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Nobel laureate leads East Timor presidential vote, runoff likely

Ramos-Horta just shy of majority, well ahead of incumbent Guterres

East Timor presidential candidate Jose Ramos-Horta shows his inked finger after casting his vote in Dili during the election March 19.   © Reuters

DILI (Reuters) -- East Timor's presidential poll looked headed for an April runoff late on Monday, despite the latest vote count showing a commanding lead for Nobel laureate Jose Ramos-Horta.

With all votes counted, Ramos-Horta had secured 46.58%, more than twice the share of his rival Francisco "Lu Olo" Guterres, but still shy of the majority needed to win in one round.

Almost two decades after gaining independence from neighboring Indonesia, East Timor held its fifth presidential election on Saturday -- a race crowded with key resistance figures who remain prominent in the running of Asia's youngest nation to this day.

The election body, which carries the latest count on its website, has yet to confirm the second round. But if no candidate secures more than 50% of votes, the poll will proceed to a runoff on April 19 between the top two contenders.

Speaking in the capital, Dili, on Sunday, Ramos-Horta said he was confident of victory, and that his election would cause a "political earthquake in the national parliament."

The 72-year-old, who previously served as president from 2007 to 2012, said last week that he felt compelled to run again after he deemed actions by the incumbent president had violated the constitution.

In East Timor, the president is responsible for appointing the government and also has the power to dissolve parliament.

In 2018, incumbent president Guterres refused to swear in seven government ministers on the grounds of judicial inquiries into their alleged misconduct, a move that has sparked an ongoing political stalemate.

Ramos-Horta has also said he could use his powers to dissolve the parliament if he is elected.

East Timor has a predominantly Catholic population of 1.3 million people and an oil- and gas-dependent economy, but has struggled with political stability and development.

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