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Xanana Gusmao eyes return to power in Timor Leste vote

Agence-France Presse - May 21, 2023

Dili, Timor Leste – Timor Leste holds parliamentary elections Sunday with independence hero Xanana Gusmao hoping to make a comeback as prime minister and end political deadlock in Asia's youngest country.

The polls are the fifth for the legislature since Timor Leste became independent from Indonesia in 2002 after 24 years of occupation.

The tiny nation of 1.3 million is one of the poorest in the world and is still grappling with the after-effects of the pandemic and natural disasters.

Voters will elect 65 members of the national parliament in elections expected to be a showdown between the two main parties, the National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT), and Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor, also known as Fretilin.

CNRT is led by 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 veterans of East Timor politics but have been locked in a bitter feud for decades.

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 installed in the post.

But the country has been stuck in political deadlock because parliament is controlled by a coalition led by Fretilin.

Gusmao is hoping to build on the momentum of last year's presidential poll by capturing control of the legislature but might need to form an alliance with smaller parties.

Fretilin leaders have vowed to secure a clear victory and retain their lead in parliament.

Polling stations will be open until 3pm local time on Sunday with more than 890,000 registered voters expected to cast their ballots.

Younger generations make up a large part of the electorate in a country where 65 percent of the population are below 30.

Rivania do Rego, a 25-year-old student at the Universidade da Paz, said he was betting on Gusmao returning as prime minister "because he is a fighter who represents equality and is very well known in many countries".

"We see many young people who sympathise with him, because he has charisma," he told AFP.

Environmental activist Agapito Guterres dos Santos, 26, said he also thought it likely Gusmao would reclaim power.

"But the people also want to see more significant changes when we have a new government," he added.

Seventeen parties in total are contesting the elections.

"The East Timorese are tired of political battles and instability. They put the blame for the deadlock on the dispute between Gusmao and Alkatiri," said Christine Cabasset at Irasec, a Bangkok-based research centre focused on Southeast Asia.

Timor Leste is also still grappling with the effects of a devastating cyclone that struck in 2021.

The storm killed at least 40 people while transforming communities into wastelands of mud and uprooted trees.

Source: https://www.thejakartapost.com/world/2023/05/21/xanana-gusmao-eyes-return-to-power-in-timor-leste-vote.htm