They rode ponies, steered boats and walked for kilometres along cloud-shrouded mountain paths to vote in East Timor’s presidential election on Monday. The vote will be a key to the future of Asia’s newest democracy amid concerns the half-island nation’s oil and gas revenues are rapidly running dry. “I’m really happy … most of the eight candidates are good men who could help my country,” said Mateus Lucas, a 49-year-old father of three, who voted at a school in Dili. “I voted amid fear in 1999 but now I am free to vote for whoever I like,” he said, referring to a violence-hit United Nations referendum where Timorese voted to break away from Indonesia. The election is the first that East Timor has organised without the help from the UN.
Officials had to overcome huge logistical problems reaching remote polling stations without UN helicopters to ferry ballot boxes. Voting queues were long in most areas, although voting is not compulsory.
Damien Kingsbury from Victoria’s Deakin University, who is leading a delegation of 26 Australian poll observers, said East Timorese embrace elections “almost as a sacred duty”.
“Out in the villages you see people enthusiastically queuing up to vote and then they go back to their villages to celebrate the vote which they turn [into] a day of festival,” he said.