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East Timorese to Vote Saturday in Nation's First Parliamentary Election

  • Nancy-Amelia Collins

The people of East Timor will head to the polls Saturday for the country's first parliamentary elections. As VOA's Nancy-Amelia Collins reports from the capital Dili, most hope a new government will bring stability and economic prosperity to this troubled nation.

Whoever wins East Timor's parliamentary election Saturday will face serious challenges. The country suffers grinding poverty, nearly 50 percent unemployment and security problems.

These elections are widely viewed as a fight between the ruling Fretilin party, and the new CNRT party led by former president Xanana Gusmao.

Both parties say they will win the 50 percent of the vote required to control the 65-seat parliament. Political analysts, however, think none of the 14 parties will win a majority and a coalition government will be formed.

Damien Kingsbury, an academic and author on East Timor, is observing the elections.

"We are likely to see a change of government and one would think, given the last year or so, that will be a positive step. I think in terms of issues around security and stability, there might be some problems in the immediate aftermath, but that will settle down very quickly, the international security forces are still here in significant numbers and they will resolve any outstanding tensions very quickly," he said.

East Timor descended into violence last year after nearly a third of the army was fired. Fighting broke out between rival security forces and gangs.

Around two-thirds of the residents of Dili were forced into refugee camps, where thousands remain in miserable conditions, relying on food aid.

Order was only restored after the government requested an Australian-led international peacekeeping force. Around 3,000 peacekeepers remain in the country.

Many blame the Fretilin party for the violence, and its candidate for president lost in this year's presidential election. Former Prime Minister Jose Ramos-Horta won the May run-off vote.

Kingsbury thinks this means the Timorese are more likely to vote for the CNRT party of the popular Mr. Gusmao. If CNRT wins, he will become prime minister, a more powerful position than the largely ceremonial post of president.

He says a CNRT win will in the long run bring much needed stability to the government.

"I think that for the initial period at least there will be a high level of stability in the government … there will be increased foreign investment, we will see external governments and agencies working much more closely and cooperatively with the new government and all of this bodes well for East Timor's future," says Kingsbury.

There are nearly 500 international and over 2,400 national observers in the country to ensure the election is run fairly.

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