The BGA Timor-Leste team, led by Senior Adviser Amb. Ian Kemish, wrote an update to clients on the upcoming parliamentary election in the country.


  • Timor-Leste’s voters will head to the polls May 21 for the country’s fifth parliamentary election since 2002. Campaign season is already well underway for an election that will be dominated by the two main rival parties: the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor (Fretilin) and the National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT).
  • While campaigning will focus on domestic and economic issues, it will ultimately come down to a personality contest between the country’s founding fathers and long-time political rivals: Fretilin leader Mari Alkatiri, who served as prime minister from 2002-2006 and again from 2017-2018, and CNRT leader Xanana Gusmao, president from 2002-2007 and prime minister from 2007-2015.


  • Both would-be leaders will promote their credentials to advance the Greater Sunrise project. Negotiations between the project stakeholders are currently stalled, tying up potentially more than US$50 billion in revenue for the beleaguered economy.
  • The winning party will most likely need to form a coalition government. There are 15 other parties contesting the election. Despite their small size, the main parties might need their support to form a coalition government.


  • Lack of progress on Greater Sunrise has meant more than US$50 billion in untapped revenue. The project is tied to the country’s long-term development and economic trajectory because Timor-Leste’s main source of revenue — the Bayu Undan oil and gas field — will be decommissioned in 2023 and become a carbon capture and storage facility.
  • Timor-Leste’s next prime minister will want to carefully navigate and manage the country’s external relationships to maximize potential benefits. It will be important to balance traditional relationships with Australia and the United States in addition to member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which decided to admit Timor-Leste to the forum following regional leaders’ in-principle agreement late last year.

We will continue to keep you updated on developments in Timor-Leste as they occur. If you have any comments or questions, please contact BGA Senior Adviser Amb. Ian Kemish at