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Polls pave way for Gusmão’s return in Timor Leste

New prime minister in Catholic majority nation will have his task cut out as 42 percent of people live below poverty line
Xanana Gusmao

Xanana Gusmao (Photo: supplied/CNRT)

Published: May 23, 2023 11:31 AM GMT
Updated: May 23, 2023 11:38 AM GMT

Timor Leste’s independence hero Xanana Gusmão’s party has put up a robust show in the parliamentary polls, boosting chances of his return as premier in the Catholic-majority Southeast Asian nation.

Gusmão’s National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT) won nearly 42 percent of the vote share, according to interim results of the Technical Secretariat for Electoral Administration of Timor, announced on May 23. 

The CNRT won 288,101 votes (41.62 percent) in the May 21 elections and is entitled to 31 of the 65 parliamentary seats against its current tally of 10 seats.

Professor Camilo Ximenes Almeida from the National University of Timor-Leste said the CNRT's victory was a sign of voters’ disappointment with the ruling party.

"The [outgoing] government has not fulfilled many promises, which has led to people's lack of trust and ultimately turning towards the CNRT,” Ximenes told UCA News.

Nearly 42 percent of the nation's estimated 1.5 million people live below the poverty line, according to the United Nations Development Program, and many in the former Portuguese colony are illiterate.

Gusmao was Timor-Leste's first president, serving from 2002 to 2007. He became the fourth prime minister in 2007, holding office till 2015. He is a key supporter of current President Jose Ramos-Horta who was elected last year.

Ximenes said Timorese still respects Gusmao because he is "not only a party leader, but he is a unifying and visionary figure."

This result opens the opportunity for Gusmao to become prime minister in the 2023-2028 period.

Ximenes said it is very possible because “Gusmao remains the favorite.”

The official election results will be announced on June 7 and new members of parliament will be sworn in on June 12.

Gusmao’s party came first in 10 of 14 municipalities and in all overseas polling stations, including Australia, Korea, Britain and Portugal, which put CNRT ahead of the ruling coalition, led by the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor (FRETILIN) and the People's Liberation Party.

The FRETILIN, headed by Mari Alkatiri, a Muslim and Gusmao's old rival, won 178,248 votes (25.75 percent) to surrender four seats from its current tally of 23.

The People's Liberation Party (PLP), led by the incumbent Prime Minister Taur Matan Ruak, lost four out of eight seats after winning 5.88 percent of the vote share. 

The Democratic Party, one of the opposition parties that is expected to cobble together a government along with the CNRT, has won 9.32 percent of the vote share to secure six seats compared with its current tally of five seats.

The Green Party and the United Democratic Development Party obtained 3.63 percent and 3.13 percent of the vote share, respectively, making both of them fail to cross the 4 percent threshold to secure parliamentary seats.

President Horta has asked all political party leaders to respect the poll results.

"I appeal to all political parties, especially their leaders, to respect each other and accept the election results of this sovereign people," the Nobel Peace Prize winner said in a statement.

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