Shadow Foreign Minister.
As far as I’m concerned, fixing economic arrangements without first agreeing to a maritime boundary is like playing tennis without a net – there is no way to tell what counts as fair, or which side benefits more.
Furthermore, Australia’s use of its overseas spy agency against the East Timorese government during treaty negotiations has poisoned the bilateral relationship.
I can’t help remarking, however that some tactics by the East Timorese side have been perplexing. In September 2014, at the height of intense Australian public interest in the espionage case before the International Court of Justice, East Timorese negotiators suspended proceedings for six months. The resultant drop in Australian public interest is hard to revive. Momentum is invaluable in political campaigns, and cannot be easily regained.
I hope Labor and the Timor Sea campaigners haven’t thrown Witness K under a bus. I’ve pursued his case in Parliament for some time, and will continue to do so.
Since 1999, Australia has taken more than $4 billion in oil revenue that really should belong to East Timor. During this time, we have given them about $0.4 billion in aid and about $0.5 billion in military assistance. That means Australia has taken four times more from the East Timorese than we have given them in aid. As Professor Clinton Fernandes from UNSW has said, ‘East Timor is Australia’s biggest foreign aid donor – this is not a typo.’
The East Timorese consider they’re fighting for their rights as a sovereign country and a future free of poverty and hunger.
At stake for Australia is not just the resources of the Timor Sea or our international reputation as a good global citizen but our strategic national interests.
In recent years, China has built East Timor’s Presidential Palace, its foreign ministry buildings and its army barracks. It is proving itself to be a reliable friend of the Timorese just as our espionage and refusal to agree to a fair maritime border are driving the Timorese away from us.
Our foreign and defence policies are acting in a contradictory fashion. The defence interest is in a peaceful and stable East Timor that is not subject to third party influence. But in denying them their fair share of the oil and gas, and in refusing to negotiate a fair maritime border, our foreign policy is pushing in the opposite direction.
In time, the implications of these contradictory policies could end up costing Australia far more than our ill-gotten gains, to date, from the Timor Sea.
The Global Peace Index 2017, published on the 1st of June by the Institute for Economics and Peace, has recognized Timor-Leste as having a “High State of Peace”. Timor-Leste is grouped in this category along with countries such as Singapore, Norway and the UK and was ranked 53 out of 163 countries measured.The Index reports that in 2008 Timor-Leste was in the Top 10 “At Risk” countries according to their Positive Peace deficit model. Of those ten countries five have since seen deteriorations in peacefulness and two have fallen into conflict. Timor-Leste, in contrast has built and maintained peace, showing sustained progress in the index including a two-place rise in the ranking over the last 12 months.
Minister of State Agio Pereira noted “we should never underestimate the remarkable achievement of Timor- Leste in consolidating peace over these past ten years. We are one of only a few conflict-affected countries who have managed such a transition from fragility towards resilience.”
The Institute for Economics and Peace said “High levels of Positive Peace occur where attitudes make violence less tolerated, institutions are more responsive to society’s needs and structures underpin the nonviolent resolution of grievances.”
In the recent High Level meeting of the Global Conference on the 2030 Agenda held in Dili, interventions were made by the representatives of several G7+ countries that are currently in conflict. These highlighted the devastation experienced by countries in crisis and the critical need to achieve peace in order to alleviate the suffering of their people.
Minister Pereira said “we welcome this Index as yet another confirmation of our transition over the past ten years. The work of peacebuilding and statebuilding is not easy. It takes time and patience. But we are clearly moving along the right path and have made remarkable progress. This is a credit to the people of Timor-Leste and all who continue to contribute to creating and sustaining our peaceful society.”
Francisco ‘Lú-Olo’ Guterres says he will pursue the long-running matter of maritime and land borders with Australia and Indonesia
National pride is a serious business for Timor-Leste, a young country with a violent history. So on the eve of a presidential inauguration and the 15th anniversary of the nation’s independence, the capital Dili is covered in flags. They adorn houses, fences, bikes and cars. They are draped over balconies and the arms of the half-dozen flag sellers on each block.
As the sun sets on Dili, the seaside road fills with cars, bikes and bemos taking thousands to the historic Tasi Tolu, a park on the outskirts of the city that is deeply embedded in the story of Timor-Leste’s path to freedom. It is where Pope John Paul II once led a mass in the local language, Tetum. It is also where thousands first rallied against the Indonesian occupation, where thousands more sheltered during political upheaval, and where in 2002 the government formally proclaimed its independence.
Francisco “‘Lú-Olo’ ” Guterres, a former guerrilla fighter, won the March presidential election in a single round of voting. He is the country’s fourth president but its first to come from the nationalist leftwing party, Fretilin, born from the decades-long resistance movement.
