Dili (Agenzia Fides) - With a view to the general elections scheduled for May 21 in East Timor, the electoral campaign has begun in the youngest nation in Asia. The President of the Bishops' Conference of East Timor, Bishop Norberto do Amaral of Maliana, in a public message, calls on politicians to promote peace and work for stability and the common good, rather than attacking one another or spreading hostility.
The country -- where 97 percent of its 1.3 million people are Catholic -- has a long history of political conflict and tensions between former freedom fighters, committed, in various forms for Indonesia's independence, achieved in 1999. Elections were held in East Timor in 2018, just ten months after the 2017 elections in which FRETILIN leader Mari Alkatiri failed to secure a sufficient majority in parliament to form a government.
The five years since the 2018 elections have been marked by political upheavals and periods of peaceful coexistence,
stalemate and change of government in a political landscape that has always been quite unstable. The May elections are therefore perceived as yet another confrontation between Xanana Gusmão's National Congress for the Reconstruction of Timor (CNRT) and Mari Alkatiri's Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor (FRETILIN). In the election, which is the fifth general election since 2002, these two parties will lead the country's two largest political blocs.
One aspect likely to play a crucial role in voters' decision is the issue of the future management of the Greater Sunrise hydrocarbon field off the south coast of East Timor, which is important to the country's economic development. On this issue, there has been a long-standing dispute between the joint venture companies managing the deposits - Timor Gap, Woodside Petroleum and Osaka Gas - over whether the resources produced from the field will be located at an existing facility in Darwin, Australia, or to be processed and prepared in a new facility in East Timor.
Another issue that will cause political confrontation is official membership in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which was formally adopted at the ASEAN Summit in November 2022. The terms of East Timor's path to full membership are expected to be finalized at the next ASEAN Summit in May next year. Dili is currently attending ASEAN meetings as an observer. (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 26/4/2023)