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Opposition leads in East Timor early results

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2012-03-18

East Timor President Jose Ramos-Horta hopes for re-election looked questionable on Sunday as he lagged in third place behind an opposition leader and a former army chief in the country’s presidential election.

REUTERS - East Timor President Jose Ramos-Horta's bid for re-election appeared in doubt on Sunday as he trailed in third place behind an opposition leader and a former army chief with more than 50 percent of votes counted.

Ramos-Horta won the Nobel peace prize for his role in the long fight to win independence from Indonesia in 2002, but looked unlikely to make it into next month's run-off.

Leading Saturday's first-round ballot with 27.28 percent of the vote was Francisco Guterres of the main opposition party Fretilin. Also known as Lu Olo, he was a member of a jungle-based guerrilla group before independence.

In second place with 24.17 percent was Jose Maria de Vasconcelos, once army chief and guerrilla leader known as Taur Matan Ruak.

Ramos-Horta, a former prime minister who survived an assassination attempt in 2008, lay third in the field of 12 with 19.43 percent. The top two finishers advance to the run off in mid-April.

Many voters seemed pleased that the two likely finalists were veterans of the independence campaign.

"For me, both of them are very important figures as they were involved in the people's struggle for almost 24 years," said Antonio Morreira, a vegetable seller in a well-stocked market.

"So if one of them becomes president, I will support them."

Streets deserted, voters follow returns

The first round passed off peacefully and streets were largely deserted on Sunday, with many businesses shuttered and voters following the returns indoors on radio and television.

As votes were still being tallied in outlying districts, final provisional results are to be announced on Monday and official results within a week.

"The counting process is under way and whatever the outcome, it will be a victory for East Timor," de Vasconcelos, who gave up his military job to run, told a news conference.

"I congratulate the people of East Timor for holding an extremely civil election."

The Fretilin party won the most votes in a 2007 parliamentary election punctuated by bouts of violence.

East Timor, the eastern half of an island at the eastern end of the vast Indonesian archipelago, became independent after nearly two decades under Indonesian control. Before that it had been a Portuguese colony.

The president plays little role in policy but is vital in underpinning stability in East Timor, which has vast offshore gas reserves but is having difficulty unlocking its wealth.

The reserves are the object of a dispute with Australia's Woodside Petroleum, which heads a consortium of firms developing the Greater Sunrise project gas field. It wants to use a floating LNG plant, while East Timor wants the plant built on shore to create more jobs.

Economic issues top the agenda for many voters as 41 percent of East Timor's 1.2 million people live on less than $0.88 per day, according to a World Bank Report.

"As citizens, we need to hear again their political commitments for the second round campaign before I give my vote to one of them," said Rosa Ximenes. "I think both are veterans and have a good history."

Date created : 2012-03-18

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