The 12-hour inauguration ceremony – the first since UN peacekeepers left in 2012 – began at 6pm. During inexplicably long pauses, the crowd remained quiet and solemnly respectful of the event, which represents a sovereign freedom won at a great cost.
The military parade across the wide concrete grounds separated the dignitaries and world leaders under awnings draped in the national colours from the thousands of citizens standing in the dusty park or on the back of utes.
Lú-Olo and his predecessor, Taur Matan Ruak, arrived about midnight by motorcade. Speeches and formalities, the bestowing of the Great Necklace of the Order of Timor-Leste, a 21-gun salute, the raising of the flag, a lap of honour in a military jeep, and more than one rendition of the anthem, followed.
Fireworks marked the end of formalities at 3am, before a public concert entertained those who were still awake at dawn.
Lú-Olo formally took over the presidency and claimed a mandate to “preside over the destiny of the nation”.
“We should be proud of so much that has been done during the last 15 years, but we should be aware that there is still much to be done,” he told the crowd.
He indicated that his administration would push Timor-Leste on to the world stage, fostering relationships and defending its hard-won sovereignty.
“I will follow with particular attention and interest the process to establish demarcation of our permanent maritime and land borders with our neighbouring countries, Australia and Indonesia,” he said, referencing the long-running and frequently bitter dispute with Australia – now before the Hague – over rights to an estimated $40bn oil and gas reserve in the Timor Sea.
Domestically, he pledged sustainable development, political stability, national unity, and action on violence against women and children, and poverty.
Nona and Angelina Fernandez, 19-year-old twins who grew up learning of the troubles that began before they were born and continued until they were young children, stayed most of the night.
“I remember this independence, and now I am going to see our new president so we can welcome him,” said Nona. “And so he can see how we are going to support our leaders … For me, the president is very important in my life.”
Another woman, 22-year-old Melania, said she hoped the new leader would make education a priority.
“I believe he can build a good nation and be a better president for our country,” she said.
The presidency is largely ceremonial but is influential and seen as a figure of unity. Lú-Olo’s election – after two previous unsuccessful attempts – was assisted by the backing of the CNRT leader, Xanana Gusmao, a beloved former president and political kingmaker.
The 62-year-old is a veteran guerrilla commander and was president of the national parliament following independence.
Jose Ramos Horta, the independence leader and former president and prime minister, has previously told the Guardian the country is not so tied to its revolutionary heroes as observers suggest, but at least for those who attended the inauguration, freedom fighters are the obvious choice to now take the country through its adolescence.
Andre Rangel Gomes said they had a “moral responsibility to make a contribution to the nation”.
“It’s important because their contribution for all these years show these people really are here to contribute to the nation building.”
Gomes, who told the Guardian he was a survivor of the 1991 Santa Cruz massacre – when Indonesian forces shot and killed at least 250 Timorese pro-independence demonstrators – said Lú-Olo’s most important task was to maintain stability for Timor-Leste.
Josera de Costa, a public servant, also noted Lú-Olo’s guerrilla past, and said he was very happy to be at the inauguration.
“As leaders of the country they have a lot of experience. The younger generation need more preparation for the future,” he said.
“Lú-Olo has to do everything to make people’s lives better in this nation. Access to education, electricity, sanitation, water, housing for people.”
Nona said: “I want my president to see all these people who are poor people. To make the roads go to the village, and see how poor all the people still are far from the city.”
Poverty in Timor-Leste is decreasing, but remains a way of life for about one-third of the population. In 15 years, the country has come far but as Lú-Olo notes, it still has far to go.
Parliamentary elections will be held in coming months and Ruak is expected to run with his newly formed Peoples Liberation party.
Should the PLP win, Ruak will follow in the footsteps of several predecessors who have held the presidency and prime ministership, including Gusmao and Horta.
He will hold more power as prime minister, steering the country through economically dangerous times. The country’s leaders acknowledge its precarious over-dependence on oil and gas revenues – these contribute between 90% and 95% of the annual US$1.3bn-1.5bn ($1.75bn-$2bn) budget but current reserves are due to run out in the next few years. There is a lot of hope and investment riding on a favourable outcome in the dispute with Australia.
The vice-finance minister, Helder Lopes, told the Guardian before the inauguration that warnings the country could become a failed state were “partially correct” but the government was well aware of what it needed to do.
More than US$16bn has been funnelled into a sovereign wealth fund, which is partially invested but also heavily utilised in public spending. East Timorese ministers and diplomats are unapologetic about the government’s front loaded expenditure on infrastructure, arguing that without good roads, reliable electricity, and fast internet, investors will stay away.
