East Timor votes for new president

Voters choosing between veterans of fight for independence in runoff ballot to elect successor to Jose Ramos-Horta.

Francisco Guterres, left, and Taur Matan Ruak, right, are both veterans of the country's fight for independence [AFP]
Francisco Guterres, left, and Taur Matan Ruak, right, are both veterans of the country's fight for independence [AFP]

East Timorese voters have gone to the polls to elect a new president in a run-off vote, as the country prepares to celebrate its first decade of independence.

Voters queued to cast their ballots on Monday in a poll that sees Francisco Guterres, popularly known as “Lu Olo”, take on Taur Matan Ruak, both heroes of the 24-year war against Indonesia for independence.

The winner of the contest will replace Nobel peace laureate Jose Ramos-Horta, who trailed in third place in the first round of voting, held on March 17. More than 620,000 people in the county of 1.1 million are eligible to vote.

While the role of the president is largely ceremonial, the post has enjoyed a high-profile under Ramos-Horta, and the elections come shortly before celebrations in May to mark 10 years since East Timor gained independence from Indonesia.

East Timorese voters will go back to the polls in July in general elections to choose a new parliament.

Ameerah Haq, the UN secretary-general’s special representative for East Timor, reportedly said last week that UN peacekeepers, stationed in the country since 1999, would pull out if both elections went off peacefully.

While the first round of voting in the presidential election was peaceful, violence was reported ahead of the second round, with the homes of two political supporters torched and a number of campaign vehicles attacked.

Headquarters pelted

On Friday, about 100 people reportedly pelted stones at Ruak’s campaign headquarters in Dili.

Alfonso de Jesus, a deputy police commander, said that despite the incidents, he expected the elections to go off smoothly.

Lu Olo, the most popular candidate in last months’ poll with close to 29 per cent of the vote, is backed by several other first-round candidates.

The 57-year-old heads the opposition Fretilin party, which is synonymous with the East Timorese resistance, lost the presidency to Ramos-Horta in a run-off in 2007.

Ruak, 55, is the former commander of Fretilin’s military wing.

He is running as an independent and standing for president for the first time, backed by prime minister Xanana Gusmao’s powerful National Congress for the Reconstruction of East Timor party.

Ruak, who won about 26 per cent of the vote in the first round, has vowed to introduce mandatory military service if elected, and has been accused by the United Nations of involvement in illegal weapons transfers in 2006. At the time, rioting and factional fighting had left the country on the verge of civil war.

Provisional results are scheduled to be announced within 48 hours of polls closing.

Source: News Agencies

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