Nobel Prize winner Jose Ramos-Horta vowed to heal deep political and social rifts in East Timor after poll results showed him on course for a landslide victory in presidential elections in Asia’s newest nation.
“I will honour what I told the people in the campaign: I will work for the poor, with the entire country, to unite it, and heal its wounds,” Ramos-Horta said yesterday after results showed him winning 73% of the vote, with almost 90% of ballots counted.
“But I don’t celebrate because it’s going to be five years of hard work. It’s no cause for celebration.”
Ramos-Horta, a Roman Catholic who has worked closely with the tiny nation’s powerful church, predicted he would garner up to 80 percent of Wednesday’s vote, but has declined to formally declare victory until full results are released, which could be several days.
Ramos-Horta’s sole rival in the race, Francisco “Lu-Olo” Guterres, the head of the country’s left-wing Fretilin party, has not commented, but his campaign team has said he will accept the result if it shows him to have lost.
The apparent collapse in support for the Fretilin candidate does not bode well for the party’s chances in more important parliamentary polls next month that will determine who becomes the country’s third prime minister since it broke free from Indonesian rule in 1999.
“This is a devastating blow to Fretilin,” said Mark Aarons, an Australian author who has written about East Timor since the 1970s. “You would think now that the party will have to accept the people’s judgment.”
Ramos-Horta’s political ally, outgoing president Xanana Gusmao, is planning to run for prime minister in a bid to sideline Fretilin, which was in power when violence last year brought the country to the brink of civil war.
In April 2006, rival sections of the security forces fought in the streets, and the situation quickly deteriorated into widespread gang warfare, looting and arson that killed at least 37 people and led to the collapse of the government. Tens of thousands of people displaced in the unrest remain in makeshift shelters, too afraid to return home.
Observers said the vote was peaceful and free of intimidation, unlike a first round last month that was marred by irregularities and fighting between rival supporters.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the peaceful conduct of the elections reflected East Timor’s “commitment to democracy,” UN spokeswoman Michele Montas said at UN headquarters in New York.
Ramos-Horta, who speaks five languages fluently, shared the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize with fellow countryman Bishop Carlos Belo for leading a nonviolent struggle against the Indonesian occupation.