DILI, East Timor — East Timor's political parties kicked off a month of campaigning Tuesday for new parliamentary elections due in May with promises to boost development in one of Asia's poorest nations.
It will be the second parliamentary election in less than a year for East Timor's fledgling democracy. A minority government formed after elections last July and led by the Fretilin party collapsed in January after its policy program and budget were defeated in parliament.
Independence hero Xanana Gusmao, who is leading an alliance of three opposition parties including his National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction, urged East Timorese to elect the grouping to "strengthen and improve our country in order to bring development to free people from poverty."
Fretilin Secretary-General Mari Alkatiri also vowed development by creating more special economic zones.
"We promise to free society from poverty," he told a crowd in Manatuto district.
East Timor, a former Portuguese colony, was occupied by Indonesia for a quarter century. It gained independence after a U.N.-sponsored referendum in 1999 but reprisals by the Indonesian military devastated the East Timorese half of the island of Timor.
Today, the country of 1.3 million people still faces grim poverty. Leaders have focused on big-ticket infrastructure projects to develop the economy, funding them from a dwindling supply of former oil riches, but progress is slow.
Parliamentary and presidential elections held last year were the first without U.N. supervision since peacekeepers left in 2012.
The campaigning that started Tuesday ends on May 10 and voting is to take place on May 12.
Gusmao received a boost to his popularity after leading negotiations that settled the sea border between East Timor and Australia and provisionally agreed on formulas for division of oil and gas riches beneath the sea bed.
Thousands of East Timorese lined the road to the capital's international airport in early March to cheer a returning Gusmao after the deal was signed at the U.N.