World Bulletin / News Desk
East Timor voted for a new president Monday, with a former guerrilla fighter tipped for victory after winning the backing of the two biggest parties, in a new sign of stability for Asia's youngest nation.
The vote comes at a challenging time for the tiny half-island nation 15 years after gaining independence, with oil reserves running dry and its leaders struggling to reach agreement with Australia in a row over lucrative energy fields.
It is the first presidential election since the departure of United Nations peacekeepers in 2012 but despite fears of violence there has been only sporadic and low-level unrest in the run-up to the vote.
Francisco Guterres, known by his nom de guerre "Lu-Olo", is favourite to win the presidency which is largely ceremonial but can have a key role in keeping the peace between the country's feuding politicians.
He is leader of the second-biggest party, Fretilin, and also received the backing of independence hero Xanana Gusmao and his CNRT party, the country's largest.
Analysts say the unified candidacy will boost stability in a nation that has been repeatedly rocked by bouts of violence since gaining independence in 2002 following a brutal 24-year Indonesian occupation.
"That is good from the point of view of stability, because competitive politics can raise tensions," Damien Kingsbury, an East Timor expert from Australia's Deakin University, told AFP.
Kingsbury said it suggests that the country will continue to be led by a unity government following parliamentary elections later in the year.
But he added that having no viable opposition could raise concerns about the government's accountability.
Guterres is from a humble family and like many members of East Timor's political class participated in the bloody struggle against Indonesian occupation. He was Fretilin's unsuccessful candidate for presidential polls in 2007.
There are eight candidates running in the presidential polls, and whoever wins will preside over a nation with huge challenges.
As well as diversifying the resource-rich economy away from a reliance on oil, the country's leaders must agree a new sea border with Australia after tearing up a contentious maritime treaty that cuts through energy fields.
If none of the candidates win more than 50 percent of votes Monday, the election will go to a run-off in April. Polls close at 3:00 pm (0600 GMT) and preliminary results should be known within a few days.
Many of the candidates are not serious contenders and are more concerned with raising the profile of their parties before the more important parliamentary elections that will decide the government and prime minister.
Supreme Court seeks report on incidents of cow vigilantism as government argues law and order is provincial issue
Communist rebels allegedly kill police chief, 4 others in Guihulngan city Friday
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson uses Japan visit to hit out at Pyongyang ICBM test
Replaces earlier story 'US lawmaker to protest if Duterte visits White House'
James McGovern says Duterte’s human rights record should prevent him from the White House
Rodrigo Duterte visits troops still in midst of fighting Daesh-linked Maute group in southern city
18 men, 9 women, 1 child among dead in Himachal Pradesh
Seoul police announce investigation into whether woman known in South Korea as Lim Ji-hyun was abducted
Zakir Naik's passport was revoked after the 51-year-old failed to respond to a showcause notice issued to him for personal appearance by July 13.
Foreign nationals members of loan shark syndicate victimizing gambling addicts, police say
Xi Jinping calls for Israel to halt settlements on occupied Palestine territory
Government says investigation 'less than constructive' in face of evidence of widespread killing, rape
Rescuers struggled to pull survivors from the rubble of the three-storey building in the southern city of Karachi.
With new solar projects, Zorlu will increase solar capacity in Pakistan to 300 megawatts
An Indian army officer was shot dead overnight by one of his own troops, the military said Tuesday.