Dili, East Timor: Voters in East Timor lined up on 9 April to choose a new president, hoping the election will end bitter political rivalries and widespread poverty threatening the future of Asia’s youngest nation.
With a run-off predicted, some people fear the fledgling democracy, pushed to the brink of civil war just one year ago, could be entering several more months of political instability.
About 522,000 eligible voters will have nine hours to cast their ballots at more than 1,200 polling locations across the country. Preliminary results are expected on 11 April.
Prime Minister Jose Ramos-Horta, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, had initially been considered a sure winner for the five-year role of president, now held by the country’s popular former resistance leader Xanana Gusmao.
But many experts say — with eight candidates in the hotly contested race and disillusionment with the existing government mounting — a second round will almost certainly follow in one month. A majority of 50%, plus one vote, is needed for an outright victory on 9 April.
Paulino Gama, a 58-year-old farmer, was the first member of the public to cast a vote at a polling booth in the capital, Dili.
“I voted for Ramos-Horta because of his clear program for poor people like me,” he said. “I am voting for the bright future of my son and grandson.”
East Timor, which voted to break from 24 years of brutal Indonesian rule in 1999, descended into chaos last year after 600 soldiers were fired, triggering gunbattles between security forces that spiraled into gang warfare and looting. Dozens of people were killed and tens of thousands fled their homes before the country’s first elected government collapsed.
Nearly 3,000 foreign police and soldiers were deployed to keep order. Clashes between supporters of opposing candidates in recent days left more than 30 people injured and resulted in 200 arrests.