Timor-Leste election: 'Disenfranchised youth' party wins first seats in parliament

Timor-Leste election: 'Disenfranchised youth' party wins first seats in parliament

Timor-Leste election: 'Disenfranchised youth' party wins first seats in parliament

Updated 24 July 2017, 13:20 AEST

A Timor-Leste political party with links to martial arts gangs and "disenfranchised young men" will for the first time have seats in the country's parliament.

Key points:

  • The Khunto party polled 7 per cent of the vote, earning it several seats
  • Major parties are expected to form a coalition government
  • Observers praised the elections as "free and fair" and dismissed reports of tension

Timor-Leste's largest political parties, Fretilin, the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor and CNRT, the National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction, are expected to form a "business as usual" coalition government after polling about 30 per cent of the vote each.

Fretilin claimed victory after a provisional vote count put the party slightly ahead of former resistance leader Xanana Gusmao's CNRT.

"Victory to Fretilin is also victory to Xanana," Fretilin leader Mari Alkatiri said in a statement on his Facebook page.

Former president Taur Matan Ruak's PLP, Popular Liberation Party, and PD, the Democratic Party, have each polled about 10 per cent of the vote.

However, the Khunto party has surprised political observers by polling about 7 per cent of the vote, which will give it several parliamentary seats.

The party has strong links to martial arts groups, which date back to the Indonesian era, according to Professor Michael Leach from Swinburne University.

"This new party is very much based around some of those groups, in terms of its networks and leadership," he said.

"There's a relatively high degree of unemployment in Timor-Leste among young men.

"Their message, which is very much about disenfranchised youth, has struck a chord."

About 20 per cent of people voting in Timor-Leste's election on Saturday were voting for the first time, according to Professor Leach.

"It's a very young electorate," he said.

Timor-Leste's median age is 19, compared to Australia's median age of about 38.

Researcher Juvinal Dias from local organisation La'o Hamutuk, which analyses the country's economy and government policy, said Khunto could be influential.

"I really hope Khunto can make some change in parliament, promoting good policy for youth in the country," Mr Dias said.

"The important thing is to invest in education and health, and also the non-oil economy.

"We expect that the future government will be more responsive to democracy, more responsive to the people's needs."

Observers dismiss reports of tension

The head of Australia's Timor-Leste election observer mission has dismissed claims of unrest during the country's elections.

Professor Damien Kingsbury said voting in the district of Baucau, which had been the subject of media reports about unrest, occurred without incident.

"The reports we've heard from our observers in Baucau are actually quite the opposite," he said.

"That there was no unrest, that this was a second hand report and there was no issue of any note at all."

"There was certainly no hint of tension, let alone aggression or violence."

Professor Kingsbury said his team observed an overwhelmingly "free and fair" election process, despite some minor technical issues.

Timor-Leste's National Electoral Commission is expected to issue a preliminary statement of results, before parties negotiate who will form government and assume the role of prime minister.

"What this election really has demonstrated though is that Timor-Leste's electoral commission and its secretariat are quite capable of conducting elections without external assistance or supervision," Professor Kingsbury said.

Political parties in Timor-Leste need to poll at least 4 per cent of the vote to get their members in the 65 seat parliament.

Citizens vote for political parties, rather than specific candidates, and seats are then allocated proportionally according to party lists.