The presidential and parliamentary elections held in the spring and summer of 2012 was an extremely important step towards the consolidation of democracy in East Timor. This was the first time since independence that the country’s own authorities carried out the elections, with support from the UN. According to the EU, the elections were peaceful and organised in a transparent and trustworthy way. The high voter turnout indicates that the population has a belief in the democratic process.
Another sign of progress in the efforts to strengthen the judicial sector is the capacity building with trained judges, prosecutors and defence lawyers. Furthermore, an audit law has been approved by the parliament, paving the way for the establishment of a Court of Appeal, (which is the second court instance).
Young nation with a troubled history
East Timor was a Portuguese colony from the mid-17th century until 1975. The Indonesian military invaded the country just days after it had declared its independence. The western part of the island of Timor still belongs to Indonesia.
After many years of harsh leadership, a referendum on independence was held in 1999. An overwhelming majority voted for independence from Indonesia. But before the withdrawal of the pro-Indonesian militia groups, they destroyed the society and left it in ruins. Half of the country’s inhabitants were forced to flee. In the turbulence that ensued, the UN took over the administration of the country, until its later independence in 2002.
After independence, East Timor went into a slower phase of development but unrest broke out again in 2006 and 2007, when police and military clashed. The security situation in East Timor has since improved considerably, and on 31 December 2012, the UN mission UNMIT completed its mission in East Timor.
Oil findings help the economy grow
There are significant oil and gas deposits in the Timor Sea off the country's southern coast. In 2009, 95 per cent of the state budget revenues came from oil extractions.
During the period 2008-2009, the East Timorese economy grew by 10 per cent a year and in 2010, the GDP growth was 8.5 per cent. The strong growth is the result of oil revenues, a recovery within agriculture, good coffee exports and heavily increased public spending by the government. The government has focused on poverty reduction, primarily through payments to health, education and infrastructure.
Despite the oil revenues, East Timor is still in many ways a typical agrarian country where 70 to 80 per cent of the residents live on what they grow and have no paid employment. Since the independence, the poverty level in Timor-Leste has increased by 10 per cent (in 2007), when half of the population lived on less than $ 0.88 a day, which is the national poverty threshold.
The population growth rate is among the highest in the world, but life expectancy is relatively low and infant mortality high, though the latter has dropped by nearly half between 2005 and 2010. Malnutrition among children is a common problem.
The level of education is still low and many women and elderly people are illiterate. Today, basic education is compulsory and free. Primary school enrolment has increased since 2005, but still approximately 10 - 30 per cent of all children never start first grade (2010). Many of those who attend school never complete all six classes.
East Timor is one of the countries in the world that receives the most aid per capita. Sweden's bilateral development cooperation with East Timor is being phased out by 2013. The EU, however, remains as a major donor and partner.
Language problems at all levels
The main local language – Tetum – is spoken by approximately 80 per cent of the population and it is one of the country's official languages, together with Portuguese. About a fifth of the population, mainly elderly East Timorese can speak Portuguese, who is the language of the political and social elite. More than half of the Timorese people, especially the young, can speak Indonesian since this was the official language and language used in school during the occupation.
Sweden's focus areas of East Timor:
- Democracy and human rights
Read more about Sida's work in East Timor.