East Timor votes second time in less than a year

DILI: East Timor faced a tense wait on Saturday for the result of its second general election in less than a year, after bitter fighting between lawmakers saw parliament dissolved. Thousands of East Timorese lined up to cast their ballot following a fractious campaign that was marred by violence and political mudslinging on the tiny half-island nation of 1.2 million. “My expectation for the future is that whoever will win we must respect each other and prioritise the life of the whole population,” voter Francisco Kalbuadi said.
Political parties in the impoverished young democracy made their final pitch to voters this week, wrapping up a fractious campaign.
Violent clashes broke out last weekend between supporters of the Fretilin party and backers of the National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT) led by former president and independence hero Xanana Gusmao.
Despite fears of violence on election day, there were no reports of unrest.
Parliament was dissolved and new elections called in January amid tensions between former prime minister Mari Alkatiri’s minority government and the opposition centred around Gusmao’s CNRT.
Alkatiri’s Fretilin party, which narrowly won last July’s poll, collapsed after its bid to introduce a policy programme and new budget were thwarted by a hostile opposition.
Alkatiri, a Muslim politician in the Catholic-majority country, told reporters he expected his party to be sworn into government again.
“Fretilin will be the winning
party and will lead the new
government again,” he said on Saturday in the capital Dili.
Polling booths closed at 3:00 pm (0600 GMT) and preliminary results would not be known until later in the evening.
The former Portuguese colony was invaded by Indonesia in 1975 and under a brutal occupation until it gained independence in 2002.
The election will determine the choice of prime minister, the most influential political figure. The presidency is a largely ceremonial role but the occupant can help keep the peace between feuding politicians.
Whoever wins, the incoming government will face big challenges.
The clock is ticking fast on its disappearing oil and gas reserves — putting pressure on the new government to diversify the economy. Oil and gas pay for the bulk of government spending, but oil revenues are in steep decline, and the country has few other productive economic sectors. — AFP