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Is Small Beautiful? Multiparty Politics and Democratic Consolidation in Timor-Leste



Drawing on comparisons of the experience of multiparty politics in postcolonial African states and in Papua New Guinea, this article considers whether the party and electoral systems in Timor-Leste retard a transition to a consolidated democratic polity. Like FRELIMO in Mozambique, the independence party, FRETILIN, committed to a one-party regime until both parties adopted multiparty politics from the late 1980s. Since independence, Timor-Leste has been relatively successful in establishing a competitive party system. This article argues, however, that the proliferation of small parties and the necessity to negotiate unstable coalition governments retard the process of democratic consolidation in Timor-Leste, and the party system undermines effective state governance and restricts rather than broadens democratic representation. A weak multiparty system has encouraged corruption and poor governance in Papua New Guinea, and multiparty politics threaten similar outcomes in Timor-Leste.