Lopes noted the low 10% corporate tax rate and generous investor incentives as he described his government’s hope that Timor-Leste would become a manufacturing and finance hub in the region. He said Timor-Leste was geographically well placed and politically stable, making it an attractive option for foreign investors if the infrastructure was up to scratch.
“The next election is key. If we don’t have any problems, I believe we will give a positive signal to private sector investors.”
The Guardian travelled as a guest of the Timor-Leste embassy.
is The Saturday Paper’s world editor.
Settling the maritime borders with Timor-Leste
Tolstoy once wrote a short story about a greedy peasant offered as much land as he could get around in a day. The man ran off into the steppe, returning to complete his vast circuit at dusk, only to drop dead from exhaustion.
Tolstoy’s parable “How Much Land Does a Man Need?” comes to mind as one of the sorriest chapters in Australia’s diplomatic history draws close to resolution: the story of how one of the richest countries in the world with a maritime zone already encompassing a vast stretch of the globe’s surface, pressured a much smaller and poorer neighbour into giving it more.
The game seems to be up. While most of us were on holiday in early January, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop slipped out a brief notice that Australia had agreed to begin negotiations with Timor-Leste on a permanent maritime boundary. About the same time, Timor-Leste gave notice it was terminating an existing temporary border and petroleum revenue agreement, known as the treaty on Certain Maritime Arrangements in the Timor Sea, or CMATS.
CMATS was signed with great reluctance by Timorese leaders in 2006 as the best deal in the circumstances. Two months before the newly independent nation came into being in May 2002, the Howard government announced Australia’s withdrawal from the jurisdiction of the international courts on maritime boundary issues. So there was no referee.
Meanwhile, Australia had plenty of oil and gas resources and insisted on maintaining a joint development zone worked out with Timor-Leste’s Indonesian occupiers in 1989. Time was on its side. Timor desperately needed the Woodside Petroleum consortium’s Greater Sunrise gas field in the disputed zone. It caved in, accepting a split of 50:50 in the eventual Greater Sunrise revenues instead of its 18 per cent share under a previous treaty, with fishery rights thrown in. A permanent boundary was put off for 50 years.
But even that deal started foundering within four years, as Woodside baulked at the Timorese demand for the gas to be piped across the 3000-metre-deep Timor Trench to a liquefied natural gas plant on its coast. It preferred a floating LNG plant above the gas field, or failing that, a pipeline to Darwin, longer but in relatively shallow water and hence less risky.
It then came out that the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) had bugged the cabinet room in Dili in 2004 as negotiations on CMATS proceeded. Last year Timor-Leste took Australia to The Hague over this bad faith, and won, against Canberra’s opposition, an order for compulsory conciliation. In January, Timor-Leste invoked a clause requiring a start of Greater Sunrise development within 10 years as the basis for its withdrawal from CMATS.
Conciliation is less than adjudication or arbitration, but still an independent monitor. A five-member panel of maritime law experts, chaired by Denmark’s Peter Taksøe-Jensen, is supervising the bilateral negotiations under way in Singapore. The panel aims to draw recommendations “appropriate for an amicable settlement” by September 19.
Both sides are bound by confidentiality, but a high degree of optimism emanates from Timor-Leste that the commission will accept its case for the boundary to be fixed along the median line between the two coasts. Australia’s argument for decades has been that the Timor Trench, much closer to the coast of Timor, is the natural boundary between two continental shelves. It’s getting harder to argue, as geologists now say Australia’s tectonic plate collides with the Indonesian plate north of Timor and the trench is but a ripple.
But this would be a largely symbolic victory for Timor-Leste. And for Australia, it would open up a potentially lasting embarrassment with the neighbour it regards as the most critical element in its national security, Indonesia. This is an issue our leaders need to address in a fashion that puts long-term national interest ahead of immediate mercenary gains.
Many of Timor-Leste’s supporters would have it that a median line boundary would deliver it Greater Sunrise, enabling Dili to order Woodside to develop the field its way, or hand over to someone such as the Chinese. But getting more or all of Greater Sunrise requires the commission to agree on swinging the eastern lateral boundary of the disputed zone outward.
For 12 years, Dili has been nursing opinions from British and Australian sea-law experts that by taking into account a small island off the eastern end of Timor, discounting lightly populated small Indonesian islands, and fixing on certain bits of Australia’s coast, the side boundary could be swung outwards to take in the parts of Greater Sunrise currently in Australia’s exclusive economic zone.
It’s a perhaps heroic case. But it’s also a “huge gamble”, as the Australian Catholic University’s Frank Brennan, a supporter of Timor-Leste’s quest, has pointed out. The Timorese have gone back to their 18 per cent entitlement, and lost their fishing rights, with no guarantee they will get a border adjustment awarding them more than 50 per cent of Greater Sunrise. Then, of course, they would need to get Woodside to proceed with a development plan it regards as uneconomic and technically risky.
