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East Timor parliamentary election sees populist party versus the old guard

July 22, 2017 - TIMOR-LESTE

The 15-year-old nation of some 1.1 million people holds an election for its unicameral 65-seat parliament, with the new populist People's Liberation Party (PLP) taking on the two main parties and running on an anti-corruption platform.

The former Portuguese colony, which was under Indonesian control from 1975 to 1999, has a unicameral national assembly from which the prime minister is selected. The constitution has left the real power in the hands of the prime minister and cabinet. President José Maria Vasconcelos, a former military chief known by the nom de guerre of Taur Matan Ruak, took himself out of the race for the presidency in March in order to run for parliament on the PLP ticket. He is said to have his sights on the prime minister's job. If he succeeds, he will replace Prime Minister Rui Maria de Araujo.

The PLP is not seen as likely to threaten the dominance of the CNRT (National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction) and FRETILIN (Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor], which share deep roots in the independence struggle and form a unity government. The two are expected to compete separately, then return to their power-sharing agreement. The South East Asia Globe points out that CNRT and FRETILIN have won the most votes in the country's past three parliamentary elections. If it does well in the vote, PLP will give the country a functioning opposition, amplifying its stated crusade against corruption.

In March Timor Leste former parliament chief Francisco "Lu-Olo" Guterres won the country's presidential election, backed by FRETILIN and CNRT.

An Australian expert cited in the Globe sees corruption and economic planning at the forefront of the election issues because the first is getting much worse and is draining the country's limited resources at a time when its mainstay, oil, is running out.

No end to Timor-Leste's political infighting (20 May 2016)

Timor-Leste's Dangerous Political Union (The Diplomat 24 May 2016)

President may seek prime ministership in 2017 election (Economist 19 Nov 2015)

Election schedule (mherrera)

After Presidential Elections, What Next for Timor-Leste? (The Diplomat Mar 2017)

Date written/update: 2017-05-12