East Timor votes in the presidential election

Citizens of East Timor went to the polls on Saturday to elect a new president, hoping the most competitive election in the history of Southeast Asia’s youngest country will end a protracted political stalemate.

Voters lined up outside polling stations at dawn to choose between a record 16 candidates led by two revolutionary heroes, Francisco “Lu-Olo” Guterres, and the former president and Nobel Peace Prize laureate , Jose Ramos-Horta.

After temperature checks and hand sanitization, they were led to the voting booths where they dabbed ink on their fingers to show they had voted. Several mothers carrying babies were among those eager to elect a new president.

“I hope that the leader I voted for can pay more attention to the education, infrastructure and agriculture sectors. I am very happy to have voted for a candidate based on my conscience” , said Filomena Tavares Maria, 35. outside polling stations which opened at 7 a.m. (2200 GMT) and were due to close at 3 p.m.

Preliminary results are expected later today, but an official result will be announced next week.

First hammered by the pandemic, East Timor’s economy suffered another blow last year when Cyclone Seroja hit, killing at least 40 people on its half of the island and turning communities into wastelands of mud and uprooted trees.

Political tensions between the two largest parties – Guterres’ Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor (Fretilin) ​​and the National Congress for the Reconstruction of Timor-Leste (CNRT) – have also increased over the past four years, leading to a political stalemate that saw the government fail to pass a budget.

Sidalia dos Santos said she hopes the new president can lead an economic recovery.

“I hope that the candidate I voted for can improve our lives, especially in the health and education sector,” said the 22-year-old student.

Outside the polling station, Ramos-Horta said the financial situation would be his main priority: “The most important thing for me is to strengthen stability and build a better economy.”

Earlier in the week, he said he felt compelled to return to politics because Guterres had “broken the constitution” and overstepped his presidential role.

But Guterres, a 67-year-old former guerrilla fighter, said he was confident the election would bring him a second term.

“I believe that I will win this election and that people will reconfirm their rights through the election. If I am re-elected, I will continue to defend our country’s democratic rights and create sustainable development.”

Around 860,000 people registered to vote at the country’s 1,500 polling stations.

If no one obtains an absolute majority, a second ballot will be held on April 19 and the winner will take office on May 20, the 20th anniversary of East Timor’s independence from Indonesia. which occupied the former Portuguese colony for 24 years.

Major political events in East Timor have often been marked by violence and conflict.

In 2018, more than a dozen people were injured and several cars burned after clashes between the main parties Fretilin and CNRT. (AFP)

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