Dili. East Timor President Jose Ramos-Horta will seek another five-year term in March elections, his office said on Tuesday.
“Nobel Peace Laureate Jose Ramos-Horta announced today that he is standing for re-election in Timor-Leste’s 17th March presidential elections,” the president’s website said, using the country’s official name.
About 10 presidential hopefuls have now entered the race, including the opposition’s Francisco “Lu Olo” Guterres and the former head of the armed forces, Major General Taur Matar Ruak.
Insiders say the election is set to turn into a three-way match between the 62-year-old incumbent, Lu Olo and Ruak.
The polls come as UN peacekeepers, stationed in East Timor since its historic 1999 vote for independence after Indonesia’s brutal 24-year occupation, prepare to withdraw from the once-restive country.
In 2007, running as an independent but with the support of Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao and his National Congress for the Reconstruction of East Timor (CNRT) party, Ramos-Horta defeated Lu Olo in a second round ballot, gaining 69 per cent of the vote.
But insiders say that Ruak, a close friend and long-time ally of Gusmao, is capable of splitting the Fretilin vote along with Lu Olo.
They say Ruak may also gain the backing of the CNRT if Gusmao switches support away from Ramos-Horta.
Ramos-Horta, who shared the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize with East Timorese Bishop Carlos Felipe Ximenes Belo, last year repeatedly denied he would run for president again.
The election is a two-round vote. If no candidate garners an outright majority a second round with the two top candidates will be held in April.
The tiny half-island nation with a population of 1.1 million is one of the world’s newest and poorest countries.
Indonesia annexed East Timor in 1975 after Portugal withdrew from its colony of more than 400 years.
The UN handed policing responsibilities back to local police last year, although there are still more than 1,000 UN police in East Timor and hundreds of Australian-led troops under a separate security mandate.
The UN peacekeepers who entered East Timor after rioting and factional fighting brought the country to the brink of civil war plan to withdraw this year.
East Timor’s independence was officially recognised in 2002 and was led by Gusmao, a freedom fighter who won the presidency ahead of formal independence.