The left-wing party championed by former Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri has taken the lead in East Timor’s parliamentary elections, winning about a third of votes counted by early on Sunday. The Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor, better known as Fretilin, is in a close contest, however, with the centre-left National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction, or CNRT, led by former independence fighter Xanana Gusmao, who became the tiny country’s first president after independence. The rough outcome of Saturday’s election, which involves 21 parties, is expected to be known by the end of Sunday or Monday morning. As of early on Sunday, 115,927 votes, or 27.5 per cent of the total from the country’s 13 districts, had been counted, according to the Technical Secretariat for Electoral Administration. The secretariat said Fretilin was in the lead with 28.89 per cent of the total votes counted, followed by CNRT with 27.12 per cent. A party must win 33 of 65 seats to control parliament outright. Parliamentarians are elected through a party-list proportional representation system. Gusmao expressed confidence his party would gain a clear majority to avoid having to form a coalition. Minister of Public Works, Transport and Communications Gastao de Sousa, a Fretilin member, said his party is the strongest as it does not depend on an individual figure to gain public supports as CNRT does. “If a party depends on an individual figure, it will collapse when the figure dies,” de Sousa said. After 15 years of independence, the young democracy’s government continues to face a slew of economic issues including high unemployment. An opinion poll conducted last December by the Asia Foundation charity showed an overall downward trend in views about the country’s outlook, with increasing levels of discontent among younger voters. Indonesia annexed East Timor by force in 1974 after it had been under Portuguese colonial rule for about 400 years. East Timor formally gained independence in 2002 after two and a half years under UN administration following a referendum in 1999, in which the East Timorese overwhelmingly voted for separation.