Former guerrilla Taur Matan Ruak has won East Timor’s presidential runoff by a wide margin, preliminary results showed yesterday, in a pivotal year for the nation almost a decade after independence.
Ruak, who had campaigned in military fatigues to highlight his role in the fight against Indonesian occupation, won 61.23 percent of the vote, according to figures from the elections secretariat, which organized Monday’s polls
His challenger, Francisco Guterres — also a hero in the independence struggle and popularly known by his nom de guerre “Lu Olo” — trailed far behind with 38.77 percent, according to the count.
All the results have been counted, but they must be examined by the court of appeals before they are officially announced.
“We are very much elevated by the result, by the current outcome,” said Ruak’s spokesman, Fidelis Magalhaes.
“We expect to see some changes, minor, probably 1 or 2 percentage points, but without a clear swing or fluctation of points” in the final count, he added.
If confirmed, Ruak, also a former defense chief, will become the leader of the impoverished and oil-dependent country, replacing Nobel Peace Prize winner Jose Ramos-Horta, who trailed in third place in the first round on March 17.
An international poll observer said the wide margin left no room for dispute over the results.
“If there was a close result, there could have been some quarrelling, and while it’s not a landslide, this is a clear victory,” said Rui Feijo, an election observer and researcher from Portugal’s Coimbra University.
The vote marked the first in a series of key events in the chronically unstable country, still traumatized by Indonesia’s brutal 24-year occupation, which ended with a 1999 referendum for independence.
Next month, East Timor will celebrate 10 years of independence, which came after three years of UN administration. On July 7, voters will choose a new government in a general election.
The UN has said peacekeepers stationed in East Timor since 1999 would pull out as planned by the end of this year if both elections were peaceful.
A spokesman for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Monday’s vote had taken place in a “peaceful and orderly manner.”
While Ruak, 55, sought to burnish military credentials throughout the campaign, Lu Olo, 57, has shed his guerrilla image, earning a law degree and campaigning in a suit and tie.
Ruak, who resigned as defense chief late last year to run for president, has vowed to introduce mandatory military service if elected.
He has been accused by the UN of involvement in illegal weapons transfers in 2006, when rioting and factional fighting left the nation on the brink of civil war. However, no attempts have been made to prosecute him.
While the presidency is largely ceremonial, it has enjoyed a high profile under Ramos-Horta.