Officials gather ballot boxes in Dili on March 18, 2022, on the eve of the country’s presidential election.

Valentino Dariel Sousa | AFP | Getty Images

Opinion polls opened in East Timor on Saturday, as Asia’s youngest country held its fifth presidential election since independence, citing concerns over political stability and economic security.

The 16 presidential candidates include former resistance fighter and incumbent President Francisco “Lu Olo” Guterres, as well as independence figure and Nobel laureate Jose Ramos-Horta and a former Catholic priest.

At the voting booths in the capital Dili, Timorese wore masks and stood patiently in line as they waited to vote.

“We need to choose a new generation so we can build this country,” one voter, Jorge Mendonca Soares, 42, said of his desire for change.

While the country’s independence figures still dominate the field, there are also four female candidates for the first time, including Deputy Prime Minister Armanda Berta Dos Santos.

A recent poll by the national university showed that Ramos-Horta, 72, former commander of the armed forces Lere Anan Timur and Guterres are the favourites.

The polls close at 3 p.m. and early indicators of who is leading the vote are expected to come late Saturday.

If no candidate obtains an absolute majority, the vote on April 19 moves to a second round between the two best candidates.

East Timor, nearly 20 years since its independence after the end of a brutal occupation by Indonesia, has long struggled with political instability.

After the last elections in 2018, Guterres refused to appoint some ministers from the National Congress for the Reconstruction of East Timor (CNRT), a political party led by former Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao.

The move led to an ongoing political stalemate.

Ramos-Horta, who is backed by Xanana’s CNRT party, said earlier this week that he was joining because he felt the current president had “exceeded his powers”.

In East Timor’s political system, the president appoints a government and has the power to veto ministers or dissolve parliament.

In a recent election debate, Guterres pledged to ensure peace and stability, defend East Timor’s sovereignty and follow peace and stability, defend East Timor’s sovereignty and follow the constitution if he wins another term.

Relying heavily on dwindling oil and gas supplies, economic diversification and the role of young voters have also been key electoral issues, with an estimated 20% of voters reaching the voting age of 17 and voting for the first time.

Marco de Jesus, 17, who was voting for the first time, said he felt nervous but relaxed after help from the polling station.

“I am proud to have fulfilled my duties as a voter,” he said, speaking outside a polling station on Dili’s waterfront.

“I hope my choice can bring positive and beneficial change.”

This post East Timor, Asia’s Youngest Nation, Votes for President

was original published at “https://www.cnbc.com/2022/03/19/east-timor-asias-youngest-nation-votes-for-president.html”