BANGKOK – The streets of Dili, capital of East Timor, were calm on Sunday on the eve of presidential elections, an epa journalist reported.
Thousands of people participated on Saturday in a peaceful rally for Francisco Guterres, the favorite to win, from the leftist party Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor.
These are the first presidential elections to be held in the former Portuguese colony since the withdrawal of the United Nations peacekeeping taskforce in 2012, deployed in the country since 2006 after decades of violence.
After declaring itself independent from Portugal in November 1975, East Timor, also known as Timor-Leste, was invaded one month later by the Indonesian army.
The occupation of the youngest country in Southeast Asia lasted until a UN-supervised referendum was held in 1999, in which citizens voted for independence from Indonesia.
The withdrawal of Indonesian troops, however, did not end the political instability that went on to overshadow the presidencies of pro-independence leaders Xanana Gusmao (2002-2007) and Jose Ramos-Horta (2007-2012).
Elected in 2012, the country’s current president Jose Maria Vasconcelos, also known as Taur Matan Ruak, will not be contesting the March 20 elections.
In the scenario that none of the six presidential candidates get more than half of the votes, the two candidates with the most votes will have a run-off on April 20.
East Timor, located on the eastern half of the island of Timor, has 1.2 million inhabitants and is the third smallest country in Southeast Asia, after Singapore and Brunei.