President Jose Romas-Horta of East Timor has agreed to step down due to poor showing of poll results that constituted the first round of the presidential elections last Saturday. Preliminary results, although with only 73 percent or so of the total votes cast counted so far, has put the opposition Fretilin party’s Francisco “Lu Olo” Guterres at the forefront with 28 percent and former armed forces chief Taur Matan Ruak as second in running at 25 percent. They are expected to move to the second round of the elections on April 16, since none garnered 50% of the total votes required for an outright win. Mr. Romas-Horta himself only managed to gain 18 percent of the votes.
The Nobel laureate won the peace prize back in 1996 for his efforts to bring peace to the country and his contribution to East Timor politics. Despite losing out on the race, Mr. Ramos-Horta graciously congratulated the two candidates and said he “will hand over the leadership of the country to the new president, to one of the two who are now going on to the second round”. The new president will be officially presented to his people on 19 May.
While the presidential role is largely ceremonial, he has the potential to help unify Asia’s newest and poorest nation, which has suffered massive poverty and social unrest in the past few years since its break from Indonesia. This May, East Timor will celebrate 10 years of independence. Voters will also be choosing a new government in a general election to be held in June.
UN and Australian troops currently stationed in the country will leave by year’s end if everything proceeds smoothly and some stability returns to the nation.
Report: Horta behind in East Timor poll [Wall Street Journal, 18 March 2012]
Report: East Timor President Jose Ramos-Horta admits poll defeat [BBC, 19 March 2012]
Report: East Timor votes: A fragile nation charts an uncertain future [TIME, 19 March 2012]