East Timor PM's party wins plurality in parliament

The party of East Timor's prime minister won the most seats in weekend parliamentary elections, the election commission said Tuesday, paving the way for him to form another coalition government in the young democratic nation.

Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao's party claimed 30 of the 65 seats in parliament in Saturday's elections, the commission said. The polls were expected to decide the fate of U.N. peacekeepers stationed in Asia's youngest and poorest nation.

Gusmao's National Congress for the Reconstruction of East Timor, or CNRT party, won 172,831, or 37 percent, of the votes. The Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor, or Fretilin party, won 140,786 votes to gain 25 seats, while the Democratic Party claimed eight seats. Frenti-Mudanca, a Fretilin breakaway, took two seats.

Official results were to be announced by the Supreme Court of Appeal later Tuesday or Wednesday morning.

The indecisive results announced by the election commission, however, mean Gusmao, who took office in August 2007, will have to form another coalition to govern again.

"We are open for whichever parties in setting up a new government," said Dionisio Babo Soares, CNRT's secretary general. "We have to place the interests of the nation and people above the party's."

Gusmao, a 66-year-old independence hero, had not yet announced his plans.

Francisco "Lu-Olo" Guterres, president of Fretilin, which won the most seats in 2007 elections with 21 seats — three more than CNRT — but failed to form a coalition, stressed the importance of sharing the new government.

"Whatever the results of this election, Fretilin has to join other parties to found the new 2012-2017 government," Guterres said. "We want to participate in the next government."

Gusmao's party won only 18 seats in 2007, but formed a coalition that now has 37 seats.

Saturday's election was seen as a test for the presence of the 1,300 U.N. peacekeepers who have been in East Timor since 2006, when they were redeployed following a violent political crisis that left dozens dead and tens of thousands displaced.

Gusmao expressed hope early this year that the peacekeepers could leave the country by the end of 2012.

East Timor, a half-island nation of 1.1 million people and a former Portuguese colony for three centuries, has had a turbulent past. It voted overwhelmingly in 1999 to end 24 years of brutal Indonesian occupation that left more than 170,000 dead. Withdrawing soldiers and proxy militias went on a rampage, killing another 1,500 people and destroying much of the infrastructure.

The international community was quick to jump in, deploying U.N. peacekeepers and pouring in billions of dollars. But the road to democracy has been rough, with gang violence and splits in the army and police turning deadly several times and, six years ago, leading to the collapse of the government.