Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-8bbf57454-wdwc2 Total loading time: 0.459 Render date: 2022-01-25T06:09:15.428Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "metricsAbstractViews": false, "figures": true, "newCiteModal": false, "newCitedByModal": true, "newEcommerce": true, "newUsageEvents": true }

9 - As Good as It Gets? Stateness and Democracy in East Timor

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 May 2020

Aurel Croissant
Universität Heidelberg
Olli Hellmann
University of Waikato, New Zealand
Get access


The chapter analyses the simultaneous state-building and democratization process in East Asia’s newest sovereign nation-state. Since 2002, East Timor has strived to create a democratic and effective state out of the ashes of colonial rule, armed conflict and foreign occupation. With the assistance of the United Nations (UN), East Timor has thus undergone a process of simultaneous state and democracy building. Despite tremendous challenges, democracy has been surprisingly resilient against a number of severe crises. East Timor thereby represents a highly unusual mix of a fragile stateness but, given the circumstances, a relatively resilient (though, low-quality) democracy. This chapter investigates the reasons for and the implications of this surprising combination. In so doing, the chapter demonstrates that democratization and democracy have contributed to further consolidation of nation-building and statehood in East Timor. At the same time, however, limited stateness is one of the main reasons why democracy remains of low quality.

Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2020

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Armony, A. (2004). The Dubious Link: Civic Engagement and Democratization. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
Arnold, M. (2009). Challenges Too Strong for the Nascent State of Timor-Leste: Petitioners and Mutineers. Asia Survey, 49(3), 429–49.Google Scholar
Asia Foundation. (2009). Law and Justice in Timor-Leste: A Survey of Citizen Awareness and Attitudes Regarding Law and Justice. Available at: [Accessed 22 June 2019].Google Scholar
Aspinall, E., Hicken, A., Scambary, J. et al. (2018). Timor-Leste Votes: Parties and Patronage. Journal of Democracy, 29(1), 153–67.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Beauvais, J. C. (2001). Benevolent Despotism: A Critique of U.N. State-Building in East Timor. New York University Journal of International Law and Politics, 33(Summer), 1101–78.Google Scholar
Beuman, L. (2013). Semi-Presidentialism in a New Post-Conflict Democracy: The Case of Timor-Leste. Unpublished dissertation, Dublin City University, Dublin.Google Scholar
Beuman, L. (2016). Political Institutions in East Timor: Semi-Presidentialism and Democratisation. London and New York: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bishop, C. (2002). Constructing a Postcolonial Nation: The Case of East Timor, master thesis. American University, School of International Service.Google Scholar
Boix, C., and Stokes, S. C. (2003). Endogenous Democratization. World Politics, 55(4), 517–49.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Borgerhoff, A. (2006). The Double Task: Nation- and State-Building in Timor-Leste. European Journal of East Asian Studies, 5(1), 101–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Butler, M. J. (2012). Ten Years After: (Re) Assessing Neo-Trusteeship and UN State-building in Timor-Leste. International Studies Perspectives, 13(1), 85–104.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Chesterman, S. (2002). East Timor in Transition: Self-determination, State-Building and the United Nations. International Peacekeeping, 9(1), 45–76.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Chopra, J. (2002). Building State Failure in East Timor. Development and Change, 33(5), 979–1000.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Cotton, J. (2000). The Emergence of an Independent East Timor: National and Regional Challenges. Contemporary Southeast Asia, 22(1), 1–22.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Cotton, J. (2007). Timor-Leste and the Discourse of State Failure. Australian Journal of International Affairs, 61(4), 455–70.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Croissant, A. (2008). The Perils and Promises of Democratization through United Nations Transitional Authority – Lessons from Cambodia and East Timor. Democratization, 20(1), 649–68.Google Scholar
