Timor-Leste's Ramos-Horta takes commanding lead in presidential vote

Timor-Leste's independence leader Jose Ramos-Horta is one of Timor-Leste's best known political figures. PHOTO: REUTERS

DILI (REUTERS) - Timor-Leste's independence leader and Nobel laureate Jose Ramos-Horta is set to be the country's next president, with the final vote count showing he has secured 62 per cent of the vote, according to data from the country's elections agency.

Timorese on Tuesday (April 19) went to the polls in the half-island nation of 1.3 million people, choosing between Mr Ramos-Horta and former guerrilla fighter, President Francisco "Lu Olo" Guterres.

With 100 per cent of the votes counted, Mr Ramos-Horta had a strong lead with 62.09 per cent of the votes, while Mr Guterres had 37.91 per cent, according to data from the election administration agency.

Mr Ramos-Horta, 72, is one of Timor-Leste's best-known political figures and previously served as foreign minister, prime minister and then the country's second president, from 2007 to 2012.

He was a co-recipient of the Nobel Prize in 1996 for his efforts to bring a peaceful resolution to a guerrilla war in Timor-Leste against Indonesia's occupation of the former Portuguese colony.

In the first round of the election in April, he narrowly missed securing an outright majority. An Australian academic calculated that he needed just 30,000 additional votes to secure victory in Tuesday's second round.

Speaking after voting near his home in the capital of Dili, Mr Ramos-Horta said he was "very confident" he would win but would await the final results.

After years of political tensions between major parties, this election has been widely viewed as crucial to stability.

Mr Ramos-Horta has suggested he may use presidential powers to dissolve Parliament and bring forward a general election scheduled for next year.

Timor-Leste's first president, Mr Xanana Gusmao, is backing Mr Ramos-Horta in this election and has described the current government as "constitutionally illegitimate".

Mr Guterres, the incumbent, refused to swear in several ministers from Mr Gusmao's political party on the grounds that they were facing legal investigations, including for alleged corruption.

The next president will be sworn in on May 20, the 20th anniversary of Timor-Leste's restoration of independence.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.