East Timor votes to break political impasse in parliament

Xanana Gusmao, independence hero and the country's first president, votes in a general election in Dili, East Timor, May 12, 2018. REUTERS/Lirio Da Fonseca

By Nelson de la Cruz

DILI (Reuters) - Thousands of East Timorese lined up to cast votes in a general election on Saturday, in a bid to end months of political deadlock in the tiny Southeast Asian nation's parliament.

This month's election campaign has been marred by sporadic violence, though East Timor has been largely peaceful in recent years following recurrent bouts of political instability that it suffered after independence from Indonesia in 2002.

The 2017 parliamentary election produced no clear winner, with the Fretilin party of Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri winning just 0.2 per cent more votes than the National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT), the party of independence hero Xanana Gusmao.

East Timor President Francisco “Lu Olo” Guterres dissolved parliament earlier this year and called for fresh elections, the fifth parliamentary election since independence from Indonesia in 2002.

Former president Gusmao cast his vote in the capital Dili as polls opened at 7am (2200 GMT).

"I would say that (this election) will mean the end of this deadlock," he told reporters.

"We will only accept the result if we see that there are no irregularities, no electoral fraud," he added.

Asia's youngest democracy has struggled to alleviate poverty, stamp out corruption and develop its rich oil and gas resources. The energy sector accounted for around 60 percent of GDP in 2014 and more than 90 percent of government revenue.

Candidates in Saturday's election have campaigned on promises to develop education and healthcare and boost the agriculture and tourism sectors.

Polls close at 3pm local time and unofficial results are expected to come in by the early evening. Official results are likely to be announced next week.

More than 700,000 East Timorese are registered to vote in the country, which has a land area slightly smaller than Hawaii and is home to 1.2 million people.

The former Portuguese colony was invaded by neighboring Indonesia in 1975. An often violent 24-year resistance movement took East Timor to independence in 2002 and many of its key figures still feature prominently in running the country. Members of the military and police mutinied in 2006.

(Writing by Kanupriya Kapoor; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

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