Timor-Leste: fingers crossed for bloodless election


Even in Southeast Asia, only a scant media buzz surrounds a major election this week in the region's youngest nation: Timor-Leste or East Timor.

This is partly owed to the relative quiet in Timor-Leste, wracked by disorder since the formerly Portuguese-run outpost split from Indonesia in 2002.

In the 10 years following its hard-won independence, the nation of roughly one million has endured repeated assassination attempts against its head of state and a destabilizing 2006 armed forces uprising. Its population also contends with widespread joblessness and an imbalanced economy that relies far too heavily on oil deposits.

All that instability means that, for Timor-Leste, the absence of pre-election disarray is promising.

Both the International Crisis Group and The Economist strike optimistic tones in recent articles about the coming vote. Both also note that Timor-Leste's notorious martial-arts gangs — a "substantial social problem", says the United Nations — haven't been harnessed by political entities to cause a ruckus.

Not everyone is so assured: the Indonesian government has contingency plans to evacuate its citizens in case "chaos" erupts around the elections, according to the Antara news outlet. U.N. peacekeeping forces, which remain in Timor-Leste, won't withdraw unless the elections proceed peacefully.

"The country is markedly more peaceful than when general elections were last conducted in 2007," according to the International Crisis Group, "but many of the root causes of fragility persist."

Timor-Leste heads to the polls on March 17.

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