East Timor Ruling Party Wins Election

By ZAKKI HAKIM
The Associated Press
Thursday, July 5, 2007; 12:03 AM

DILI, East Timor -- The ruling Fretilin movement emerged as the top party Wednesday night in vote counting from East Timor's weekend parliamentary elections, but it was far short of a legislative majority and will have to try to form an alliance with other blocs.

With nearly all the ballots counted, Fretilin had 29 percent of the votes, the election commission said. The National Congress for the Reconstruction of East Timor, a party formed by independence leader Xanana Gusmao, was second with 23 percent.

Most parties contesting the elections have indicated that they will not the Fretilin party, raising the possibility that it will be forced into opposition despite winning the most votes.

Analysts say a likely outcome is a government formed around the party of Gusmao, which would make him the become prime minister.

"If Fretilin fail to make a coalition, it is better for them to become the opposition," said Julio Tomas Pinto, a professor of political science at East Timor's La Paz University. "To avoid violence, the Fretilin leadership has to make sure its supporters understand that it did not win a simple majority."

Saturday's election followed a year of violence and political turmoil in East Timor, which broke from Indonesian rule in a U.N.-sponsored referendum in 1999 and has since struggled with widespread poverty, gang violence and other problems.

Mari Alkatiri, head of Fretilin, said his party was in talks with several other blocs on forming a governing coalition, but ruled out any deal with Gusmao's party.

While it led the election, Fretilin's vote share plummeted from the 57 percent it took in the 2001 election. That widely predicted slide was largely due to anger at the slow pace of development since independence, analysts said.

East Timor, a Portuguese colony for 450 years, fought a 24-year struggle against Indonesia and formally became independent just five years ago amid a widespread campaign of murder and rape by pro-Indonesian militias that killed 1,500 people.

In April and May last year, the country of 1 million people descended into chaos when fighting between police and soldiers led to gang warfare, looting and arson, causing 37 deaths and driving 155,000 people from their homes.

About 3,000 foreign peacekeepers restored relative calm, but East Timor is still plagued by unemployment and about 10 percent of the people still live in refugee camps or with relatives.


© 2007 The Associated Press