Photo: Antara

Photo: Antara

Timor-Leste heads to the polls for first presidential vote since UN mission left

This week Asia’s youngest democracy, Timor Leste, or East Timor, held its first presidential election since the UN peacekeeping mission left the country in 2012.

It is just the fourth presidential election since the country gained independence from neighbouring Indonesia.

As Teodosia dos Reis reports from the capital Dili, democracy is well on track in the small half-island nation.

Eight candidates contested the election this past week, including six independent candidates and two from political parties, the Democrat Party (PD) and the historic FRETILIN party.

Of Timor’s population of 1.2 million, 740,000 were eligible to vote.

It’s been a buzzing election season.

Leading the polls is former revolutionary leader Francisco Lu Olo Guterres. He has run twice for president, both times unsuccessful.

But this year it looks different. 

Guterres is backed by the Fretilin party and the CNRT, the party founded by independence hero Xanana Gusmao, who has provided key support to Guterres during his election campaign.

Guterres says since his days in the jungle fighting for independence, he has never stopped fighting for his dream.

“Fight, liberate the nation. I have a long story, that goes back 24 years, from fighting in the jungle for independence from the Indonesian occupation of Timor Leste. Finally we became independent in 1999, now I want to help bring the country out of poverty. This has been a dream long in the making.”

Timor Leste remains one of the world's poorest countries, with about 40% of its population categorised as poor. 

The country is heavily reliant on oil revenues but analysts say money is fast drying up.

Back at the polls, a team of 35 election observers, from the European Union Election Observation Mission, are also here to oversee the vote at 10 of 13 municipalities across the country.

Chief Observer Izaskun Bilbao Barandica, commended the vote, saying that it had been smooth and peaceful nationwide.

“The Timorese people, the electoral authorities, candidates and civil society organizations all contributed to Monday's peaceful presidential elections, in which the right to universal, free and equal suffrage was respected in line with Timor-Leste’s Constitution,” Barandica noted.

She also said the election procedures were transparent.

“From the registration of voters and candidates, to voting, counting and the tabulation of results, procedures were followed in a transparent manner and with sufficient guarantees and also has equal gender balance of polling station members,” continued Barandica. 

Camilo Almeida, a lecturer from the National University Timor-Leste (UNTL) says Timor-Leste’s democracy is well on track.

“Even though the political issues sometimes focus on conflict, the Timorese people are not effected, they can see through the politics. People know about the democratic system, and until now the situation is safe,” reassured Almeida. 

With all the ballots counted after Monday's election, the results are in.

Securing 57% of the vote, Lu Olo Guterres looks certain to be the next president.

Guterres will be the first presidential candidate to have won a clear majority in the first round since Xanana Gusmao was overwhelmingly elected president in 2002.

The result is expected to be confirmed on April 2.


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