Timor-Leste hero Xanana Gusmão heads back into power

Coalition led by former president and prime minister set for general election victory

Timor-Leste independence hero Xanana Gusmão is expected to be reappointed prime minister after the country's second parliamentary election in less than a year.

Mr Gusmão led a coalition of opposition parties that has secured more than 49.5 per cent of the vote, with 99 per cent counted. The official result will be announced later this month.

Mr Gusmão's National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT) party joined forces with the Popular Liberation party, led by another former president, Taur Matan Ruak, and the youth-focused Khunto to form the Change for Progress Alliance (AMP), which defeated Fretilin, led by Mr Gusmão's frequent rival Mari Alkatiri.

Mr Alkatiri had struggled to hold on to power after winning just 0.2 per cent more votes than CNRT last year, and his government was dissolved in January.


The campaign was marred by tensions and violence, and both leaders have in the past faced accusations of improper conduct – including by Mr Ruak when he was president .

Timorese journalist Raimundos Oki reported 18 CNRT supporters were injured in an alleged attack by Fretilin supporters last week. However, election day appeared to be peaceful, with the process and high turnout praised by the United Nations Development Programme and election observers.

Fretilin drew more than 34 per cent of Saturday’s vote, as the Timorese abandoned the minor parties to choose between two sides of the country’s “old guard”. Sixteen years after regaining sovereignty, Timor-Leste’s elections remain dominated by the leaders of its independence struggle.

Mr Gusmão was prime minister from 2007 to 2015 and Timor-Leste’s first president after independence, from 2002 to 2007.

Mr Alkatiri was the country’s first prime minister, briefly resigning after a political crisis in 2006 which included accusations of assassination plans. He led Fretilin to win the biggest number of seats in 2007, but the Gusmão-led CNRT formed a larger coalition and was able to form government.

Border treaty

The 2017 election produced no clear winner . Opposition parties blocked legislation, and in January the president, Lú-Olo Guterres, called for fresh elections to end hostilities.

In recent years, Mr Alkatiri has led an ambitious infrastructure development project in Oecusse, as part of the government’s attempts to diversify the economy before oil reserves – on which Timor-Leste’s economy depends – dry up.

In March the government signed a maritime border treaty with Australia, largely ending decades of diplomatic negotiations, which included accusations of spying by Australian officials, and hostility over the division of billions of dollars worth of oil and gas reserves in the Timor Sea.

Last week the Guardian revealed that Australia's decision to formally recognise the violent invasion and occupation of Timor-Leste by Indonesia in the 1970s was largely driven by its desire to secure an advantageous maritime border.

The prime minister elect, Mr Gusmão, had led the treaty negotiations with Australia but just days before the treaty was signed he accused Australia of collusion . He did not attend the signing.

The exact division of the oilfields remains to be decided. Timor-Leste hopes to have the gas piped back to its purpose-built processing plant on its southern coast. Australia, and reportedly the proponents, want it to go to Darwin. – Guardian