Taur Matan Ruak, former defence chief of East Timor, appears set to become the next president of the half-island nation, according to preliminary poll results released on Tuesday.
Ruak, 55, first took up arms to serve his country after Indonesia’s 1975 invasion of East Timor.
He fled to the mountains and joined the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor (Fretilin), a separatist group that fought against the Indonesian military using guerilla warfare across the country.
He spent much of the next two decades as a fighter against the 24-year occupation.
In 1979, Ruak was captured by Indonesian soldiers, but managed to escape after only 23 days and rejoined the resistance movement.
After East Timor voted for independence in a UN-organised referendum in 1999, Ruak became the commander-in-chief of Falintil, the military wing of Fretilin, replacing Xanana Gusmao, the incumbent prime minister.
After formal independence in 2002, Ruak was named chief of the East Timor’s armed forces. Late last year Ruak resigned from that post to run for presidency.
If preliminary results are confirmed, Ruak will lead the impoverished and oil-dependent country, replacing Nobel Peace Prize winner Jose Ramos-Horta.
Focus on employment
In a country where most people want to move on from years of conflict, Ruak controversially vowed to introduce mandatory military service if elected, as a way of creating jobs in the poverty-stricken country.
“My big problem is how we are going to integrate our young people (in jobs)… National (military) service is one solution,” he told reporters after voting on Monday.
In election campaigns, Ruak has focused on employment for the poor and “preparing our children for the future”.
He once lamented that he had not fulfilled his dream of travelling the world as a young man.
“I dreamed of travelling the world, but instead, I have only seen the forests of Timor,” Ruak has been quoted as saying.
Ruak has been accused by the United Nations of involvement in illegal weapons transfers in 2006, when rioting and factional fighting left the nation on the brink of civil war. But no attempts have been made to prosecute him.
Ruak was born Jose Maria Vasconcelos in the town of Osso Huna in Baucau district on October 10, 1956. He is married with three children.