The culmination of parliamentary elections and a month of independence celebrations in Asia’s youngest nation came and went last weekend.
People queue to vote during parliamentary elections at a polling station in Dili, East Timor, Sunday, May 21, 2023.
Credit: AP Photo/Lorenio L. Pereira
Last weekend came and went as the climax of a month of parliamentary elections and independence anniversary celebrations in Asia’s youngest nation, Timor-Leste. As of Tuesday, 23 May, the results were as follows: Xanana Gusmao’s National Congress of Reconstruction of East Timor (CNRT) won 31 of a possible 65 seats in parliament, winning 31 seats from the opposition. Although short of an absolute majority of 33 seats, it was a clear victory for the CNRT.
Sometimes it really is a matter of reading the writing on the wall. And walking along a main street in the capital, Dili, right next to the palace of government, I saw the words “Viva Xanana” boldly scrawled on the wall. Although likely written many years ago, the message is just as relevant today. The national hero who led the country to independence in 2002, 76-year-old Zana Gusmão, is very much alive – and is now eyeing the prime ministership once again.
With the election coinciding with the celebrations of the 21st anniversary of independence, it has been an exciting time in Timor-Leste. The country’s red, black, yellow and white-starred flag is displayed on the streets. And Dili has a month-long night market with bands and DJs playing every night. The food is delicious, and the atmosphere is electric.
Before the voting began, I spoke with three young university students who were excited by the election and sure of the outcome it would deliver. One told me, “The right leader will come, and change will also come and everyone will be happy and live a free life.” His friend said, “We know that someone [who we vote for] Will bring prosperity, he will bring peace. And help the many people of Timur who are suffering now.
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But he also had concerns. He cautioned that many politicians like to talk and make promises without a plan that will get them elected.
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Timorese politics is increasingly accommodating to the interests of young people, with last year’s presidential election returning José Ramos-Horta to the presidential palace. some 62 percent of the population To be less than 25 years.
Not everyone shares the enthusiasm about the election. On a local bus out of town, the expedition seemed far away. A woman carrying her shopping back from the city was less affected by the election season and the current politicians.
Two days before the election, I met Zoella, whom everyone calls “Titi,” a 24-year-old from Dilli who is one of nine siblings and works any job she can find. She is transgender, and when I asked her if she expected to be elected, she immediately shook her head, “No, no,” without a second thought.
For Titi, the election and flag-hoisting could take place in another country. She told me that the government hasn’t done much to support Timor-Leste’s LGBTQ community. Being transgender in Timor-Leste is a struggle against daily and deeply held prejudice and discrimination. She knows the problems her community is facing. And although it has allies, it seems that the government is not one of them.