The U.S. would love to see vibrant democracies bud after the Arab spring. Western leaders would be wise to look to the Pacific-island nation of East Timor, a reminder of the perils on the road to democracy. Asia’s newest nation is in the midst of its third presidential election. A Portuguese colony for more than 100 years, the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste declared its independence in 1975, only to be invaded by Indonesia nine days later. After years of bloody conflict, which only ceased when an Australia-led UN peacekeeping force quelled the violence, East Timor became an independent nation in 2002. This week’s presidential election unseated the incumbent – a Nobel Peace Prize winner – and pits two former guerrilla fighters (though each a politician in his own right) against one another in the next round of elections. So far the elections have been nonviolent, and the UN hopes to remove its peacekeeping force by the end of the year. While East Timor’s president has little influence on policy, the position is crucial to maintaining stability in the nation.
Photo Gallery: East Timor votes in peace
After a generation of conflict, East Timor has a peaceful presidential election