Independence "hero" Ruak, new president of East Timor
Dili (AsiaNews / Agencies)
- The former Army chief Taur Matan Ruak is the new president of Timor Leste,
having defeated his rival Fretlin Party leader Francisco "Lu Olo"
Guterres in the second round. Considered the "strong man" of the
nation and seen as a "hero" by the people, Ruak appears capable of
ensuring stability in a country that gained independence after more than two
decades of bloody fighting. He succeeds Nobel laureate Jose Ramos-Horta, who
came third in the elections of 17 March, who transformed the presidency - seen
as a ceremonial post- into an institution respected and able to represent
The ballot was held yesterday and - according to preliminary results released by the Election Commission, which must certify the validity of the vote - will see the victory of the 55 year old Ruak. He gained 275,441 votes (61.23%), compared with 174,386 (38.77%) for Guteress. He will lead the celebrations for the tenth anniversary of independence and bid farewell to the peacekeepers now ready to withdraw. The results need to be validated by the Court of Appeals, following consultations.
After voting in his local polling station, Ruak said: "I will win the elections. I will become the president of all and will ensure peace and stability." He added there will be no enemies, because "everyone is our friend."
Ruak (pictured) and Guteress are both former prominent guerrilla leaders: However, while the latter has tried to obscure his image as a military fighter, Ruak exploited this element throughout his campaign. One aspect that raises most concern among the population. On the eve of the vote a 36 year old war veteran named Felisiano Da Conceicau, who declined to declare his preference, said: "They are not good for peace in East Timor", while "The population wants only peace."
In recent weeks 1.1 million people went to the polls, the first of a series of key events that will determine the future stability of the nation. Among others, the parliamentary elections in June and later this year - after three UN administrations and 10 years since full independence in 2002 - there will be a complete withdrawal of UN troops. Over 1200 UN peacekeepers have ensured the safety of the second "free" presidential elections, the first vote, in 2007, was marked by violent clashes - during the campaign - which caused 37 deaths and nearly plunged East Timor into a veritable civil war.
Among several issues at stake, East Timor has to solve the age-old dependence on energy sources - gas and oil - that although readily available count for 90% of state spending. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has called the nation "the most oil dependent economy in the world." 95% of the Timorese are Catholic, but there are also small communities of Muslims and Protestants. In the past the nation has experienced long periods of critical food shortages, despite the help provided by the international community (see AsiaNews, 16/10/2008, East Timorese go hungry for at least five months of the year).