Croissant, A. (2014). Ways of Constitution-Making in Southeast Asia: Actors, Interests, Dynamics. Contemporary Southeast Asia, 36(1), 23–50.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Croissant, A. (2016). Ost-Timor. In Croissant, A., ed., Die politischen Systeme Südostasiens. Wiesbaden: Springer Fachmedien, pp. 335–82.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Croissant, A. (2018). Civil-Military Relations in Southeast Asia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Croissant, A., Kuehn, D., Lorenz, P., and Chambers, P. (2013). Civilian Control and Democracy in Asia. Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Curtain, R. (2006). Crisis in Timor-Leste: Looking Beyond the Surface Reality for Causes and Solutions. Canberra: SSGM.Google Scholar
Dahl, R. (1971). Polyarchy: Participation and Opposition. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
EU Election Observation Delegation. (2012). Legislative Elections in Timor-Leste, 5–9 July 2012. Available at: [Accessed 22 June 2019].Google Scholar
Farran, S. (2010). Locating Democracy: Representation, Election and Governance in Timor-Leste. Darwin: Charles Darwin University Press.Google Scholar
Feijó, R. (2012). Elections, Independence, Democracy: The 2012 Timorese Electoral Cycle in Context. Journal of Current Southeast Asian Affairs, 3(2012), 29–59.Google Scholar
Feijó, R. (2014). Timor-Leste in 2013: Marching on Its Own Feet. Asian Survey, 54(1), 83–88.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Freedom House. (2015). East Timor – Freedom in the World. Available at: [Accessed 22 June 2019].Google Scholar
Freedom House. (2016). Freedom of the Press 2016. Available at: [Accessed 22 June 2019].Google Scholar
Freedom House. (2018). Freedom in the World 2018. Democracy in Crisis. Available at: [Accessed 22 June 2019].Google Scholar
Goldfinch, S., and Derouen, K. (2014). In It for the Long Haul? Post-conflict Statebuilding, Peacebuilding, and the Good Governance Agenda in Timor-Leste. Public Administration and Development, 34, 96–108.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Grenfell, L. (2011). Promoting the Rule of Law in Timor-Leste. In Harris, V., and Goldsmith, A., eds., Security, Development, and Nation-Building in Timor-Leste: A Cross-Sectional Assessment. London/New York: Routledge, pp. 125–48.Google Scholar
Gunn, G. (2001). The Five-Hundred-Year Timorese Funu. In Tanter, R., Selden, M., and Shalmon, S., eds., Bitter Flowers, Sweet Flowers. Sidney: Rowman & Littlefield, pp. 3–14.Google Scholar
Guterres, F. (2006). Elites and Prospects of Democracy in East Timor. Dissertation, Griffith University, Brisbane.Google Scholar
Hanson, J. K., and Sigman, R. (2013). Leviathan’s Latent Dimensions: Measuring State Capacity for Comparative Political Research. APSA 2011 Annual Meeting Paper. Available at: [Accessed 22 June 2019].Google Scholar
Helmke, G., and Levitsky, S. (2004). Informal Institutions and Comparative Politics: A Research Agenda. Perspectives on Politics, 2(4), 725–40.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hohe, T. (2004). Local Governance after Conflict: Community Empowerment in East Timor. Peacebuilding & Development, 1(3), 45–56.Google Scholar
Huang, R., and Gunn, G. C. (2004). Reconciliation as State-Building in East Timor. Lusotopie, 11, 19–39.Google Scholar
Hughes, C. (2009). Dependent Communities. Aid and Politics in Cambodia and East Timor. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
ICG. (2008). Timor-Leste: Security Sector Reform. Asia Report No. 143. Brussels: International Crisis Group.Google Scholar
ICG. (2011). Timor-Leste: Reconciliation and Return from Indonesia. Asia Briefing No. 122. Brussels: International Crisis Group.Google Scholar
ICG. (2013). Timor-Leste: Stability at What Cost? Asia Report No. 246. Brussels: International Crisis Group.Google Scholar
IMF. (2009). Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste: 2009. Available at: [Accessed 22 June 2019].Google Scholar
IMF. (2013). Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste: 2013. Available at: [Accessed 22 June 2019].Google Scholar
IMF. (2016). Republic of Timor-Leste: 2016. Available at: [Accessed 22 June 2019].Google Scholar
