Dili (Agenzia Fides) - East Timor, which is the youngest Asian nation, yesterday voted for the presidential election, the first election since the UN peacekeeping troops left the country in 2012. The turnout in the Democratic Republic with about 1.2 million inhabitants, 95% Catholics, was very high (86.3% of 750 thousand voters). Francisco Guterres, a former guerrilla leader of the Revolutionary Front of East Timor independent (Fretilin) had received 57 per cent of the national vote with 90 per cent of votes counted in Monday's election, and was supported by Xanana Gusmão, revolutionary hero and leader of the resistance in the struggle against the Indonesian occupation.
In Timorese politics, the elected president, in office for five years, is a figurehead, whose formal powers are limited to the right of veto. Next July voters will vote for the parliamentary elections.
During the campaign, Guterres promised to give priority to economy, education, employment, development. Economy in East Timor is heavily dependent on oil and gas, which account for about 90% of public revenues but, according to the UN 2015 data, more than 50% of the population is still below the poverty line, while unemployment is over 20% and about 50% of the population is illiterate.
Contacted by Agenzia Fides, a Filipino missionary Jesuit Fr. Erik John Gerilla, committed in East Timor for five years in social service, comments: "The elections were conducted in a peaceful manner and this is a positive sign. The president had broad support. He is very close to the people. The challenges the nation face today are those regarding food security, low wages, climate change that affect farmers. The population is composed of 75% of young people under 30 years of age: we must respond to their needs, of education and work. Public schools do not provide great quality, there are few universities and in this area private Catholic schools give an important contribution, providing quality education". To this end, he continues, "the Jesuits work in the training of teachers in Joao de Britto Institute, which aims to prepare teachers for higher levels, even for professional and technical subjects".
In building the nation, which has a large Catholic majority, "the Church has an active role in contributing to the growth of the country, cooperating with national institutions in the field of social services and in rebuilding the education system", he notes.
Another important factor is "the work of reconciliation, which began years ago in the Timorese society", through a special Truth and Reconciliation Commission established after the violence that marked the separation from Indonesia, in 1999, causing more than 1,400 deaths and 300 thousand displaced. "The Church offers a contribution especially in following peace and justice criteria, in healing the wounds through forgiveness", the Jesuit concluded. (PA) (Agenzia Fides 21/03/2017)