7 Jul 2012

East Timorese vote in parliamentary elections

9:35 pm on 7 July 2012

Voting has finished in East Timor in parliamentary elections that will also determine if United Nations peacekeepers can withdraw by the end of the year.

The UN said it would withdraw its troops if the parliamentary polls go smoothly following peaceful presidential polls in April. Official results are expected in about 10 days.

East Timor (Timore-Leste) gained independence in 2002 after three years of UN administration, which followed more than two decades of bloody guerrilla warfare during Indonesian rule.

But an outbreak of gang violence in 2006 prompted the UN Security Council to set up a new peacekeeping force, Unmit. The UN said poverty and unemployment had exacerbated the unrest.

Campaign focused on economy

As well as the two main parties, there are 19 other parties contesting the election, so forming a new government could prove difficult if there is no clear majority.

The campaigns of both major parties have focused on how to stamp out corruption and how best to spend East Timor's $12 billion petroleum earnings.

As he voted in the capital, Dili, Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao said his centre-left National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT) had done a "good job" and was hoping for backing from voters.

The other major party contesting the elections is the left-wing Fretilin.

Two rounds of presidential elections were held in March and April, with former independence leader Taur Matan Ruak elected to what is a largely ceremonial post.

New Zealand observers

A group of New Zealand Members of Parliament are among official observers of the election. They include Labour's Phil Goff and the National MP for Waikato, Lindsay Tisch, who are part of an ASEAN Regional Forum observer mission.

New Zealand has 80 troops stationed in East Timor.

The NZ Defence Force says they support the International Police Force in and around Dili, conduct security patrols, provide advice to the Timor-Leste Defence Force, and work as UN military observers.