Former Independence Fighter New President of East Timor

Posted April 17th, 2012 at 5:25 am (UTC-5)
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Former independence leader Taur Matan Ruak has won East Timor’s presidential election.

Election officials announced Tuesday that Ruak won the presidential runoff with 61 percent of the vote to 39 percent for Francisco Guterres, another independence leader known as “Lu Olo.” Guterres placed slightly ahead of Ruak in last month’s first round of the presidential election.

The results must be examined by the court of appeals before they are officially released.

Cillian Nolan, an expert on East Timor with the International Crisis Group in Jakarta, told VOA that the magnitude of Ruak’s victory was unexpected, given the results of the preliminary round.

“I think we were surprised by the magnitude of the victory. It was never entirely clear exactly how voters after the first round were going to shift their preferences as they moved towards the second round. There had been some indications from the party of one of the candidates, Lasama, that’s the Democratic Party, that they would support Lu Olo. That was never an official party position. … There were other candidates who lined up behind Lu Olo as well, so going into the second round I think we expected a relatively close result, and that’s not what we got at all.”

Ruak, a former army chief who has promised to introduce mandatory military service, will succeed Jose Ramos-Horta, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in the country’s independence fight from Indonesia. Mr. Ramos-Horta finished in third place in the initial round of voting.

The presidency is largely ceremonial, but Nolan says Ruak still can play an important role for the war-torn nation as it nears its 10th anniversary of independence.

“I think the main challenge, and what Timorese voters are looking for from a president is someone who has a competent vision for the company as it moves towards the next five years, particularly with the withdrawal of U.N. peacekeepings at the end of this year.”

If parliamentary elections scheduled for July are successful, the 400-member U.N. peacekeeping force is expected to go ahead with a planned withdrawal by December.

Observers say the next East Timorese government will take on a number of ambitious projects, including infrastructure development and management of an $11 billion oil fund from reserves found offshore in the Timor Sea.