The Globe as you know it is changing.
Coming June 2019

  • More thought-provoking stories that inspire
  • Independent, free and member-supported
  • Vote for, pitch and commission stories
  • Member engagement with our journalists

To understand more about why you are so important to our member-supported initiative, we encourage you to read the following from our managing editor ~ Read more

The Globe as you know it is changing.

Since 2007, Southeast Asia Globe has been a space for some of the region’s best writers and photographers to take our readers behind the headlines into the stories that shape people’s lives. Every month, you could expect to pick up our latest print edition and find high-quality journalism, analysis and artwork waiting on every page. And since 2007, we’ve fought to uphold our promise of quality and independence to you, our readers.

But, like we said, the world is changing. Print publications just aren’t reaching the audiences they need to fulfil their promise of informing, educating and entertaining the public. Advertisers continue to invest in digital platforms while printing costs creep ever higher. Print may not be dead, but it’s fighting for its life. And we’re tired of waiting by a sickbed for its condition to improve. We want to be present at the birth of something new.

That’s why Southeast Asia Globe is relaunching as a member-driven platform featuring daily long-form features combining world-class journalism with enthralling art design and data-centered tech. Through our core pillars – Power, Money, Life and Earth – we are focusing in on the central issues that our readers have always engaged with most, with the same in-depth coverage of politics, business, social affairs and the environment that you’ve come to expect since 2007.

But leaving print behind us doesn’t just save our backs from lugging stacks of magazines across Southeast Asia. It opens up a global readership who don’t just want to read the news, but have a say in the stories that we tell and the way that we tell them. We’re not asking you to take out another magazine subscription – our stories are open to all. What we’re offering our members is a space where they can pitch and vote on the stories that they think deserve to be told. We want to inspire an engaged and active community of members who vote for, comment on and contribute to the stories that matter most to them. We want to work with our members to curate the way they engage with the news – not just as readers, but as an active extension of our editorial team.

That’s how we’re changing to bring you great stories. Here’s how we’re not.

We’re independent. Always have been, always will be. We’re not owned by any corporation or aligned with any state. We choose the stories that we tell, and the way that we tell them.

We’re creative. We’re not interested in churning out breaking news stories on the hour, every hour. We believe that the best stories are the ones that come alive on the page, digging deeper into the issues that shape Southeast Asia – and bringing you along for the ride. From our dedicated designers to our new software development team, our commitment is to constantly challenge ourselves to find new ways of reaching out to our readers.

We’re open. Challenging governments, NGOs and businesses to be transparent with the public means nothing if we keep our own readers in the dark. That’s why we will be completely open about why we tell the stories that we tell – and how we pay for them. Work with us to build something that endures where many media fail, and decide with us exactly where that money is going.

Above all, we’re optimistic. And yeah, we know what you’re thinking. Faced with impending climate collapse, the rise of right-wing authoritarian governments across the world, widening wealth and income inequality and deepening divisions rooted in race or gender or creed, it’s hard not to open the papers and feel the weight of the world pressing down. But we wouldn’t be doing this if we didn’t believe that when people work together, they can make their little corner of the world a more just, open and equal place.

And that’s why we can’t do this without you. We believe that across the globe is a community of people who care deeply about social justice, environmental action and press freedom – and who will join in to help make those ideals a reality. We’re not just holding our hand out – we need your voice to play a vital role in building Southeast Asia Globe into a leading space for progressive causes in the region. Tell us what stories the mainstream media is missing. Share with us the causes that matter most to you, and how we can champion those causes not just across Southeast Asia, but the world.

Our vision is clear. By 2025, we want to be recognised for building a great space for outstanding journalists from across the region to explore new ways of telling Southeast Asia’s most vital stories. Let’s bring together a community of engaged and loyal members who want to help reshape the media rather than just read it. And we want to reach a point where our readers, not advertisers, are the ones working to support our shared vision of an inclusive media.

We can’t do this without you. Let’s get together and build something that we all believe in.

If you’re interested in joining us, sign up to our newsletter, like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter. And watch this space.

Southeast Asia’s newest nation faces an election that could make or break its future

By: David Hutt - Posted on: January 16, 2017 | Current Affairs

With much of the population living in poverty and oil wealth running dry, Timor-Leste’s upcoming elections could be the public’s most important decision since independence

Fretilin is one of two main political parties that will contest elections in Timor-Leste this year
Take a side: Fretilin is one of two main political parties that will contest elections in Timor-Leste this year. Photo: Romeo Gacad/AFP

“Our people need money,” said then-President Xanana Gusmão the day after Timor-Leste gained independence from Indonesia in 2002. “They need to sell their products. They need to have money to send their children to school and to start improving their daily lives.”

When the East Timorese head to the polls in a few months’ time, in what could be the country’s most important elections to date, money will be the major talking point: how to end corruption; how the country’s petroleum wealth should be invested; and whether there will be enough money for future generations. The answers are far from simple.

Timor-Leste’s politics have typically been a contest between the two major parties, Fretilin and the National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT), both of which trace their origins – and disputes – to the country’s 24-year independence struggle against Indonesian occupation. The last elections in 2012 saw a further 19 parties compete, with the Democratic Party garnering 10% of the vote to finish in third.

Last year, Southeast Asia Globe reported on the growing cooperation between Fretilin and the CNRT, a rapprochement that led pundits to speculate that the parties had reached a power-sharing agreement, meaning the country was without an effective opposition to the CNRT majority government. In this void, President Taur Matan Ruak,
a former military commander who took office running as an independent, assumed the mantle as the government’s chief antagonist.

