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East Timorese vote for parliament, hoping for end to political deadlock

Agence France-Presse - May 21, 2023

Voters in East Timor flocked to polling stations on Sunday to cast their ballot in parliamentary elections, hoping for an end to years of political deadlock in Asia's youngest country.

This is the fifth parliamentary poll since East Timor gained independence from Indonesia in 2002 after a 24-year occupation, with 65 national lawmakers to be elected to a five-year mandate.

As polling stations opened at 7 am local time (2200 GMT), voters formed long queues, carrying umbrellas for shade as they patiently waited their turn.

"All people came to give their voices, because one voice can make a change," said 61-year-old voter Cesar dos Santos de Carvalho at a polling station in the capital Dili.

"I hope the political party that I chose can put attention on health, education, infrastructure and agriculture, because these are the priority sectors that all people need."

The young democracy has 890,000 registered voters, and a total of 17 parties are vying for seats, but the election is expected to mainly be a showdown between the two largest.

The Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor, also known as Fretilin, leads the coalition currently in power, while the National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT) is hoping to make a comeback.

CNRT is led by Xanana Gusmao, the country's first president until 2007, while Fretilin's leader is former prime minister Mari Alkatiri.

Both are considered independence-era icons and are veterans of East Timor politics, but they have been locked in a bitter feud for decades.

Younger voters make up a large part of the electorate in the country of 1.3 million people, 65 percent of whom are under 30.

"I voted for CNRT. I support Xanana (Gusmao). He is... an influential character that leads with responsibility. He has integrity and loves this country," said 27-year-old student Renaldo de Andrade.

CNRT won a presidential election last year after capturing 62 percent of the vote in a run-off, with Nobel Peace laureate and Gusmao ally Jose Ramos-Horta assuming the post.

Gusmao is hoping to build on that momentum by taking over the legislature, but he may need to forge an alliance with smaller parties.

Alkatiri's Fretilin, meanwhile, have vowed to secure a clear victory and retain their lead in parliament.

"If Fretilin wins for this period, the important thing that we have to do is combat corruption and invest more in education, health and agriculture," Alkatiri said on Sunday after casting his ballot.

East Timor is struggling with poverty, the aftermath of the pandemic and devastating natural disasters, including a 2021 cyclone that killed at least 40 people.

Source: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/wires/afp/article-12107517/East-Timorese-vote-parliament-hoping-end-political-deadlock.htm