Nor is it entirely up to Australia. The eastward expansion of Timor’s jurisdiction would require Indonesia’s agreement to its small islands being discounted in the geometry, and sections of Australia’s seabed rights being transferred to Timor-Leste, rather than Indonesia. It is understood that Jakarta has formally notified the conciliation commission of its interest.
Even setting this complexity aside, a permanent median-line boundary would stick out like a dog’s hind leg on the map, reminding Indonesians of how they were “taken to the cleaners” – the phrase of Jakarta’s chief negotiator and later foreign minister Mochtar Kusumaatmadja when Australia fixed its maritime boundary with Indonesia in 1970-72 on either side of then Portuguese Timor.
As early as November 1965, Canberra knew the Timor Trench argument was a political risk. As noted in a submission to a parliamentary inquiry on relations with Timor-Leste in 2013, by former secretary to the committee on foreign affairs and defence Robert King, then national development minister David Fairbairn argued for the median line, but the Menzies cabinet took the advice of attorney-general Billy Snedden to stake out the bolder claim, which Indonesia had not challenged. “Jurisdiction asserted without challenge constitutes a powerful claim in international law,” Snedden said.
Indonesia was then of course in the middle of horrendous political violence, and unlikely to be thinking much about the seabed. By the time foreign minister William McMahon launched boundary negotiations, its experts such as Mochtar were very aware of the tectonic plate science, but were overruled by General Suharto, who wanted a quick agreement to show Indonesia was turning away from Konfrontasi with its neighbours and grateful for Australia’s support for his new regime.
After the annexation of Portuguese Timor, Canberra also played the diplomatic card as hard as it could with a much cannier Mochtar and his successor as foreign minister, Ali Alatas, parlaying recognition of Indonesian sovereignty over Timor for the joint development zone between the median line and the Timor Trench.
As with the Timor-Leste negotiations, there was some dirty play. Throughout, according to authors Brian Toohey and William Pinwill in their book Oyster: The Story of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service, ASIS kept Canberra supplied with purloined information on the Indonesian case.
The heritage of the two Billys, Snedden and McMahon, lives on in Australian foreign policy, in the form of the Timor Trench as natural boundary. Whether our leaders sincerely believe in it, there seems to be a feeling it can’t be let go. As then foreign minister Alexander Downer said in April 2005: “What Australia doesn’t want is to unravel all of our maritime boundaries which have been laboriously negotiated over many years with all our neighbours.” The big worry, Downer said on other occasions, was Indonesia.
To its credit, Indonesia has never sought to reopen the border issue with Australia. But it has been mentioned as a grievance by the current armed forces chief, General Gatot Nurmantyo, and the negotiations with Timor-Leste must lead to Jakarta being brought into discussions. “In resolving one maritime boundary dispute with Timor-Leste, Australia will therefore want to ensure that it doesn’t create a fresh dispute with its biggest maritime neighbour, Indonesia,” Australian National University professor of international law Don Rothwell has pointed out.
What should Australia do? The simplest and most honest solution would be to explore with Indonesia, at the highest levels, a unilateral offer to redraw the boundary in the Timor and Arafura seas along the median line, transferring the rights under whatever existing exploration and development leases granted by Australia in affected areas.
As Robert King concluded in his inquiry submission: “The Australian government is bound to act in the best long-term interests of Australia, and that is best served by policies that are in accord with international law and equity. A fair border in the Timor Sea is in the best long-term interests of Australia. The current, essentially belligerent, stance taken by the Australian government (which has been taken consistently by all Australian governments since 1965) is contrary to the national interest (though it might be favourable to some particular interests).”
To offset any Indonesian claims for revenues extracted from these leases since 1972, Indonesia would gain the residual Australian share of Greater Sunrise. Most of the partners in the Woodside consortium already have or have had operations in Indonesia and don’t seem to be complaining about its petroleum regime.
A maritime boundary fixed according to the best geological and legal principles would be an investment in Australia’s relationships with its region. In the short term, it would be a huge boost for the increasingly embattled secular-nationalist government of President Joko Widodo, who has made control and development of the archipelago state’s maritime zones a hallmark policy.
When the border was negotiated 45 years ago, Australia seemed abundant in every resource except petroleum and felt it needed every offshore prospect it could grab, while the world’s oil companies were rushing into Indonesia’s petroleum-rich Java Sea. Now Indonesia is an oil-importing country, and Australia is about to become the world’s biggest exporter of LNG. How much gas does a country need?
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on May 20, 2017 as “Closing the Timor Gap”.