It’s easy to be depressed by the news. Whether one reads The Guardian or The Sun, there seems an inexhaustible wealth of despair for our journalists to mine. The world is full of enemies, idiots, and monsters. Trump looms large on the global consciousness and people of all political persuasions are mired in pessimism – either despairing at his administration, or denouncing opponents to it.
I don’t intend to deploy the infuriating refrain of the ‘Brexiteers’ (get over it; stop moaning; you should be celebrating – delete as appropriate), but instead rummage in the bag of current affairs for something worthy of praise.
Though Timor-Leste (East Timor) hasn’t often been called upon to save the world, mostly because it only gained independence from Indonesia in 2002, this South-East Asian state is perhaps the last bastion of good news. It may not have received much coverage, but Timor-Leste had a presidential election on 20th March, the first power transition since UN peacekeepers left in 2012. It was the first time Timorese-Australians were allowed to cast an absentee ballot. Early indications suggest the former revolutionary hero Francisco Guterres has won.
In a region of instability, Timor-Leste has become a halcyon-state. Democratic norms are deeply entrenched, the population are active citizens and engaged in political issues, and the elections were held without issue.
By any measure, this isn’t much.
Indeed, in an ideal world these features would not be praiseworthy but expectations. Yet, the healthy state of Republican values in Timor-Leste is disproportionately encouraging. While much of the developed and developing world alike are becoming disenchanted with popular governance, while acceptance of authoritarianism insidiously rises, while enthusiasm for healthy political discourse ebbs, Timor-Leste reminds us all of the simple promise of democracy. Against all odds, a small nation succeeded in gaining independence and, despite a history of conflict and corruption, affirmed a commitment to a participatory political process.
Before the immigration site crashes, I must dissuade those who have interpreted my words as meaning Timor-Leste is a form of utopia. It faces difficult challenges in the years ahead – especially with regard to its economic dependence on rapidly depleting oil and gas reserves.
I cannot pretend to be an expert in Timor-Leste, having never been to the country and reading but a fraction of its history; it is apparent that it will have to make tough choices in the coming decades. But this makes its steadfast affirmation of democratic government all the more praiseworthy.
I may not have restored your faith in human progress – Timor-Leste certainly didn’t aspire to achieve as much – but, sometimes, good news happens.
Written By: Matt Allen