Tomorrow, Timor holds its fourth-ever presidential election.
In a quirk of timing this self-confessed politics nut was thrilled with, my first month in Timor coincides with both the presidential election and my home state’s own election: last weekend, Western Australia had a state election I watched very closely from Timor, desperately refreshing live blogs on my rattly internet in search of real-time results from my old suburbs.
We changed our premier, and in his victory speech Mark McGowan curiously thanked, as well as his supporters, the institution of democracy: praising the fair and peaceful process by which he’d been elected premier. It was important to note, but it stuck out to me for a different reason: just two weeks into my time in Timor, I’m already realising how much I take that stability for granted, and how odd and unnecessary McGowan’s observations seemed to me. I take it totally for granted that elections in Australia happen peacefully and fairly, and it seems weird to praise it like it’s something unusual – the same as announcing the sky is blue, or that Melbourne’s weather is finicky and its coffee good.
But it’s absolutely something to be proud of and to have stock in – and the same goes for Timor. Despite its young age, independent Timor is regarded for its fair, democratic elections: last year it ranked as the most democratic country in South-East Asia for political processes. Its three previous elections – in 2002, 2007 and 2012 – were universally regarded as robust, competitive and peaceful, and while the police are observing campaigning closely there’s no reason to expect this year’s won’t go the same way.
Still, it feels thrilling and wild to be here right now: I feel like I’m spectating at the coalface of democracy; observing a new nation grind its way into history. And it’s humbling to be a Westerner, totally used to peaceful suburban democracy, in a country where every step feels enormous.
I’ve spent some time this weekend learning about Timor’s politics by reading commentary, and if you’re interested in doing the same I’d recommend this article and this article, and the website of the NGO Lao Hamutuk, which independently researches and analyses policy and development in Timor.
Fingers crossed the Dili Post will put up a live blog I can be glued to tomorrow.