Thirteen registered candidates will contest Timor Leste’s presidential election on March 17 and the campaign season just began last week. Despite the lack of surveys to measure the chances of potential candidates, four figures are strongly predicted to lead the pack including the incumbent, Jose Manuel Ramos-Horta, head of the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor (Fretilin); Francisco Lu-Olo Guterres, head of the Democratic Party (PD); Fernando Lasama de Araujo; and former armed forces chief Gen. Taur Matan Ruak. Deputy Prime Minister Jose Luis Guterres (Lu Gu), a Fretilin powerbroker with his new party, Frenti-Mudanca (Fretilin-reformist), may have been included. The second-largest party in 2007, the National Reconstruction Congress of Timor Leste (CNRT), led by Kay Rala Xanana Gusmao, did not name its candidate, however. Xanana, currently the prime minister, and his rival Mari bin Amude Alkatiri (Fretilin’s secretary-general) will focus on the legislative election, which will be held in June 2012.
In the 2007 election Lu Olo, Ramos-Horta and Lasama won 28 percent, 22 percent and 19 percent of the vote, respectively, with the first two making it through to the run-off, which was eventually won by Ramos-Horta. Prior to the closing date of the registration of candidates last month, President Horta had received around about 9,000 signatures of support, while Lu Olo claimed to have collected 23,000 signatures. Under Timor Leste law, a candidate must present at least 5,000 signatures of support.
PD chief, Lasama, currently the parliamentary speaker, has carried out some political lobbying. The positive outcome is that he received a great deal of support from other political parties in the Dili district. Besides this, a rumor has circulated about a serious rupture within the internal party that could disrupt Lasama’s leadership. Frenti-Mudanca has another obstacle in collecting sympathizers’ signatures. Efforts to reach out to the grassroots level seem too ambitious as not all Timorese are aware of Lu Gu’s track-record and reputation. Indeed, he is well known only among scholars and urbanites.