2/2 © Reuters. East Timorese presidential candidate Jose Ramos Horta shows his inked finger after casting his vote in East Timor’s presidential election in Dili, East Timor, March 19, 2022. REUTERS/Lirio da Fonseca 2/2

DILI (Reuters) – Independence leader and Nobel laureate Jose Ramos-Horta and incumbent leader Francisco Guterres have emerged as the first frontrunners in East Timor’s presidential election, official data shows.

With more than 33% of the vote counted on Sunday afternoon, a day after the country went to the polls, data from the Technical Secretariat for East Timor’s Election Administration showed Ramos-Horta in the lead with 44.5%.

The next closest was current president and former resistance fighter Guterres, at 24.1%, according to the election administration responsible for the official vote count.

Asia’s youngest country held presidential elections for the fifth time since independence on Saturday, with the country’s generation of independence leaders and former fighters dominating the list of 16 candidates.

As it approaches nearly 20 years of independence after brutal occupation by neighboring Indonesia, East Timor struggles with political instability and the need to diversify its oil and gas-dependent economy.

Ramos-Horta, 72, has said he felt compelled to flee after the incumbent president “exceeded his powers” by refusing to swear in seven ministers after the 2018 parliamentary election.

The move led to an ongoing political deadlock in the country of 1.3 million.

After casting his vote in the capital, Dili, on Saturday, Guterres said he was optimistic about his chances.

“Whoever runs has to be ready to win and ready to lose,” he said, “but I want to say I will win.”

If no candidate obtains an absolute majority, the vote on April 19 moves to a second round between the two best candidates.

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