IPAC. (2014). Timor-Leste after Xanana Gusmão. Available at: [Accessed 22 June 2019].Google Scholar
Jennings, I. (1956). The Approach to Self-Government. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Jones, L. (2010). (Post-)Colonial Statebuilding and State Failure in East Timor: Bringing Social Conflict Back In. Conflict, Security & Development, 10(4), 547–75.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Jung, J. K. (2008). Mission Impossible? Democracy Building in Post-Civil War Societies. Midwest Political Science Association Annual Meeting. Chicago, 3–6 April.Google Scholar
Kammen, D. (2011). The Armed Forces in Timor-Leste. Politization through Elite Conflict. In Mietzner, M., ed., The Political Resurgence of the Military in Southeast Asia: Conflict and Leadership. London/New York: Routledge, pp. 107–26.Google Scholar
King, D. (2003). East Timor’s Founding Elections and Emerging Party System. Asian Survey, 43(5), 745–57.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kingsbury, D. (2014). Democratic Consolidation in Timor-Leste: Achievements, Problems and Prospects. Asian Journal of Political Science, 22(2), 181–205.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Lawless, R. (1976). The Indonesian Takeover of East Timor. Asian Survey, 16(1), 948–64.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Leach, M. (2013). Timor-Leste in 2012: Beyond International Statebuilding? Asian Survey, 53(1), 156–61.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Linz, J., and Stepan, A. (1996). Problems of Democratic Transition and Consolidation: Southern Europe, South America, and Post-Communist Europe. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
Marriott, A. (2012). Justice Sector Dynamics in Timor-Leste: Institutions and Individuals. Asian Politics & Policy, 4(1), 53–71.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Merkel, W. (2004). Embedded and Defective Democracies. Democratization, 11(5), 33–58.Google Scholar
Moxham, B., and Carapic, J. (2013). Unravelling Dili: The Crisis of City and State in Timor-Leste. Urban Studies, 50(15), 3116–33.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Myrttinen, H. (2008). Notizen zur Gewalt in Osttimor. In Borgerhoff, A. and Schmitz, M., eds., Osttimor am Scheideweg. Chaos oder Neuanfang? Essen: Asienstiftung, pp. 27–31.Google Scholar
Myrttinen, H. (2012). Guerrillas, Gangsters, and Contractors: Reintegrating Former Combatants and Its Impact on SSR and Development in Post-Conflict Societies. In Schnabel, A., and Farr, V., eds., Back to the Roots: Security Sector Reform and Development. Münster: LIT Verlag, pp. 225–47.Google Scholar
Myrttinen, H. (2013). Resistance, Symbolism and the Language of Stateness in Timor-Leste. Oceania, 83(3), 208–20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Neupert, R., and Lopes, S. (2006). Demographic Component of the Crisis in Timor-Leste: Political Demography – Ethnic, National and Religious Dimensions. London: London School of Economics.Google Scholar
NSD & UNFPA. (2011). Population and Housing Census of Timor-Leste, 2010, Volume 1–4: Population Distribution by Administrative Areas. Available at: [Accessed 22 June 2019].Google Scholar
NSD, & UNFPA. (2012). 2010 Timor-Leste Population and Housing Census. Analytical Report on Education. Available at: [Accessed 22 June 2019].Google Scholar
Nur, S., and Andersson, F. (2016). Free Access to Information and a Vibrant Civil Society as Cornerstones for Sustainable Development. Varieties of Democracy-Project Thematic Report. Available at: [Accessed 22 June 2019].Google Scholar
O’Donnell, G. (1999). Counterpoints: Selected Essays on Authoritarianism and Democratization. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press.Google Scholar
O’Rourke, K. (2002). Reformasi: The Struggle for Power in Post-Soeharto Indonesia. Crows Nest: Allen Unwin.Google Scholar
PDHJ. (2011). Joint submission from the Office of the Provedor for Human Rights and Justice and Civil Society organizations in Timor-Leste. Available at: [Accessed 22 June 2019].Google Scholar
Rees, E. (2004). Under Pressure. Falintil-forças de Defesa de Timor Leste. Three decades of Defense Force Development in Timor Leste 1975–2004. DCAF Working paper No. 134. Geneva: Geneva Center for the Democratic Control of the Armed Forces.Google Scholar
