Guterres wins Timor Leste polls

Mr Francisco Guterres with his inked finger after casting his vote on Monday. The Fretilin leader is set to be Timor Leste's president at a challenging time for the tiny half-island nation 15 years after it gained independence.
Mr Francisco Guterres with his inked finger after casting his vote on Monday. The Fretilin leader is set to be Timor Leste's president at a challenging time for the tiny half-island nation 15 years after it gained independence.PHOTO: REUTERS

Early count shows ex-guerilla fighter has won the presidency with more than 57% of votes

DILI • A former guerilla fighter has won Timor Leste's presidential election in just one round, an early count indicated yesterday, in a sign of growing stability for Asia's youngest nation.

With most ballots counted, Mr Francisco Guterres - known by his nom de guerre Lu Olo - had received more than 57 per cent of votes cast in Monday's poll, according to the election commission.

That is comfortably above the 50 per cent needed to avoid a run-off.

Mr Guterres' closest rival, Education Minister Antonio de Conceicao, received 33 per cent, said election commission chief Alcino Baris.

There were eight candidates.

If final results confirm Mr Guterres' victory, he will take over the largely ceremonial role at a challenging time for the tiny half-island nation 15 years after it gained independence following Indonesia's brutal occupation.

Key oil reserves are running dry and the government is struggling to resolve a long-running row with Australia over lucrative energy fields.

It will be the first time since 2002 that a presidential election in the country has been decided in just one round, if the final results due in several days confirm Mr Guterres has won.

He was backed by the country's second-biggest party Fretilin, which he leads, as well as independence hero Xanana Gusmao and his CNRT party, the largest.

"A strong vote in favour of a candidate is positive," said Timor Leste expert Damien Kingsbury from Australia's Deakin University, who was in the country as an election observer.

The vote - the first presidential election since the departure of United Nations peacekeepers in 2012 - ran smoothly. There were reports of only low-level and sporadic unrest in the run-up.

While the presidency is largely ceremonial, it can have a key role in keeping the peace between feuding politicians.

Mr Guterres is from a humble family and, like many members of Timor Leste's political class, took part in the bloody struggle against Indonesian occupation. The vote sets the stage for more important parliamentary elections later in the year that will decide the government and the prime minister.

Indonesia moved into then East Timor in 1975 after colonial master Portugal withdrew.

During the occupation, around 183,000 people died from fighting, starvation or disease.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 22, 2017, with the headline 'Guterres wins Timor Leste polls'. Print Edition | Subscribe