Matan Ruak set to become East Timor President

16.04.2012 - Dili - Tony Henderson

Prior to serving in the F-FDTL (FALINTIL-Forças de Defesa de Timor-Leste), Ruak was the last commander of the Armed Forces of National Liberation of East Timor – Fretilin or FALINTIL, the insurgent army that resisted Indonesian occupation of the island, from 1975 to 1999.

The internationally known Ramos-Horta, a Nobel laureate, came third in last month’s first round of voting, leaving two contestants in a runoff that proved to be free from violence or claims of vote-rigging.

Both Guterres, a former parliament speaker, and Taur Matan Ruak pledged to abide by the outcome of the ballots and urged their supporters to do likewise. Taur Matan Ruak, Ramos-Horta and Guterres were all independence fighters alongside Xanana Gusmao, East Timor’s first president and its current prime minister.

Gusmao, who switched from president to prime minister following the 2007 election, campaigned for Taur Matan Ruak, who is running as an independent. A win for Taur Matan Ruak would point to another loss for Fretilin in the July parliamentary election. It indicates that Gusmao still has widespread support among the ‘half-island’s’ 620,000 voters which is a vote for his ruling coalition.

The presence of UN peacekeeping troops is very likely ending soon as they begin a planned withdrawal later this year. This depends on the parliamentary elections on July 7, 2012, If these are peaceful, discussions will begin about the withdrawal of the 400 international forces still deployed in the country.

The road to voting democracy has been anything but easy with gang violence and splits in the army and police turning deadly several times and, six years ago, the violence led to the collapse of the government.

Fretilin formed a government after the former Portuguese colony gained its independence from Indonesia in 2002, but lost power in 2006 amid civil strife that saw international troops return to restore order.

Note: East Timor was a Portuguese colony for 400 years before Indonesia sent in troops in 1975. The 24-year occupation was ended by a UN-sponsored independence referendum in 1999 when the nation’s 1.1 million people voted overwhelmingly to end the brutal Indonesia occupation that had left more than 170,000 dead. Sadly, the withdrawing soldiers and proxy militias went on a rampage, killing another 1,500 people and destroying much of the infrastructure.

The country is still trying to recover from the devastating violence which factionalised the population.

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