The Timorese people have achieved remarkable progress since they courageously voted for independence in 1999. National institutions, non-existent in 1999, are now safeguarding stability and democracy. Successive governments have taken concrete steps to improve the lives of citizens and lay the groundwork for development. The judiciary has made important gains in upholding the rule of law. Both the national police and the armed forces have bolstered their ability to ensure the safety and security of Timorese citizens. The country has transitioned from receiving peacekeeping assistance to contributing personnel to United Nations operations in other troubled parts of the world. (Lee versaun Tetum iha ne'e)
The Timorese first declared independence from Portugal in 1975. Just nine days after this declaration, neighbouring Indonesia invaded, occupying the country for the next 24 years.
The United Nations conducted a Popular Consultation on 30 August 1999 to allow the people to decide whether or not they wanted to remain part of Indonesia under a special autonomy deal or become independent. An overwhelming 78.5 per cent of voters rejected the autonomy package, paving the way for full independence.
However, there was widespread violence in the lead-up to and immediately after the announcement of the Popular Consultation results. As much as 70 per cent of the county’s infrastructure was destroyed. Hundreds of thousands of people were left homeless and more than 1,200 were killed. An estimated 230,000 people were forced into the Indonesian territory of West Timor.
In response to the crisis, the UN Security Council authorized an intervention force to restore order and then established a transitional administration to run the nascent country while formal institutions were established.
Finally, in May 2002, the independent Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste was born.
In 2006, tensions between the national police and the armed forces resulted in open conflict between the two institutions, a breakdown of law and order and the displacement of more than 150,000 people. Political and security efforts to resolve conflict and to bring stability continued and despite attacks on both the President and the Prime Minister in 2008, the country gradually recovered from the crisis.
In 2012, Presidential and Parliamentary elections were held peacefully and fairly and the last UN peacekeeping mission since the 1999 referendum drew down at the end of 2012, taking Timor-Leste off the agenda of the UN Security Council.
Challenges remain, however, for Asia’s youngest nation. Timor-Leste is one of the world’s poorest countries and the second most oil-dependent nation in the world.
Although the economy has grown rapidly in recent years, high unemployment and poverty are persistent. A lack of skilled personnel adversely influences the effective functioning of the government. Human and food security remain fragile. Sources of conflict within communities pose an ongoing threat to peace. Malnutrition and poor health are widespread and continue to hamper people’s efforts to lead lives of dignity and purpose.
Timor’s population is also growing rapidly, exerting pressure on the economy, social services and natural resources.
Natural disasters, and the ability of communities to respond to flooding, landslides, violent weather or extended dry seasons, threaten the livelihoods of individuals and of communities, with those in more remote areas being most vulnerable.
Since independence in 2002, Timor-Leste has increased life expectancy, reduced child mortality, boosted school enrolment and reduced illiteracy. Vaccination rates for common childhood illnesses are up. Leprosy has been eliminated as a public health problem.
Peaceful elections were held in 2012 under the auspices of the country’s two national electoral bodies. The police maintained order and security throughout the election period. A new President and a new parliament were elected and the country’s Fifth Constitutional Government was sworn in. Women parliamentarians make up 38 per cent of the National Parliament, the highest percentage in the Asia-Pacific region.
Timor-Leste’s current Strategic Development Plan (2011-2030) outlines the country’s aspiration for a diversified and socially inclusive economy, with improved quality of life, health and education standards for all.
The establishment of the Timor-Leste Petroleum Fund in 2005 was another significant achievement. Income from the country’s oil and gas reserves is directed into the Fund, providing a solid base for current and future generations.
Timor-Leste’s economy has grown strongly in the past few years on the back of state-spending on infrastructure and human capital.