Thousands of East Timorese ended weeks of political rallies and entered a campaign blackout on Thursday before parliamentary elections at the weekend, with fears for the economic future of Asia’s youngest democracy the primary concern for voters. More than 20 political parties are vying for 65 seats in East Timor’s parliament as frustration grows over the government’s failure to use the wealth generated by oil and gas sales to support development and create jobs. The parliamentary poll, which will determine the next prime minister, follows the victory of former independence fighter Francisco “Lu Olo” Guterres in a presidential election in March. The president is largely a figurehead, with the government run by a prime minister chosen by the party or coalition that wins the majority of votes.
More than 700,000 East Timorese are registered to vote in the tiny country of 1.2 million people, with official results expected to be announced by Aug. 6.
Former independence fighter Xanana Gusmao and his National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT) party are seen as the front-runners in Saturday’s vote.
“Whoever may be the next prime minister, the government and also the national parliament will have some key national priorities … in particular namely the continuation of building key infrastructure,” said Nobel Peace Prize winner and former prime minister, Jose Ramos Horta.