East Timor’s opposition party won most seats in parliamentary election

DILI, East Timor (AP) — East Timor’s opposition party won Sunday’s parliamentary election, meaning independence fighter Xanana Gusmao is likely to return as prime minister in Asia’s youngest democracy.

The final vote count released by the National Elections Commission on Tuesday showed the National Congress of the Reconstruction of East Timor, known as CNRT, won 41% of the votes and gained 31 seats out of 65 in the National Parliament.

The ruling Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor, or Fretilin, had 25% of the votes and 19 seats. It promised to accept the election outcome.

The Democratic Party won six seats, the rural-based Khunto Party five and the People’s Liberation Party four.

A total of 17 parties ran. They were required to have a woman in at least every third position in their party list and seats were allocated for those with an electoral threshold of 4%.

No parties formed coalitions before the vote, leaving the choice of who will head the government between Gusmao, who chairs CNRT, and Fretilin leader Mari Alkatiri, who is also a resistance-era figure.

Fretilin and CNRT have blamed each other for years of political paralysis. Tensions between the two largest parties since 2018 led to the resignation of Prime Minister Taur Matan Ruak in 2020 after the government repeatedly failed to pass a budget.

But he agreed to stay until a new government was formed and to oversee the battle against the coronavirus pandemic. His government has operated without an annual budget and has relied on monthly injections from its sovereign fund, called the Petroleum Fund.

His governing coalition is currently made up of Fretilin, the PLP which he heads, and the Khunto party.

The former Portuguese colony was occupied by Indonesia for a quarter-century and gained independence after a U.N.-sponsored referendum in 1999. Indonesia’s military responded with scorched-earth attacks that devastated the East Timorese half of the island of Timor.

East Timor’s transition to a democracy has been rocky, with leaders battling massive poverty, unemployment and corruption as the country continues to struggle with the legacy of its bloody independence battle and bitter factional politics that have occasionally erupted into violence. Its economy is reliant on dwindling offshore oil revenues.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations this year granted an observer status to East Timor ahead of it becoming the regional bloc’s 11th member.

The U.N. estimates that nearly half of East Timor’s population lives below the extreme poverty line of $1.90 a day, and that 42 of every 1,000 babies die before their fifth birthday because of malnutrition.

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