Step aside Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, there are equally (some would argue more) gripping electoral contests occurring on the other side of the world—in Southeast Asia. Myanmar’s by-elections on April 1 were groundbreaking. Timor-Leste’s ongoing presidential elections seem to have already thrust the country in a new direction. And in Malaysia, Prime Minister Najib Razak may not have called for a vote, but election fever is in the air.
The second round run-off of Timor Leste’s presidential elections scheduled for mid-April will pit two heavyweights of the decade-old country’s past resistance struggle and signals a shift towards a new era of nationalist politics. Of the dozen candidates who contested the first round contest on March 17, Fretilin party president Francisco “Lu Olo” Guterres and former defense chief Jose Maria Vasconcelos, more commonly known by his nom de guerre Taur Matan Ruak, respectively won 28% and 25% of the vote and are expected to fight a tight second round race. The electoral demise of incumbent President Jose Ramos Horta, placed third with 17%, has signaled a decisive shift away from the internationalist stance that the Nobel Peace Prize laureate had come to represent in Timorese national politics.