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East Timor's second major transition since independence

East Timor held peaceful elections this weekend, and is set to form a coalition government that helps transform one of the poorest Asian countries to a middle-income country by 2030.

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“The next government needs to invest in human capital, education, health, and infrastructure,” says Joao Alves Correia who voted near the country’s main international airport, which has flights to only three destinations – Bali, Darwin, and Singapore – another indication of East Timor's relative isolation from international trade links.

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While it was expected that the current prime minister and the Democratic Party (PD) would continue their alliance from the outgoing 2007-12 governing coalition, another option is for Gusmao's National Congress for Reconstruction (CNRT) to align with FRETILIN, the second-biggest party, with 25 seats.

“We have at least 3 options,” said Gusmao in an interview at his party office in Dili, the capital, after the voting. His party won 30 seats, three shy of a majority that would allow it to govern alone. 

FRETILIN leader Mari Alkatiri on Tuesday repeated a call made before the vote for East Timor's old guard political leaders to forge a grand bargain – regardless of the result – for handing power over to younger politicians.

“Sooner or later we have to hand political power and leadership to the new generation,” Mr. Alkatiri told Dili newspaper Tempo Semanal.

Alkatiri, Gusmao, and Mr. Ramos-Horta are veterans of the Timorese independence struggle against Indonesia's 1975-99 occupation and have dominated the country's politics since Indonesia withdrew in 1999.

A call for a national unity government was also made by Ramos-Horta, who earlier this year lost out in the first round of the election for the mostly-ceremonial job as president and subsequently campaigned for the Democratic Party in the parliamentary election.

“We need a strong stable government and that can only happen if we have a national unity government,” said Ramos-Horta, a 1996 Nobel peace laureate.

Given the fact that the PD and another party were the only two other parties to win seats besides Gusmao's CNRT and FRETILIN, however, a unity government would leave East Timor without much of an opposition in parliament, raising questions about checks and balances.

That outcome might be a slap in the face for voters who lined up patiently in almost 90-degree heat on Saturday. Further concerns could arise from allegations of vote-buying coming from some defeated candidates and by the European Union election observer team, in what was otherwise deemed a free, fair, and peaceful vote. 

“It is important to vote and to choose who our next leader will be at this time,” Jacquelina Sarmento, a civil servant in Dili told the Monitor after voting in the capital on Saturday. "It is for our future as a country." 


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