Opposition ahead in East Timor election count

Agence France-Presse
Early results from East Timor's presidential polls on March 18 showed the opposition Fretilin party's Francisco "Lu Olo" Guterres has surged ahead with incumbent Jose Ramos-Horta lagging in third

DILI, East Timor – Early results from East Timor’s presidential polls on Sunday, March 18, showed the opposition Fretilin party’s Francisco “Lu Olo” Guterres had surged ahead with incumbent Jose Ramos-Horta lagging in third.

A tally broadcast live by the country’s electoral commission on state-owned radio and television station RTTL, put Guterres ahead with 28% of the 411,353 votes counted so far — around 65% of the total votes cast.

Former guerrilla leader Taur Matan Ruak was in second place with 25% of the vote, while Nobel Prize-winning incumbent Ramos-Horta, who is seeking another 5-year term, was in 3rd place with 18%.

In the 2007 presidential elections Ramos-Horta had turned his fortunes around after lagging behind Guterres in the first round but winning through in a run-off with 69% of the vote.

Votes were being counted by hand, some in remote areas with poor communications, and results were not due until later in the week, according to election officials.

Ermenegildo Lopes, head of the Bloku Ploklamador whose pro-reform alliance has 5 places in the 65-seat parliament, said he doubted any candidate would land the knock-out blow needed to avoid a second round of voting.

“Our representatives in the districts indicate that the vote is split. With 12 candidates running it is hard for any one of them to get the more than 50 percent majority constitutionally required for an outright win,” he told AFP.

A 2nd round of voting would be held in 2 weeks’ time if no clear winner emerges from Saturday’s vote (March 17).

Around the country, Timorese people had their eyes glued to their television sets, watching the changing figures.

Whether they were shopkeepers selling traditional handicrafts at Tias market, candidates’ spokesmen mingling with journalists, or people sitting at the lobby coffee shop of Hotel Timor, the talk was about who would emerge top.

The vote is the first in a series of key events in the poor and chronically unstable country still traumatised by Indonesia’s brutal 24-year occupation, which ended with a vote for independence in 1999.

In May, East Timor will celebrate 10 years of independence, which came after 3 years of UN administration. Then, in June, voters will choose a new government in a general election.

At the end of the year the nation of 1.1 million people bids goodbye to UN forces stationed in the country since 1999.

Saturday’s voting was remarkably organized for the poor and chronically unstable country, and the peaceful polling stood in stark contrast to the deadly 2006 pre-election violence, taking East Timor to the brink of civil war. – Agence France-Presse