DILI, East Timor: Nobel laureate Jose Ramos-Horta scored a landslide victory in East Timor’s presidential election, according to preliminary results published Wednesday by the election secretariat. The 72-year-old secured 397,145 votes, or 62.09 percent, against incumbent Francisco “Lu-Olo” Guterres’ 242,440, or 37.91 percent, the secretariat’s website showed after all ballots were counted. The election results still need to be validated by the country’s electoral commission. The victory gives Ramos-Horta his second term in office. He served as president of Southeast Asia’s youngest country from 2007 to 2012 and was also the country’s first prime minister.
“The elections were competitive, and the campaign was largely peaceful,” EU observer Domenec Ruiz Devesa said Wednesday, adding the counting process had been assessed “positively”. Ramos-Horta will be inaugurated on May 20 — the 20th anniversary of East Timor’s independence from Indonesia, which occupied the former Portuguese colony for 24 years.
He had pledged to use his five-year term to break a longstanding deadlock between the two main political parties. The election could trigger a period of uncertainty, as Ramos-Horta has previously indicated he might dissolve the parliament if he won the election.
This week’s vote was a rematch of the 2007 presidential poll that also saw Ramos-Horta win handily, with 69 percent of the votes. Ramos-Horta said he came out of retirement to run once more because he believed the outgoing president had violated the constitution.
Nearly 860,000 people in the tiny nation of 1.3 million were eligible to vote, and more than 75 percent of voters turned up to cast their ballots in the second round. Ramos-Horta was dominant in the election’s March 19 first round, winning 46 percent of votes versus Guterres’ 22 percent, but failed to secure the needed majority.
The Nobel laureate benefited from the backing of Xanana Gusmao, the country’s first president and current leader of the National Congress of the Reconstruction of Timor-Leste (CNRT), often a kingmaker in East Timor. Ramos-Horta was awarded a Nobel prize for peace in 1996 for his efforts in facilitating conflict resolution in the country. In 2008, he survived an assassination attempt.
The new president faces the daunting task of lifting the country out of poverty. East Timor is still reeling from the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the World Bank has said that 42 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. – AFP