Last weekend, the tiny half-island nation of Timor-Leste went to the polls, voting in national parliamentary elections.
For the people of Timor-Leste, this was a historic moment of self-determination.
It was the first election entirely organised by the people of Timor-Leste, rather than by the United Nations, since the country won independence in 1999.
Reporter Teodosia dos Reis spoke with voters, observers and political figures on election day, and she has this story.
Last Saturday, July 22, was election day in Timor-Leste. The streets of Dili were full of life, as people came to polling places to cast their vote.
As voters left the ballot box, I asked them how they felt about the election.
“This is a special moment for me as a Timorese woman, because I have the opportunity to vote, and my vote will determine our future,” one woman told me.
Many said they are proud of their democracy, which is still new.
It’s just 18 years since Timor-Leste gained independence from Indonesian military occupation.
“I am happy with democracy here in Timor-Leste because I have the opportunity to participate,” another man said. “Our new government needs to prioritise the people’s concerns.”
76% of people came out to vote in the election. And 20% of them were voting for the very first time, in a particularly young nation.
A delegation from the European Union observed the campaign period and election day.
Chief of the delegation, Izaskun Bilbao Barandica, congratulated the country on a smooth and transparent election.
“During our observation, the election in Timor-Leste was peaceful and well-organised, with an adequate legal framework,” Barandica stated.
“It was credible, inclusive and transparent from the opening of the polls, through election day to the counting and tabulation of results.”
The result was very close.
The country’s two largest political parties, both headed by former resistance leaders, won an almost equal number of seats.
The FRETILIN party, also known as the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor, fought for independence during Indonesian occupation. It has won the most seats in parliament, 23, but will need support of other parties to form a majority government.
The CNRT party – or the National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction, lead by former President and resistance fighter, Xunana Gusmão- won nearly as many seats, 22.
Political Observer from the National University Timor-Leste, Camilo Almeida, said the two parties are expected to enter a power sharing agreement.
“FRETILIN and CNRT have been supporting each other. That was shown in the Presidential election, 4 months ago, when FRETILIN and CNRT supported candidate Francisco Guiterres Lu-Olo, to become President,” Almeida explained.
“Both parties have the same goal, to liberate the Timorese population from poverty.”
Half of Timor-Leste’s 1.2 million population live in poverty.
Economic issues and corruption dominated the campaign, with pressure mounting over the government’s failure to use the country’s oil resources to generate jobs, wealth, and development… as well as its slow development of the agriculture and tourism sectors.
In this election, three smaller parties also won seats in parliament. Including the youth-led KHUNTO party.
Camilo Almeia says the small parties will play an important role.
“The opposition voice in parliament should be strong because of the three other parties that won seats. Even though they have only a few seats, they are a brilliant generation, the young generation,” he said optimistically.
Whatever the outcome, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, and former President of Timor-Leste, José Ramos Horta is asking Timorese people to accept the decision of voters.
“We need to maintain peace with the citizen’s decision. Otherwise we will lose democracy in our country. That’s why I am asking all supporters of political parties to accept the results, and what the people have decided.”
So far, the results have been met with peace.