The second round run-off of Timor Leste’s presidential elections scheduled for mid-April will pit two heavyweights of the decade-old country’s past resistance struggle and signals a shift towards a new era of nationalist politics. Of the dozen candidates who contested the first round contest on March 17, Fretilin party president Francisco “Lu Olo” Guterres and former defense chief Jose Maria Vasconcelos, more commonly known by his nom de guerre Taur Matan Ruak, respectively won 28% and 25% of the vote and are expected to fight a tight second round race. The electoral demise of incumbent President Jose Ramos Horta, placed third with 17%, has signaled a decisive shift away from the internationalist stance that the Nobel Peace Prize laureate had come to represent in Timorese national politics.
Despite the constitutional limitations of the presidential office, Ramos Horta during his five-year term increasingly became a thorn in the side of the Parliamentary Majority Alliance (AMP) government and Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao over matters of accountability and transparency.
Ramos Horta’s challenge of Gusmao’s management of the state coffers occurred only days prior to Gusmao’s announcement that his ruling CNRT party would support Taur Matan Ruak’s candidacy. This was a clear betrayal of the carefully crafted image of the international diplomat and former guerrilla leader united at the helm of Timor Leste, also known as East Timor, since achieving independence in 2002.