East Timor election neck-and-neck

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E Timor elections are running a tight race. Reuters

DILI, East Timor (AFP) – The two largest parties in East Timor’s parliamentary election were neck-and-neck, according to preliminary results yesterday, with neither expected to secure enough support to govern alone.

With 90 percent of votes from Saturday’s election counted, the National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT) – led by independence hero Xanana Gusmao – had about 28 percent of votes, down from 36.7 percent in 2012.

Fretilin, led by President Francisco Guterres, had about 30 percent of votes.

The two parties are already coalition partners and are expected to remain so in the upcoming government.

The new Popular Liberation Party (PLP) led by former President Taur Matan Ruak and The Democratic Party both managed to secure 10 percent of votes.

Twenty-one parties took part in the poll, the first parliamentary election since the departure of United Nations peacekeepers in 2012.

The former Portuguese colony, invaded by Indonesia in 1975 and brutally occupied, gained independence in 2002.

The election will determine the choice of prime minister, the most influential political figure. The presidency is a largely ceremonial role, but the occupant can help keep the peace between feuding politicians.

The new government will face big challenges. Half of the population lives in poverty and the current government is struggling to improve the livelihoods of its 1.2 million people.

As well as diversifying the resource-rich economy away from a reliance on oil, the leaders must agree a new sea border with Australia after tearing up a contentious maritime treaty that cuts through energy fields.

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