A new political party, the People’s Liberation Party (PLP), was also formed last year – by the former corruption commissioner Adérito Soares – and it is all but certain that Ruak will resign his presidency and run on the PLP’s ticket for prime minister. According to Michael Leach, a professor at Swinburne University, Australia, the combined appeal of the “popular” Ruak and Soares means “the PLP is in a very strong position to make a mark in the 2017 elections”. Both presidential and parliamentary elections are set to take place some time between the middle of March and early July.

The PLP is expected to overtake the Democratic Party in the ballot – the latter has been flailing since its leader, Fernando de Araújo, passed away in June 2015 – and seize the more established party’s traditional third place. It has also “already developed a strong critique of the current development focus on large ‘megaprojects’, and has also raised allegations of patrimonialism”, said Leach. Both of these issues are expected to be important to the electorate.

However, while few expect the PLP could win a majority, it has positioned itself as a viable option for protest votes – and a potential thorn in the side of the next government.

Core to the PLP’s and Ruak’s message is that the government has forgotten ‘the people’, focusing instead on issues that have no bearing on ordinary lives. As the president said in parliament in February: “The state of Timor-Leste is far too centralised. It centralises skill, power and privileges. It excessively wastes resources, allowing thousands of Timorese to become second-class citizens.”

By taking a strong populist stance, the PLP is challenging what some perceive to be the consolidation of power among the traditional elite who focus on large, costly development projects and aggrandised state budgets that are leading the country to bankruptcy. By doing so, it hopes to provoke the two main parties into reassessing the direction they are taking Timor-Leste.

Perhaps a good representation of the government’s alleged misdirection is its focus on joining Asean – a cornerstone of the country’s foreign policy since independence. Debates linger over how much this will affect economic development, and ascension to the body seems little more than symbolic for Timor-Leste, as the only Southeast Asian country yet to be admitted. However, according to Charles Scheiner, an analyst at La’o Hamutuk, a local development NGO, joining the body is not particularly “significant for people’s lives in Timor-Leste”.

“It would be better for the leaders to devote their energies to reducing poverty and malnutrition, and investing in education, healthcare, water, sanitation and other things which are more immediate and connected more closely with the citizens,” he added.

While there may have been improvements in quality of life and development advances in Timor-Leste, there is a risk such progress could become overstated. The government quite rightly says it has reduced poverty, but an official report from 2014 stated that 489,000 people, almost half of the 1.1 million population, were living in poverty in that year – only a small decrease from 509,000 in 2007.

In recent months, there has been a slew of optimistic output from the government. A press release, dated 17 November, bears the headline: “Timor-Leste’s economic outlook positive as reforms begin to show results.” In an email to Southeast Asia Globe, Agio Pereira, minister of state and the government’s spokesperson, further extolled the country’s progress and hit back at naysayers.

“The government is focused on creating conditions for sustainable economic growth and economic diversification,” he wrote. “We are building essential economic infrastructure, reforming systems to encourage private sector growth, strengthening the capacity of our human resources and supporting priority sectors for development.”

However, as a recent report from La’o Hamutuk opined, this is little more than pre-election posturing. “Any government entering an election cycle will spin the facts to convince voters that they are doing a good job,” it reads. “We hope that Timor-Leste’s decision-makers don’t believe their own propaganda.”

The main economic issue facing the country relates to its oil and gas reserves. Kitan, the smaller of Timor-Leste’s two producing oil fields, ended production in 2014. And if government spending continues on the same trajectory, the country’s sovereign wealth fund – designed to save oil revenues for future generations – could be empty within 12 years, according to La’o Hamutuk figures.

Timor-Leste’s oil and gas reserves are a bone of contention with Australia
Graffiti protest: Timor-Leste’s oil and gas reserves are a bone of contention with Australia. Photo: Antonio Dasiparu/EPA

Damien Kingsbury, professor of international politics at Australia’s Deakin University, says this has placed corruption and economic planning at the forefront of this year’s election, “because the first is getting much worse and is draining the country’s limited resources, and the second because the government does not have a Plan B for when the oil runs out”.

Indeed, if the most pessimistic estimates of state revenues are correct, then it will fall upon the next government to make what could be the most important decisions the country has faced in its short history since independence. Taking the wrong course could spell disaster.

“Timor-Leste has consolidated its democratic processes, and the 2017 elections should further confirm that,” said Kingsbury. “However, even the most entrenched democracies can be subject to change in times of crisis, which the country is likely to face when the money starts to run out.”

Predictions for any election are difficult, but the commentators Southeast Asia Globe spoke to offered up a few opinions. Most agreed that Fretilin and the CNRT will compete separately but, post-election, are likely to return to their power-sharing agreement. In none of the country’s three parliamentary elections has any party other than Fretilin or the CNRT won the most votes, and it is highly unlikely this trend will change. If the PLP manages to gain 20%, said Kingsbury, it would have done a good job.

As for the presidential race, there are unconfirmed rumours that the Nobel Prize-winning former president José Ramos-Horta will return. When Pereira was asked about this, he did not deny it but said: “Timor-Leste is fortunate to have highly qualified, capable and committed people to stand for this role.” At the time of writing, the CNRT was yet to announce its candidate, but another major question – which could go some way toward demonstrating how the two main parties might cooperate post-election – is whether the CNRT will back Fretilin’s candidate, Francisco ‘Lu Olo’ Guterres.

“One key question facing the second- and third-largest parties after the election may be whether to accept ministries, or to instead act as an independent parliamentary opposition,” said Leach. “In general, ‘grand coalition’ arrangements are good at promoting stability and reducing political conflict, but weaker on providing adequate parliamentary oversight and effective opposition.”

When the people of Timor-Leste go to the polls, they will have their say on whether to back political stability and the status quo, or reconsider how the country moves forward. With pressure mounting on authorities as oil funds run dry and their approach to development comes under increasing attack, the most important outcome could be that the country gets a strong, committed opposition to effectively challenge government decisions.