Reporters Without Borders. (2016). 2016 Press Freedom Index. Available at: [Accessed 22 June 2019].Google Scholar
Rich, R. (2007). Introduction: Analysing and Categorising Political Parties in the Pacific Islands. In Rich, R., ed., Political Parties in the Pacific Islands. Canberra: ANU Press, pp. 1–27.Google Scholar
Sahin, S. (2010). Timor-Leste in 2009: Marking Ten Years of Independence or Dependence on International ‘Assistance’? Southeast Asian Affairs, 2010, 345–64.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Sahin, S., and Feaver, D. (2013). The Politics of Security Sector Reform in ‘Fragile’ or ‘Post-conflict’ Settings: A Critical Review of the Experience in Timor-Leste. Democratization, 20(6), 1056–80.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Saldanha, J. (2008). Anatomy of Political Parties in Timor-Leste. In Rich, R., ed., Political Parties in the Pacific Islands. Canberra: ANU Press, pp. 69–83.Google Scholar
Scheiner, C. (2015). Can the Petroleum Fund Exorcise the Resource Curse from Timor-Leste? In Ingram, S., Kent, L., and McWilliam, A., eds., A New Era? Timor-Leste after the UN. Canberra: ANU Press, pp. 73–101.Google Scholar
Schlichter, M. (1996). Portugal in Ost-Timor: eine kritische Untersuchung zur portugiesischen Kolonialgeschichte in Ost-Timor; 1850 bis 1912. Hamburg: Abera.Google Scholar
Shoesmith, D. (2003). Timor-Leste: Divided Leadership in a Semi-Presidential System. Asia Survey, 43(2), 231–52.Google Scholar
Shoesmith, D. (2007). Timor-Leste. Semi-presidentialism and the Democratic Transition in a New, Small State. In Elgie, R. and Moestrup, S., eds., Semi-presidentialism Outside Europe. London and New York: Routledge, pp. 219–236.Google Scholar
Shoesmith, D. (2012). Is Small Beautiful? Multiparty Politics and Democratic Consolidation in Timor-Leste. Asian Politics & Policy, 4(1), 33–51.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Simonsen, S. (2006). The Authoritarian Temptation in East Timor: Nationbuilding and the Need for Inclusive Governance. Asian Survey, 46(4), 575–96.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Sunde, U. (2006). Wirtschaftliche Entwicklung und Demokratie. Ist Demokratie ein Wohstandsmotor oder ein Wohlstandsprodukt? Perspektiven der Wirtschaftspolitik, 7(4), 471–99.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Taylor, J. G. (1991). Indonesia’s Forgotten War: The Hidden History of East Timor. London: Zed Books.Google Scholar
Taylor, J. G. (1999). East Timor: The Price of Freedom. London: Zed Books.Google Scholar
Transparency International. (2015). Corruption by country: Timor-Leste. Available at: [Accessed 20 June 2019].Google Scholar
Traub, J. (2000). Inventing East Timor. Foreign Affairs, 79(4), 74–89.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Trindade, J., and Castro, B. (2007). Rethinking Timorese Identity as Peace-Building Strategy. The Lorosa’e-Loromonu Conflict from a Traditional Perspective. DCAF (Geneva Center for the Democratic Control of the Armed Forces). Available at: [Accessed 22 June 2019].Google Scholar
US Department of State. (2015). Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2015: Timor-Leste. Available at: [Accessed 5 December 2019].Google Scholar
UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs. (2015). Population Division: World Population Prospects, the 2015 Revision. Available at: [Accessed 21 July 2016].Google Scholar
UNDP. (2011). About Timor Leste. Available at: [Accessed 22 June 2019].Google Scholar
Wigglesworth, A. (2010). Becoming Citizens: Civil Society Activism and Social Change in Timor Leste. Dissertation, Victoria University, Melbourne.Google Scholar
World Bank. (2007). Timor-Leste’s Youth in Crisis: Situational Analysis and Policy Options. Available at: [Accessed 22 June 2019].Google Scholar
World Bank. (2016). Worldwide Governance Indicators. – home [Accessed 22 June 2019].Google Scholar
Zakaria, F. (1997). The Rise of Illiberal Democracy. Foreign Affairs, 76(6), 22–43.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Cited by

Send book to Kindle

To send this book to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Available formats

Send book to Dropbox

To send content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

Available formats

Send book to Google Drive

To send content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

Available formats