–Main parties in front in East Timor vote

July 22, 2017

East Timor’s two largest parties are leading in the parliamentary elections, as counting continues into the night.

No official numbers had been released by 10pm local time on Saturday, but unofficial results had the two main parties, the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor (FRETILIN) and the National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT), taking the majority of votes.

The two parties formed a de facto coalition in 2015, ushering in a new era of greater stability and unity.

But early indicators suggest voters have also shown support for opposition parties, including the Democratic Party (PD) the newly established People’s Liberation Party (PLP) and the emerging Khunto party, Michael Leach, Timorese expert from Swinburne University told AAP.

The potential rise of Khunto to the parliament reflects a changing demographic, Prof Leach said, representing “disenfranchised young men” facing unemployment.

Around 750,000 people were registered to vote in the parliamentary elections on Saturday, in which a colourful mix of 21 parties competed for 65 seats.

Voters expressed impatience towards the government about tackling basic needs and concerns over how the country is going to support a population where the median age is just under 19.

The government has faced heavy criticism for its reliance on oil and gas revenue to fund projects, salaries and services, with fears that unless the economy diversifies quickly, the country will run out of money within 10 to 15 years.

Jacinta Mau, who came to the polling station with her three children, said that was what mattered for her this election.

“They need to provide roads, electricity, water and sanitation because these are the needs people are facing in their daily life,” the 37-year-old told AAP.

Government worker, Aleixo da Costa Sarmento, said the government “must create more jobs for the youth, because so many are still unemployed”.

But there was praise for the peaceful nature of the election.

While there were reports by FRETILIN of voter intimidation in villages in Baucau, East Timor police commander Julio Hornay said “there is no significant problem that needs our attention” and that the general situation was “very calm”.

“It’s a remarkable achievement only 10 years on from a crisis … It’s a very great credit to the Timorese people and its leaders,” Prof Leach said.

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