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Timor Leste

Resistance leader Xanana Gusmao wins Timor-Leste poll

Bishop's politicking may have helped stymie the extent of the victory

Resistance leader Xanana Gusmao wins Timor-Leste poll

Timor-Leste independence hero Xanana Gusmao casts his ballot during the general election in Dili on May 12. (Valentino Dariell de Sousa/AFP)

Timor-Leste independence hero Xanana Gusmao has led his Alliance for Change and Progress (AMP) to a decisive victory in the nation's second election in 10 months.

But his chance to grab a super-majority in coalition with two other parties may have been stymied by support for his opponents by Bishop Basilio do Nascimento of Baucau.

The poll was conducted peacefully and with only a smattering of complaints relating to electoral irregularities in what international observers widely regarded as another triumph for a young democracy.

Timor-Leste, formerly known as East Timor, only gained independence in 2002.

"What was really impressive was the counting process that is conducted with the whole community gathered around," said Sara Niner, Anthropology Lecturer at Melbourne's Monash University.

"This is very much a Timorese style process: open and transparent counting with the oversight of each community," Niner said.

She also praised the government organization that runs elections.

The main opposition FRETILIN party, led by incumbent minority government prime minister Mari Alkatiri, gained 23 seats in the 65 seat parliament, the last one courtesy of a 4.5 percent swing that occurred largely in the east of the country where Bacau is the major city.

There have been widespread rumblings amongst the clergy about overt politicking by Bishop Nascimento.

Father Martinho Gusmao, rector of Dili's St. Peter and St. Paul Seminary, said he was saddened by the bishop's role.

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Still, the win allows AMP, a combination of Gusmao's CNRT (Timor-Leste Reconstruction Party), the People's Liberation Party of former President Tuar Matan Ruak and martial arts group turned political party KHUNTO to govern in its own right.

AMP won 34 seats, FRETILIN 23, the Democratic Party 5 and the Democratic Development Forum (a collection of small parties) 3.

"As a young man, my vote will help to determine the future of this country," Simao Correa, 24, of the hillside town of Railaco told ucanews.com.

He expressed confidence that the incoming government would make every effort to improve education, health services, agriculture and basic infrastructure.

But AMP insiders are wary of Timor-Leste's president, Francisco Guterres Lu'olo, who is also president of FRETILIN  and was backed in the March, 2017 election by Gusmao.

Lu'olo opted to call a second election rather than installing AMP as the government at that time.

After casting his vote on May 12, Lu'olo urged all voters "to accept the result of the election."

But the day after the election, Alkatiri said, after he also urged his supporters on voting day to accept the outcome, that he would challenge the result in Oecusse, a small seaside Timor-Leste enclave surrounded by Indonesian territory in the west of the island.

"We are about to see what cohabitation between a FRETILIN president and an AMP prime minister looks like," Michael Leach, Professor of Politics at Australia's Swinburne University, who was in Dili as an official election observer, said.

Leach noted that Lu'olo was the first person elected president of the nation while being affiliated with a political party.

"The FRETILIN vote was up by 4.5 percent, the first time it was up significantly since 2007," he said.

"Some of this was certainly a flight by small party voters to the majors in a polarizing campaign.

"The fact that there has been a clear and decisive result is good for the country given there has been a protracted period of political uncertainty since last July."

Leach pointed out that a super-majority would have allowed the AMP to reverse any presidential vetoes.

 In Timor-Leste the president can veto any parliamentary bill, but this can be reversed.

"We are expecting trouble from Lu'olo, although maybe not straight away: we are expecting games, but hopefully it will not lead to another early election," one political insider said

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