Timor-Leste awaits results on first vote without UN

21 Mar 2017By GarethB


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SBS World News Radio: Counting is underway in Timor-Leste's presidential election, with a former resistance fighter leading the race to become the fledgling nation's next leader.

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Francisco "Lu Olo" Guterres belongs to the Fretilin party that led Timor-Leste's long struggle for independence.

Now, he is the man many see as the country's next president.

And he is under no illusions about the challenges he will face if elected to the role as a national figurehead.

"This is a chance to bring changes in many sectors. I want to fix the problems faced in the sectors of agriculture, health, education and the economy, leading the people of East Timor towards the future they desire."

Voting has been held in the country, with an official result expected on Wednesday.

If nobody wins more than 50 per cent of the vote, a run-off election between the two leading vote-getters would be held next month.

But Mr Guterres is believed to have a chance at passing the 50 per cent mark and winning outright.

Voter Manuel Da Costa says he backs the popular 62 year-old for both his past and his present.

"I chose him because he is a role model for the younger generation. As a politician who fought for our nation and the people in the past, he deserves a chance to lead the nation. I also think the policies he has suggested are good for society."

But fellow voter Rita Dera Do Carmo says she opted for the other leading candidate, current education minister Antonio da Conceicao.

He has run a strong anti-corruption campaign.

"I voted for him because he has presented good policies and planning for the nation. And I believe he can lead the nation to a better future."

The Democratic Party politician says he will respect whatever the outcome of the poll, though.

"I have to obey to what the people decide. Therefore, if the results will be in favour of myself, I'll certainly appreciate it, and, also, I would give my gratitude to the population because they give the trust to me. But if the trust will be given to the other candidate, this is also what I have to appreciate, the decisions of the people."

A key to Mr Guterres being expected to win is his endorsement by popular former resistance and national leader Xanana Gusmao, who addressed rallies in his support.

Whichever of the eight candidates wins, the big task will be weaning the nation off its reliance on oil and gas money, with concerns that Timor-Leste's reserves are running dry.

The energy sector accounted for around 60 per cent of the gross domestic product in 2014, for example, and more than 90 per cent of government revenue.

Analysts say the young nation needs to diversify its income sources into agriculture and manufacturing.

While the president's role is largely ceremonial, it is viewed as important for promoting unity in the country, which gained its independence from Indonesia in 2002.


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