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Xanana Gusmao alliance ousts Fretilin in Timor poll

Sydney Morning Herald - May 13, 2018

Michael Sainsbury, Dili Timor-Leste's national resistance hero Xanana Gusmao, a former president and prime minister, is headed back to power in the nation's second general election in 10 months via a three-party alliance that includes his former guerilla colleague Taur Matan Ruak, another former president.

Gusmao's AMP alliance gained more votes than incumbent Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri's Fretilin party, with a majority of seats in a new parliament where four groups are expected to be represented in the country's 100 per cent proportional voting systems.

The poll largely pitted two arms of the tiny nation's independence movement its combat leadership (AMP Alliance) and offshore diaspora diplomats (Fretilin) against each other. Voters deserted smaller parties with Fretilin gaining the largest swing of slightly less than 6 per cent, and the swing towards AMP was about 1.5 per cent.

The election was triggered when the Fretilin minority government, sworn in by President Francisco "Lu'Olo" Guterres in September, failed to get a working majority.

Pictures posted on the internet of Alkatiri at Fretilin headquarters in Dili on Saturday showed him to be inconsolable, having failed to gain the 30 seats he had predicted as he voted on Saturday morning and that would have given him his third chance at being prime minister.

The AMP alliance is likely to form government in its own right. In earlier counting it looked as if it might need to form a coalition with one or both or two smaller groups, the Democratic Party and the Development Democratic Forum, a collection of a number of parties.

After 95 per cent of the vote had been counted, the AMP alliance was looking set to have a clear majority in the 65 seat legislature. The most recent figures on Sunday had AMP with 34 seats and Fretilin on 23, with the Democratic Party on five and FDD three.

Once the government is set, Gusmao must resume negotiations with oil companies, including Australian Securities Exchange listed Woodside and US group ConocoPhilips, about exploiting an estimated $10 billion in energy reserves in the Greater Sunrise basin that Timor-Leste now controls. Timor-Leste inked a new maritime agreement with Australia in the lead-up to the poll, replacing the 2004 deal that Timor-Leste had argued was unfair and which was ripped up by a UN court in 2018.

Timor's present reserves, the country's major source of income that are now being pumped, are forecast to run out as early as 2026. The sticking point has been Gusmao's long held dream of bringing the pipeline to East Timor's remote southern cost, a promise repeated during the campaign, and the oil companies' view that this is not financially viable and they would only proceed if a pipelines went to Darwin.

"After yesterday's election with over 80 per cent of the vote counted it's clear that the AMP alliance is in the lead currently with 48 per cent of the national vote followed by Fretilin with about 35 per cent of the national vote. Two other smaller parties are also likely to secure seats," Michael Leach, Professor of Politics at Melbourne's Swinburne University who is in Dili as an election observer, told Fairfax Media.

"We will have to wait for the final vote count to see a seat distribution, which will determine whether the AMP alliance gets a 33-seat majority in its own right, or the possible scenarios for a multi-party coalition government."

The FDD proved to be the dark horse in the race, its improved vote potentially the difference between an AMP or Fretilin coalition.

"My vote is very important for this country and for my people, Silvano, a 23 year old university student who lives in the mountain town of Ermera told Fairfax Media.

"I voted for the FDD because the presented real policy program including the urgent provision of clean water, better roads and housing for poor people."

Daniel Pires, who voted for AMP said he wanted to see the group develop the economy, culture, education and health "to develop this country like other countries".

What remains unclear, according to Leach, is how Gusmao will reconcile his economic preference for major projects with the grassroots approach advocated by his alliance partners.

There had been some complaints by Gusmao on polling day of voting irregularities but Leach said: "The preliminary report of the largest observer mission expressed concern over the allegations made, but has declared the process free fair and transparent, based on their own observations yesterday."

After a fractious and increasingly bitter campaign with personal insults from AMP leaders towards Fretilin leaders and the release, by the AMP, of details of tens of millions of dollars worth of single-sourced contracts to companies owned by Fretilin leaders and their families.

Neither side had made any comment at the time of publication.

[Additional reporting by Jose Belo.]

Source: https://www.smh.com.au/world/asia/xanana-gusmao-alliance-ousts-fretilin-in-timor-poll-20180513-p4zf0y.html.

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