BANGKOK – Scores of people in East Timor made their way to polling stations on Monday to cast their votes in the country’s fourth presidential election since its independence in 2002.
More than 740,000 people are registered to vote in the election, in which eight candidates are vying for office. The vote will be followed by a second round on April 20 if no one obtains an absolute majority.
Leading the polls is Francisco Guterres, known as Lo Olo, who is running in the presidential election for the third time, following his defeats in 2007 by Jose Ramos Horta and in 2012 by the current president, Jose Maria Vasconcelos.
A candidate from the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor (Fretilin), Guterres has the support of the National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT), the party of the charismatic former guerrilla leader, Xanana Gusmao.
The two parties, emerging from the armed resistance movement against Indonesian occupation, sealed a coalition agreement in 2015 with the resignation of Gusmao as prime minister and replaced him with the then-opposition leader, Rui Araujo, from Fretilin.
The elections will also have polling stations in Australian cities Sydney and Darwin, and Lisbon, in Portugal, where some 1,300 voters residing abroad are called to vote.
The new president will take office on May 20 when Vasconcelos’ term expires, coinciding with the 15th anniversary of the country’s independence.
Vasconcelos is not running for re-election, but is expected to run as a candidate for prime minister in the July elections after forging an alliance with the People’s Liberation Party, founded in 2015 by anti-corruption commissioner Aderito Soares.
This year marks the first presidential election since the United Nations contingent, deployed in 2006 due to a crisis that put the country on the brink of civil war, was withdrawn from the country in 2012.
East Timor, which has 1.2 million inhabitants, achieved independence on May 20, 2002 after three years under UN administration, 24 years of Indonesian occupation and several centuries of Portuguese rule.