DILI (Kyodo) — East Timorese voted Saturday in parliamentary elections that are expected to be a fight between two major parties and a third, recently established party.
A total of 1,118 polling stations, which opened at 7 a.m., closed at 3 p.m. and vote-counting immediately got underway.
More than 760,000 voters were eligible to cast ballots to elect the National Parliament’s 65 members through a party-list proportional representation system.
The elections took place amid an increasing level of discontent among young voters over the country’s economic outlook.
Twenty-one political parties contested the elections after a month of peaceful campaigning in the country. A party must win 33 seats to control parliament outright.
Analysts believe former independence fighter Xanana Gusmao’s National Council of Timorese Resistance, which holds 30 seats in the current parliament, and the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor, better known as Fretilin, which controls 25 seats, will be the frontrunners.
The newly established Popular Liberation Party led by former President and guerilla fighter Taur Matan Ruak, meanwhile, has gained popularity.
Gusmao, who became the first voter to arrive at a polling station near his residence, expressed confidence that his party will win and gain a majority of the seats to avoid setting up a coalition with other parties.
Asked if he will return to govern the country when his party wins, the former East Timor prime minister and president replied, “Let’s see the results.” He quickly stressed, however, that he will go with what his party says if it nominates him as prime minister.
After 15 years of independence, the young democracy’s new government continues to face a slew of economic issues including high unemployment.
An opinion poll conducted last December by the Asia Foundation, a nonprofit international development organization, showed an overall downward trend in views about the country’s outlook, with increasing levels of discontent among younger voters.
In 2014, according to the foundation, 73 percent of respondents said the country was going in the right direction, while in 2016, only 58 percent felt the same way.
For respondents under the age of 25, the figure plunged from 80 percent to only 50 percent in the same timeframe.
“Worthwhile to watch out for, though, is whether the discontent among young voters continues to grow, and whether there will be some sort of a tipping point for politics in East Timor,” said Susan Marx and Gobie Rajalingam of the Asia Foundation in a piece published on the organization’s blog In Asia.
Indonesia annexed East Timor by force in 1974 after it had been under Portuguese colonial rule for about 400 years. East Timor formally gained independence in 2002 after two and a half years under U.N. administration following a referendum in 1999, in which the East Timorese overwhelmingly voted for separation.