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East Timor's main parties able to form gov't but lose ground

Electoral workers empty a ballot box as votes are counted during the parliamentary election in Dili, East Timor, Saturday, July 22, 2017. Almost two dozen parties are contesting in the polls that are likely to return independence heroes to power, despite frustration in the young democracy with lack of economic progress and warnings the country could be bankrupt within a decade. (AP Photo/Kandhi Barnez)
July 24, 2017 - 11:31 AM

DILI, East Timor - East Timor's two main political parties won enough votes in a weekend parliamentary election to form another national unity government but lost ground to opposition forces in a sign of frustration with slow economic progress.

With all votes counted on Monday, the National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction party of independence hero Xanana Gusmao, or CNRT, had won 29.5 per cent, down from 36.7 per cent in 2012, when it was the top-polling party. Fretilin, or Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor, captured 29.7 per cent of the vote.

Fretilin declared itself the victor on Sunday and to loud applause and cheers of "Viva Fretilin" its secretary-general Mari Alkatiri said it is open to forming a coalition with CNRT.

The vote Saturday was East Timor's first parliamentary election without U.N. supervision since peacekeepers left in 2012. The U.S. State Department called it a "major milestone" in a statement commending the country for "an electoral process that was well-managed, credible, and accountable to the people."

The former Portuguese colony voted overwhelmingly for independence in 1999 after 24 years of brutal Indonesian occupation. Indonesia's military and pro-Indonesian militias responded to the independence referendum with scorched earth attacks that devastated the East Timorese half of the island of Timor.

In recent years, leaders have focused on big-ticket infrastructure projects to develop the economy, funding them from a dwindling fund of former oil riches, but progress is slow. Today, the country of 1.3 million people still faces poverty, with many lacking clean water and sanitation. Unemployment is high and young people are increasingly going overseas for work.

The Popular Liberation Party, a new political force led by former President Taur Matan Ruak, and the Democratic Party each scooped up about 10 per cent of the votes. A new youth party, Khunto, got about 6 per cent of the vote, which would give it 5 seats in the 65-member parliament.

Nearly two dozen parties contested the election, in which they must win more than 4 per cent of the vote to get seats in parliament. Results will be official once certified by the country's Court of Appeal, likely later this week.

In the first few years after the independence, Fretilin, whose paramilitary arm had waged guerrilla warfare against Indonesia's occupation, was popular enough to form a government alone.

News from © The Associated Press, 2017
The Associated Press

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