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East Timor elections free and fair as Ramos-Horta bows out

East Timor incumbent president, Jose Ramos-Horta, has failed in his bid for re-election, with his former key rival, Fretilin’s Francisco “Lu-Olo” Guterres, and former armed forces commander Taur Matan Ruak, who is supported by Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao, going through to the second electoral round.

Ramos-Horta had vacillated over whether he would re-contest the presidency throughout 2011 and his decision to run again surprised many. The outcome of the first presidential round, however, has conformed to expectations, reflecting the pull of the major political parties as well as Ramos-Horta’s public standing.

With more than two-thirds of the vote counted, “Lu-Olo” was on 28% of the vote, with Taur Matan Ruak on 25%. Ramos-Horta was trailing on 19%, with parliamentary “president” (speaker) Fernando “Lasama” de Araujo one point further behind. Under the East Timorese voting system, the top two candidates now go into a run-off election in mid-April.

The outcome of the April election, to decide who will be East Timor’s next president, will be largely determined by the alliances that will be formed between the two candidates and their backing parties and the parties whose candidates were unsuccessful. It is expected that the outcome will be a closer result than the 69% who voted in favour of Ramos-Horta in the last, 2007, elections.

Ramos-Horta’s failure to make it into the run-off will be a disappointment to many in the international community, given his long standing and high profile. But both his possible successors should be competent in the largely ceremonial role that he will be vacating, if not yet as well known to outsiders.

The presidential election was run in a peaceful environment and, according to observer reports, produced an outcome that by international standards is free and fair. The election did experience some technical problems, but these were not regarded by observers as sufficient to compromise the integrity of the vote.

The alliances formed for the second round of the presidential election will provide a strong indication of both the likely success and the alliances of groups of parties at the parliamentary polls at the end of June.

Assuming further successful elections, the United Nations and Australian peacekeepers are scheduled to leave East Timor by the end of the year.

*Deakin University’s professor Damien Kingsbury was co-ordinator for the Australia Timor-Leste Friendship Network, which had almost half of the 125 registered international observers at the presidential election. The Friendship Network will also have observers at the second presidential and parliamentary electoral rounds.

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