19 March 2012

Ramos-Horta bows out of presidential race

18 March 2012 | 05:06:07 PM| Source: AAP - Jose Ramos-Horta has almost certainly lost his bid for a second term in office, with preliminary results from East Timor's presidential race showing he has failed to win enough support to feature in a second-round run-off election.

But the 40-year veteran of the East Timorese political scene will still have a say in the outcome of the election, with his endorsement expected to have a big influence on which of the top two candidates will ultimately win.

The preliminary results of Saturday's poll already point to a second-round showdown between Francisco "Lu Olo" Guterres, from the traditionally strong leftist Fretilin party, and the country's former defence forces chief, Taur Matan Ruak.

Mr Guterres was set to come away with the lion's share of votes from the first round ahead of Mr Ruak had gone into the election with the backing of Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao's National Congress for the Reconstruction of East Timor party (CNRT).

It was Mr Gusmao's support that also proved crucial to Dr Ramos-Horta's victory in the presidential poll in 2007.

Indifference to political demise

But even before early results from East Timor's 13 electoral districts had come back, the president seemed indifferent to his likely political demise.

"If I'm not elected, I have so many things to do - I have to struggle to choose what to do," he told reporters as he voted in the capital Dili.

Dr Ramos-Horta, who served as the exiled spokesman for the resistance during the 24 years of the Indonesian occupation, was a leading player in the country's path to independence and at the forefront of shaping its democracy in the decade since.

The Nobel Peace Prize laureate was a founder and former member of Fretilin, the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor.

He was the country's first foreign minister before being sworn in as acting prime minister in 2006, replacing Mari Alkatiri, amid unrest that saw East Timor at the brink of civil war and resulted in the deployment of a UN peace-keeping force, as well as a contingent of Australian troops.

The 62-year-old became East Timor's second president in 2007, but was again at the centre of trouble for the young country in 2008 when he survived an assassination attempt.

The vote on Saturday was, however, in stark contrast to elections five years ago that were marred by violence and factional fighting.

"There has not been a single incidence of violence," Dr Ramos-Horta said, indicating he remains firm in his view the country is ready to take charge of its own security ahead of the withdrawal of UN and Australian forces at the end of the year.

The second-round vote will take place on April 21, the result of which will be an indicator in terms of the outcome of the parliamentary elections in mid-June.
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