José Ramos-Horta, the president of Timor-Leste who helped steer the country into independence after campaigning tirelessly for nearly a quarter of a century, has conceded defeat after a poor showing in weekend elections. The first round of voting passed peacefully, raising the prospects of a withdrawal of the Australian-led mission of about 400 UN peacekeeping troops that was deployed to Timor-Leste in 2006 to quell chaotic unrest. Francisco Lu Olo Guterres, of the traditionally strong leftist Fretilin party, was leading with 28% of the vote, followed by the former military chief Taur Matan Ruak with 25%. That means Ramos-Horta, with 18%, has no chance of advancing to a 21 April runoff. “Congratulations to them,” the Nobel peace laureate told reporters. “And also to the people who supported me throughout my mandate.”
Ramos-Horta promised to hand over power peacefully to the winner on 19 May. The 62-year-old leader has spent nearly half his life in exile, lobbying governments around the globe to endorse Timor-Leste’s independence from brutal Indonesian rule. He and his fellow countryman Bishop Carlos Belo were rewarded for their efforts in 1996 with the Nobel peace prize.
After the new country was born in 2002, Ramos-Horta served first as foreign minister. He then shepherded it through turbulent and often violent times as prime minister and in 2007, became president. Few question his commitment, noting that even after surviving an assassination attempt at his Dili compound, he returned quickly to work. But many of those who turned out to vote over the weekend said he had failed to follow through on his many and repeated promises to help the “little people”.