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Opposition coalition wins poll after months of deadlock

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DILI (Reuters) – An East Timor opposition coalition, including a party led by independence hero Xanana Gusmao, won a majority of the seats in parliament in an election this month, a court said yesterday.

The vote was called in a bid to end months of deadlock in the tiny Southeast Asian country’s parliament, where there had been a minority government led by Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri. The Alliance of Change for Progress (AMP) won 49.6 percent of the votes, said Deolindo dos Santos, head of East Timor’s Court of Appeal.

The AMP, a coalition of Gusmao’s National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT) and two other parties, secured 34 of the 65 seats in parliament.

The Fretilin party of outgoing Prime Minister Alkatiri won 34.2 percent of votes. The party had protested about alleged irregularities during the vote, but the appeal court rejected the complaint.

Fidelis Magalhaes, an official from the AMP coalition, said the result should break the deadlock in parliament.

“East Timor must have a government that stands and comes from an absolute majority in parliament,” Magalhaes said by telephone.

He declined to comment on speculation that former president and prime minister Gusmao would stand again as prime minister.

Gusmao could not be reached for comment.

The election campaign was marred by sporadic violence, though East Timor has been largely peaceful in recent years following recurrent bouts of political instability that it suffered since independence from Indonesia in 2002.

A 2017 parliamentary election produced no clear winner, with the Fretilin party winning just 0.2 percent more votes than CNRT, and forming a minority government.

East Timor President Francisco “Lu Olo” Guterres dissolved parliament in January and called for fresh elections, the fifth parliamentary election since independence.

Asia’s youngest democracy has struggled to alleviate poverty, stamp out corruption and develop its rich oil and gas resources. The energy sector accounted for about 60 percent of gross domestic product in 2014 and more than 90 percent of government revenue.

Candidates in the election had campaigned on promises to develop education and healthcare and boost agriculture and tourism in the country of 1.2 million people with a land area slightly smaller than Hawaii.

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