Ex-guerrilla fighter vows to ‘keep fighting for peace and unity’ after winning East Timor election

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 26 March, 2017, 3:21pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 26 March, 2017, 10:41pm

A former guerrilla fighter vowed on Saturday to keep peace and unity as East Timor’s new president, delivering a victory speech after the final tally showed he was on course to win the election.

Francisco “Lu-Olo” Guterres received 57 per cent of the vote in Monday’s election, according to final figures announced late Friday. His main rival, Antonio da Conceicao, got 32 per cent. The remaining votes were divided among six other candidates.

The results released by the National Election Office still need to be vetted by the court of appeals before they are official.

While East Timor’s president has a mostly ceremonial role, the prime minister heads the government.

East Timorese voted overwhelmingly in 1999 to end 24 years of brutal Indonesian occupation that killed more than 170,000 people.

Indonesia’s military and pro-Indonesian militias responded to the independence referendum with scorched earth attacks that devastated the East Timorese half of the island.

Lu-Olo received a visit from da Conceicao conceding the election soon after the final results were released on Friday.

Da Conceicao, the current minister of education and social affairs, said he had accepted the result.

“He was a guerrilla fighter during our resistance time. He deserved the people’s trust and I’ll always respect him,” da Conceica said of his rival.

Lu-Olo welcomed the concession and gave a victory speech at his residence.

“I’ll be president for all people in East Timor, even those who didn’t vote for me,” he told a crowd of supporters. “I’ll keep fighting for peace and unity of our nation.”

Lu-Olo led guerrilla attacks against occupying troops from the hills, rising quickly through the ranks. Eventually, he became the rebels’ top commander.

It was his third attempt to win the presidency since 2007, when Jose Ramos-Horta, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, secured an easy victory over him in a second-round vote. Lu-Olo lost to current President Taur Matan Ruak in the 2012 election, but this time he had strong support from resistance hero and former Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao, who remains influential in politics.