East Timor: Ramos-Horta takes big lead in presidential election

The former independence fighter has garnered 62.09 percent of the votes with three-quarters of the ballots counted.

East Timor presidential candidate Jose Ramos Horta
Ramos-Horta previously served as foreign minister, prime minister and then the country's second president, from 2007 to 2012 [Lirio da Fonseca/Reuters]

East Timor independence leader and Nobel laureate José Ramos-Horta appears on course for a decisive presidential election victory, with three-quarters of votes counted.

Timorese went to the polls in the nation of 1.3 million people on Tuesday, choosing between Ramos-Horta and former fighter President Francisco “Lu Olo” Guterres.

With 75 percent of the votes counted, Ramos-Horta had a strong lead with 62.09 percent of the votes, while Lu Olo had 37.91 percent, according to data from the election administration agency.

Turnout in the second round was 71.6 percent – 6 percent lower than in the first round.

Ramos-Horta, 72, is one of East Timor’s best known political figures and previously served as foreign minister, prime minister and then the country’s second president, from 2007 to 2012.

He was a co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1996 for his efforts to bring a peaceful resolution to a guerrilla war in East Timor against Indonesia’s occupation of the former Portuguese colony.

In the first round of the election in April, he narrowly missed securing an outright majority.

Speaking after voting near his home in the capital of Dili, Ramos-Horta said he was “very confident” he would win but would await the final results.

After years of political tensions between major parties, this election has been widely viewed as crucial to stability. Ramos-Horta has suggested he may use presidential powers to dissolve parliament and bring forward a general election scheduled for next year.

Since its independence from Indonesia in 2002, the country has seen years of political upheaval and hotly-contested elections.

East Timor’s first president, Xanana Gusmao, is backing Ramos-Horta in this election and has described the current government as “constitutionally illegitimate”.

Lu Olo, the incumbent, refused to swear in several ministers from Gusmao’s political party on the grounds they were facing legal investigations, including for alleged corruption.

The next president will be sworn in on May 20, the 20th anniversary of East Timor’s restoration of independence.

Source: News Agencies