Nobel winner Ramos-Horta set to return as East Timor president

·2 min read
Second and final round of East Timor's presidential election

By Kate Lamb

(Reuters) - East Timor's Jose Ramos-Horta survived an assassination attempt when he was president in 2008 but that has not put him off wanting to lead his fractious country again, with a promise to end instability and foster a climate of cooperation.

The Nobel laureate secured a decisive election win with results from Tuesday's polls showing he had 62.09% of the vote, far ahead of incumbent president Francisco "Lu Olo" Guterres, on 37.91%, after all votes were counted, according to electoral agency data.

"What matters to me is dialogue with all the parties that sit in parliament to try to create a new climate of cooperation that is healthier for parliament's own image in the eyes of the electorate," Ramos-Horta, 72, told the Lusa news agency as the votes were being tallied on Wednesday.

Ramos-Horta is one of East Timor's best-known political figures, and served as president between 2007 and 2012, when he survived the assassination attempt by rebel gunmen.

Born in the Dili in 1949 to a Timorese mother and Portuguese father, who had been deported from colonial power Portugal for rebelling against the Salazar dictatorship, Ramos-Horta spent decades as the exiled spokesperson for East Timorese guerrillas fighting occupation by neighbouring Indonesia.

Forced into exile several times due to his role in the independence campaign, in 1996 he was a co-recipient of the Nobel Peace prize with Catholic priest Carlos Belo for their work to bring a peaceful resolution to the conflict in East Timor, also known as Timor Leste.

When the half-island nation of 1.3 million people became fully independent in 2002, after a brief period of U.N. administration, Ramos-Horta became foreign minister, a post he held until 2006 when he was appointed prime minister.

Part of a coterie of East Timor's so-called guerrilla generation of independence leaders, in 2007 he was elected as the country's second president.

A year later, Ramos-Horta survived an assassination attempt in which he was critically wounded when ambushed by rebels while returning to his residence.

He recovered and served out the rest of his term.

Ramos-Horta has said that he felt compelled to stand for president this year, saying former guerrilla fighter Lu Olo had "exceeded his powers" by refusing to swear in more than half a dozen ministers following the last parliamentary elections in 2018.

That decision sparked a political impasse. Ramos-Horta has said the country can expect a "political earthquake" if he was elected and he would consider using presidential powers to dissolve parliament and call an early general election.

East Timor has for years grappled with bouts of instability, political regeneration and the challenge of diversifying its oil and gas-dependent economy.

(Reporting by Kate Lamb in Sydney; Editing by Kanupriya Kapoor and Robert Birsel)

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