|A UN vehicle escorted by UN police force carries ballot boxes for distribution to polling centres [AFP]|
Voting has closed in East Timor’s presidential election seen as a key test of stability in one of the world’s youngest countries.
The second election in the Pacific nation, which achieved independence from Indonesia in 2002, pits Nobel Peace prize laureate Jose Ramos-Horta against 11 other candidates.
The president has little to do with forming policy but is seen as an important unifying figure in a country still scarred by its bloody struggle for independence and the violence that marred a parliamentary election in 2007.
A large turnout was reported nationwide, with hundreds of voters queuing up an hour before polling stations opened in the capital Dili.
“I have voted and I am confident that this country will gain peace, stability and prosperity,” 54-year old voter Mateus Da Costa told the Reuters news agency.
A poll station worker later told the AFP news agency that voting had gone smoothly.
“Everything was orderly and well, smooth and without irregularities or an atmosphere of intimidation,” said Jamie Gonclaves.
Saturday’s vote will indicate whether the left-wing Fretilin party, the lusophone acronym for the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor, has the power to take back a governing majority in parliamentary elections later in June.
Incumbent Ramos-Horta has been overshadowed in campaigning by Fretilin candidate Francisco Guterres and former armed forces commander Taur Matan Ruak, the candidate favoured by Xanana Gusmao, the East Timorese prime minister, and his CNRT party.
Decisive victory unlikely
Ramos-Horta is bidding for a second five-year term. He won with Gusmao’s backing in 2007, the same year Gusmao switched from president to prime minister.
Analysts do not expect any of the candidates to gain more than half of the votes cast and so score a decisive victory in the first round of voting.
The contest is more likely to be decided next month in a second round of voting that could pit Fretilin supporters against those of the ruling CNRT coalition.
More than 600,000 of the tiny nation’s 1.1 million people were registered to vote on Saturday.
Fretilin won the government in the half-island’s first elections after winning independence in 2002. East Timor, a former Portuguese colony, voted for independence from Indonesia in a UN-sponsored referendum in 1999.