East Timor independence hero Xanana Gusmao’s party won the parliamentary election but is short of an outright majority, official results showed Tuesday. The opposition National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT) led with 41.6 percent of the votes, while its main rival and incumbent coalition leader Fretilin got 25.7 percent, according to the electoral commission. The result of Sunday’s election paves the way for a return to power for the 76-year-old Gusmao, East Timor’s first president, if he can form a coalition. If there is no outright winner, the constitution gives the party with the most votes the opportunity to form a coalition. Voters cast their ballots for 65 seats in parliament, hoping to end years of deadlock in Asia’s youngest country. CNRT secured 31 of those seats, and will have to work with one or more other parties. It won the presidential election last year, with Gusmao’s ally and Nobel Peace laureate Jose Ramos-Horta taking the post. But Fretilin, formally the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor, led the incumbent coalition government going into the Sunday election. Fretilin fought for an end to Indonesia’s occupation of East Timor, and Gusmao led its military wing. He spent the final years of the occupation behind bars, and was elected East Timor’s first president in 2002 after the country gained independence. He split from Fretilin in 2007 to found CNRT. That year, he became prime minister and served in that post until 2015. The US State Department congratulated East Timor, which is also known as Timor-Leste, on “a free, fair, and transparent election”. “This election reflects the commitment of the people of Timor-Leste to democracy and peaceful political processes and serves as an inspiration for democracy globally,” spokesman Matthew Miller said in a statement. Questions have been raised in the country nevertheless about the slow process of vote counting and the delayed publication of the results, which took more than 35 hours after polls closed — longer than in previous elections. More than two decades after independence, East Timor is still struggling with poverty, the aftermath of the Covid pandemic and devastating natural disasters, including a 2021 cyclone that killed at least 40 people. The former Portuguese colony’s budget is heavily dependent on oil revenues, but earnings from existing fossil fuel projects are soon expected to run dry. The next government will need to decide on allowing the development of the Greater Sunrise project, which aims to tap trillions of cubic feet of natural gas. Gusmao and former prime minister Mari Alkatiri, Fretilin’s leader and also an independence movement icon, have been locked in a bitter feud for decades. Younger voters make up a large part of the electorate in a country where 65 percent of the population is below 30. Many had expressed hope on Sunday that the next government would focus on fighting poverty and improving infrastructure.