By Nelson Da Cruz and Kate Lamb
DILI – East Timorese independence figure and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Jose Ramos-Horta, will stand for president in the country’s elections due to be held in March, the political party backing his bid said on Monday.
The National Congress of the Reconstruction of Timor Leste (CRNT), a party led by former president Xanana Gusmao, threw its support behind the 72-year-old’s renewed presidential ambitions at its conference on Sunday.
“We believe Ramos-Horta will win the general election, not because of who Ramos-Horta is as a figure but because of support from the people,” CNRT party member, Fransisco Dos Santos, told Reuters.
Ramos-Horta was president of the Southeast Asian country between 2007-2012 and prime minister between 2006 to 2007.
A former Portuguese colony, the half-island nation gained full independence from Indonesia in 2002 after an almost 24-year occupation.
But Asia’s youngest democracy has faced bouts of violence and in recent years struggled with political instability that has hampered efforts to reduce poverty, stamp out corruption and develop its rich energy resources.
Donald Greenlees, an author of a book about East Timor’s independence struggle, said Ramos-Horta’s bid is indicative of the nation’s “guerilla generation” of leaders being unable to let go.
“East Timor unfortunately suffers from an inability to move on generationally when it comes to political leadership and that is tragic for the future of the country,” said Greenlees, who is a visiting fellow at the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at the Australian National University.
“If East Timor is to modernise and move into the 21st century properly it needs young people with fresh ideas.”
The election, scheduled for March 19, will see Ramos-Horta up against former resistance fighter and incumbent President Francisco “Lu-Olo” Guterres backed by the Fretilin party, Deputy Prime Minister Armanda Berta dos Santos, and former Catholic priest Martinho Germano da Silva Gusmao.
Still, without support from the other main political parties, Ramos-Horta is “very much the outside candidate”, said Damien Kingsbury, an East Timor expert and emeritus professor at Deakin University.