Presidential run-off tests East Timor democracy

Former military commander Taur Matan Ruak was ahead in an early count for East Timor's presidential run-off vote on Monday, according to the elections secretariat.

The provisional count of just over half the vote showed Ruak garnering about 60 percent of the vote, with adversary Francisco Gutterres "Lu Olo" trailing behind with 40 percent, thee organiser of the polls said.

Ruak pocketed 184,891 votes verses Lu Olo's 123,991, according to the count.

East Timor went to the polls Monday to elect a new president as the young democracy prepares to celebrate its first decade of independence and bid goodbye to UN forces.

Voters cast their ballots in a contest that pitted the two heroes of the 24-year war against Indonesian occupation against each other.

After polls opened in the morning, a steady trickle of voters cast their ballots at the Motael primary school, a polling station in the leafy Farol suburb of Dili, emerging with purple-stained index fingers.

"I will win this election. I will become a president for all the people to secure stability and peace," Lu Olo said after voting at the school.

The winner of the contest will become the leader of an impoverished and chronically unstable country, replacing the Nobel Prize-winning incumbent Jose Ramos-Horta, who trailed in third place in the first round on March 17.

Although both candidates are former guerrilla leaders, Lu Olo has shed his military image, while Ruak has reinforced his during campaigning.

"One of them is not a good choice for us for peace in East Timor," said Felisiano Da Conceicau, a 36-year-old vet who did not say who he was voting for.

"The people hope for peace," he added.

Ruak has vowed to introduce mandatory military service if elected.

The 55-year-old, who won about 26 percent of the first-round vote, said the plan was a way to create jobs in a country with virtually no infrastructure.

"The problem with East Timor is the economy," said Claudina Ferreira, an 18-year-old student voting in Dili, calling on the new president to improve schools, repair roads, and help the agricultural sector.

While the presidency is largely ceremonial, it has enjoyed a high profile under Ramos-Horta, and the elections are the first in a series of landmark events this year for the half-island nation of 1.1 million people.

In May, East Timor will celebrate 10 years of independence, which came after three years of UN administration. On July 7, voters will choose a new government in a general election.

Ameerah Haq, the UN Secretary General's special representative for East Timor, reportedly said last week UN peacekeepers, stationed there since 1999, would pull out as planned by the end of 2012 if both elections are peaceful.

The first round of voting was peaceful but ahead of the run-off at least two homes of political supporters were torched and a number of campaign vehicles attacked.

On Friday about 100 people reportedly pelted stones at Ruak's headquarters in Dili.

But authorities said polling had been peaceful, without any immediate reports of violence or election irregularities.

A spokesman for the United Nations Secretary General said the vote had had taken place in a "peaceful and orderly manner".

An international poll observer said that the early result was likely to hold.

"Based on what we have, this result of about 60 to 40 is likely to hold, with minor changes," said Rui Feijo. an election observer and researcher from Portugal's Coimbra University.

"If there was a close result there could have been some quarrelling, and while it's not a landslide, this is a clear victory," he said.

Lu Olo, the most popular candidate in last month's poll with close to 29 percent of the vote, was backed by several first-round candidates.

The softly spoken 57-year-old, who is known by his nom de guerre and heads the opposition Fretilin party which is synonymous with the resistance, lost the presidency to Ramos-Horta in a run-off in 2007.

The incumbent said he had "enormous respect" for both contenders.

"You have these two candidates who are outstanding, so if either of them occupies our presidential palace I will be reassured as a citizen," Ramos-Horta said after voting in Dili.

Ruak, whose name means "piercing eyes" in the local Tetum language, is the country's former defence chief.

He was accused by the United Nations of involvement in illegal weapons transfers in 2006, when rioting and factional fighting left the nation on the brink of civil war.

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