Youth Participation

Excerpt from Democracy, Representation, and Accountability in Timor-Leste, Nov. 2015, The Asia Foundation

Timor-Leste has one of the highest population growth rates in the world, and in 2017, voters under 30 will be a large percentage of the electorates. Through numbers alone, youth could have a massive influence on election, but several factors may limit their influence, at least in the near term.

Timor-Leste has the highest cost for internet in Asia, and also one of the highest rates of youth unemployment, meaning that for most youth, the internet is simply unaffordable. This means that most youth in Timor lack the access to a cheap and easy means for communication and organization that facilitates youth engagement in other countries, but that they also lack the ready source of information about the outside world that drives changes in culture and expectations in other countries.

Although some students in Dili are connected to the internet, and engaged in online communities, they still represent just a tiny fraction of the youth of the country. While the youth that are connected have begun to demonstrate modified expectations and to engage politically (we see this in the university student led demonstrations against the proposed pension law), there may not be the critical mass for youth connected yet for them to have a substantial impact on the political process at this time.

Other factors that limit the potential for substantial youth participation in political and social transition are related to weakness in the education system, and the persistence of traditional social structures. Weak schools and lack of access to alternative sources of information lead to relatively low levels of understanding of democratic principles and accountability mechanisms among youth, limiting their ability to be influential in the political process. At the same time, the patriarchal structure of traditional Timorese society devalues youth (as well as women), and encourages deference to (male) elders. Consequently, most analysts believes that young voters will follow the political leaning of their fathers or local leaders in the 2017 elections.

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