DILI, EAST TIMOR - Preliminary results from East Timor's parliamentary election show the Fretilin party has won the most votes while its partner in the national unity government has suffered a slump in support.
With more than 90 percent of votes counted on Sunday, the National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction party of independence hero Xanana Gusmao, or CNRT, had won 28 percent, down from 36.7 percent in 2012, when it was the top-polling party.
Fretilin, or Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor, was at 30 percent, little changed from the previous election. The Popular Liberation Party, a new political force led by former President Taur Matan Ruak, and the Democratic Party had each scooped up about 10 percent of the votes.
Fretilin is open to forming a coalition with CNRT, its secretary-general, Mari Alkatiri, said to loud applause and chants of "Viva Fretilin.”
The vote Saturday was East Timor's first parliamentary election without U.N. supervision since peacekeepers left in 2012.
The former Portuguese colony voted overwhelmingly for independence in 1999 after 24 years of brutal Indonesian occupation. Indonesia's military and pro-Indonesian militias responded to the independence referendum with scorched earth attacks that devastated the East Timorese half of the island of Timor.
In recent years, leaders have focused on big-ticket infrastructure projects to develop the economy, funding them from a dwindling fund of former oil riches, but progress is slow. Today, the country of 1.3 million people still faces poverty, with many lacking clean water and sanitation. Unemployment is high and young people are increasingly going overseas for work.
Nearly two dozen parties contested the election, in which they must win more than 4 percent of the vote to get seats in parliament. Results will be official once certified by the country's Court of Appeal, likely next week.
The drop in support for CNRT indicates frustration with slow economic progress and concerns about government corruption.
In the first few years after the independence, Fretilin, whose paramilitary arm had waged guerrilla warfare against Indonesia's occupation, was popular enough to form a government alone.