Former East Timor independence fighter to contest

Former East Timorese independence fighter Francisco “Lu Olo” Guterres was on track on Tuesday to win the presidency in one round, based on early vote counting a day after Asia’s youngest nation went to the polls.

Guterres, with nearly 60 percent of the vote so far, held a solid lead over his seven rivals in the tiny nation’s fourth election since independence from Indonesia in 2002.

The national secretariat for technical and electoral administration had counted just over 30 percent of votes by Tuesday morning. A candidate needs more than 50 percent to win in one round.

“I believe there won’t be a second round,” Guterres, who is backed by one of East Timor’s main political parties Fretilin, said after early results were counted.

The election commission is expected to announce the result on March 23. It will be verified by a court in about a month.

The central concern among East Timor’s 1.2 million people has been a failure to spread wealth from oil and gas revenues, with unemployment running at around 60 percent.

Analysts said the challenge for any incoming government would be to wean the predominantly Roman Catholic nation away from reliance on oil money and diversify its sources of income into agriculture and manufacturing.

The energy sector accounted for around 60 percent of GDP in 2014 and more than 90 percent of government revenue.

“I will push the government to work hard to make up the lag that we have seen in all other sectors of the economy,” Guterres said.

The former Portuguese colony was invaded by neighboring Indonesia in 1975. A 24-year, often violent, resistance movement achieved East Timor’s independence in 2002 and many of its key figures still feature prominently in the running of the country.

Monday’s election is the first since U.N. peacekeepers left the half-island nation in 2012. (Courtesy Reuters)


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