DILI - Nobel laureate Jose Ramos-Horta has lost his bid to be re-elected East Timor president, failing to make it to a run-off in the country’s second presidential vote as free nation, preliminary results showed Sunday. The results pointed to a second-round showdown between the opposition Fretilin party’s Francisco “Lu Olo” Guterres and ex-armed forces chief Taur Matan Ruak, an official from the election secretariat said.  Ramos-Horta, who shared the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to bring peace to his homeland, lagged in third place after more than 70pc of votes were counted, official Luiz Fernando Valls told AFP.

“Guterres and Ruak will go through to the second round on April 16, based on this preliminary count,’ he said.

The decision to turn to candidates who were had lower profiles on the world stage is “emblematic of the desire to move on from being an international cause,” Michael Leach, politics lecturer from Australia’s Swinburne University of Technology, told AFP.

Ramos Horta, a popular leader who survived a 2008 assassination attempt, said Saturday that if he was not re-elected he would have “to struggle to choose what to do.”

The 62-year-old added that he had a long-standing commitment to a Western literary agency to write a book.

None of the 12 candidates who contested Saturday’s election were able to garner more than 50 percent of the vote constitutionally required for an outright win.

The vote was the first in a series of key events for the poor and chronically unstable country as it enters a pivotal period.

In May, East Timor will celebrate 10 years of independence from Indonesia, and in June, voters will choose a new government in a general election.

At the end of the year the nation of 1.1 million people bids goodbye to UN forces stationed in the country since 1999.

The preliminary results showed Guterres on around 28 percent; Ruak 25 percent; and Ramos on 18 percent, with 460,216 votes or about 73 percent of the total votes cast counted, Valls said.

There were 17,486 invalid votes, or 2.79 percent, according to the electoral commission figures.

Guterres, 57, who heads the opposition Fretilin party, which is synonymous with the resistance, lost the presidency to Ramos-Horta in a run-off in 2007.

Ruak, 56, who has campaigned in his camouflage fatigues, has vowed to introduce mandatory military service if elected.

He is in the run-off despite being accused by the United Nations of illegal weapons transfers in 2006, when rioting and factional fighting had the nation on the brink of civil war.

Around the country Sunday, Timorese people had their eyes glued to their television sets, watching the changing figures broadcast live by the country’s electoral commission on state radio and television station.

Whether they were shopkeepers selling traditional handicrafts in Dili’s Tias market, candidates’ spokesmen mingling with journalists, or people sitting in the lobby coffee shop of Hotel Timor, the talk was about who would emerge top.

Votes were being counted by hand, some in remote areas with poor communications, and results were not due until later in the week, according to election officials.

National election commission president Faustino Cardoso Gomes told a press conference earlier there were “some irregularities” during the election process.

“Some polling stations ran out of ballot papers, for instance in Dili and some other places, but all have been resolved,” he said.

Thomas Cabral, head of elections secretariat overseeing the polls, said heavy rains during the elections had affected voter turnout and the transport of ballot papers in some cities.