East Timor will vote with the illusion of ending the political blockade

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Dili (East Timor) (AFP) – East Timor is preparing to vote this Saturday to elect its president in hopes of ending a political and economic paralysis that has prevailed for years in this former Portuguese colony.

Nearly 860,000 voters in that Southeast Asian country, with 1.3 million inhabitants, are called to the polls to designate the head of state for the next five years.

The covid-19 pandemic dealt a severe blow to the economy of the country, impoverished and mostly rural. Added to the consequences of the health crisis were the heavy floods caused by Cyclone Seroja, which affected the capital, Dili, in April 2021 and left around forty dead.

Sixteen candidates will compete for the position, including four women. There have never been so many candidates since the country gained independence from Indonesia in 2002.

The current president, Francisco Guterres, nicknamed “Lu-Olo”, 67, who also leads the Freitilin party, is running for a second term.

In 2017, he was elected in the first round with 57% of the vote thanks to the support of the two main parties, the National Congress for the Reconstruction of Timor (CNRT) and the Revolutionary Front for the Independence of East Timor (Fretilin).

But, on this occasion, he will face Nobel Peace Prize winner José Ramos-Horta, 72, who already presided over the country from 2007 to 2012.

The former Timorese resistance spokesman received the key support of Xanana Gusmao, hero of independence and leading figure of the CNRT.

General Lere Anan Timur, also from the Fretilin formation, is considered a serious rival for the current president.

Generation of independence

If none of the candidates obtains an absolute majority, a second round will be organized on April 19. The new head of state will be sworn in on May 20, the anniversary of the country’s independence.

In East Timor, the president has a largely honorary role. The country is located in the eastern half of the island of Timor, in the Indonesian archipelago, and has an area of ​​about 15,000 km2.

With this election date, voters hope to put an end to the blockade of the last four years, a product of the confrontation between the two main political forces.

“The machinery must be restarted after a paralysis that has generated an economic crisis, because of not being able to vote on budgets” for several years, explained Christine Cabasset, a specialist in East Timor and deputy director of the Research Institute on the Southeast Contemporary Asian.

Those candidates forged their militancy in the struggle for independence and are the product of that time, but the importance of the young electorate in a country where 70% of the population is under 30 could benefit other candidates.

Political life in East Timor has frequently been marred by violence.

In 2018, riots during legislative elections left dozens injured, and in 2006, political rivalries degenerated into open conflict in Dili, in which dozens died.

The leaders will have to try to straighten out the economy, very disturbed because the income from oil – the main source of the State budgets – was sharply reduced. In addition, the future of the Greater Sunrise field remains uncertain.

The former Portuguese colony annexed by Jakarta in 1975 gained independence in 2002, after 24 years of bloody Indonesian occupation.

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East Timor will vote with the illusion of ending the political blockade