East Timorese prepare to vote

Many hoping that parliamentary vote will be step towards stable democracy.

    Helicopters are sending ballot papers
    to remote mountain districts [Reuters]

    Campaigning for the polls – which ended on Wednesday – was largely peaceful, but two Gusmao followers were shot dead after a rally this month and police fired warning shots and tear gas on Thursday to disperse a crowd one day after scuffles injured at least a dozen people.


    Security beefed up


    Foreign peacekeepers were deployed on Wednesday night and Thursday morning to prevent clashes between supporters of rival political parties as the campaigning period officially ended, police said.


    Timor vote

    Fourteen parties or coalitions fighting for places in 65-seat parliament

    No single party expected to win majority under proportional representation system

    Vote seen as showdown between new CNRT party and Fretilin

    Key issues: Alleviating poverty, managing oil revenue, law and order

    Monica Rodrigues, a spokeswoman for the UN police in East Timor, said "nothing is very serious … the situation is a little tense, but nothing more".


    Nonetheless, security has been beefed up in at least four potential hotspots across the country of 1 million people.


    Ramos-Horta said the government would take "pre-emptive actions" against any troublemakers.


    "If some people are not happy with the election results, they might cause trouble," he said. 


    The country is still recovering from fighting between rival police and army factions a year ago that left more than 30 people dead and forced more than 150,000 to flee their homes.


    More than 3,000 international peacekeepers restored relative calm and are expected to be deployed in the country for several years.


    The violence was prompted by Mari Alkatari, the then prime minister, sacking a third of the army.


    He eventually resigned – with corruption allegations hanging over him – but still leads the Fretilin party.


    Personal popularity


    International peacekeepers will provide
    security for Saturday's vote [Reuters]

    But a new party formed by Xanana Gusmao, an independence hero and former president, looks set to eclipse Fretilin in Saturday's polls.


    "To eradicate corruption, the political nepotism, the inefficiency in the government, the abuse of powers, that's why we are running for the government. We want to change," Gusmao says, adding that "some political parties feel that we are a private property".


    Gusmao's personal popularity is the biggest threat to its Fretilin's electoral prospects and Alkatari has tried to tell the electorate that the former president is using "his charisma as a hero" but "has no plan at all".


    Ramos-Horta has publicly endorsed Gusmao and his party.


    Whoever wins the election will inherit a host of problems – including unemployment, poverty and gang violence, but there appears to be optimism that Asia's poorest nation is starting to put its volatile history behind it.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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