Tense wait after fractious Timor-Leste hustings

Election officials counting votes in Dili yesterday. Parliament was dissolved and new polls called in January amid tension between former premier Mari Alkatiri's minority government and the opposition centred on the National Congress for Timorese Rec
Election officials counting votes in Dili yesterday. Parliament was dissolved and new polls called in January amid tension between former premier Mari Alkatiri's minority government and the opposition centred on the National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction, led by former president Xanana Gusmao.PHOTO: REUTERS

Votes cast after bitter row leads to second GE in less than a year

DILI (Timor-Leste) • Timor-Leste faced a tense wait yesterday for the results of its second general election in less than a year, after bitter fighting between lawmakers saw Parliament dissolved.

Thousands of voters 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 told AFP.

Even as political parties in the impoverished young democracy made their final pitch to voters, 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 tension between former prime minister Mari Alkatiri's minority government and the opposition centred on CNRT.

Mr Alkatiri's Fretilin party, which narrowly won last July's polls, collapsed after its bid to introduce a policy programme and new budget was thwarted by a hostile opposition.

Mr 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 yesterday in the capital Dili.

Polling booths closed at 3pm local time and preliminary results were not known until later in the evening.

About 60 per cent of Timor-Leste's population are under 25, according to the World Bank, while some 40 per cent of its people live in poverty.

Providing jobs for the enormous number of young people and reining in public spending - especially on large infrastructure projects - will be key tasks for the new government, analysts say.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 13, 2018, with the headline 'Tense wait after fractious Timor-Leste hustings'. Print Edition | Subscribe