|Subject: Age: A special day in the
birthplace of East Timorese nationalism
The Age April 15 2002
A special day in the birthplace of East Timorese nationalism
By Jill Jolliffe Bucoli, Baucau district
Like most citizens of East Timor, the people of the tropical village of Bucoli came out yesterday to elect the country's first president.
Their choice was between the charismatic Xanana Gusmao and the ageing founder of the Fretilin party Francisco Xavier do Amaral. Mr Gusmao is expected to win by a large majority.
For Bucoli residents it was a special occasion. The village is considered to be the birthplace of East Timorese nationalism, the home of guerrilla hero Vicente Reis who was killed by Indonesian troops in 1978. His legend is such that there is a local belief that he will return from the dead to lead the new East Timor, which will become independent on May 20.
His brother Marito Reis, who spent 12 years in an Indonesian prison, is today the popular administrator of Baucau district and was among the first to vote.
In the family home, Vicente's cousin Paulo Reis said Bucoli was proud to participate in an election for which he had fought. "Today is a special day," he said.
Local electoral officers said around half of Bucoli residents had voted by lunchtime, a level higher than the national average.
According to Carlos Vilenzuelia, head of the United Nation's Independent Electoral Commission, just over a third of the estimated 439,000 eligible people had voted nationwide by that time. He said the high turnout was "a clear demonstration of enthusiasm in this last important step before independence".
Unlike last year's August parliamentary elections, people were reluctant to declare their option.
Loyalties have been divided by Fretilin Chief Minister Mari Alkatiri, who refused to endorse either candidate.
Observers from a European Union team had criticised statements by Mr Alkatiri that were interpreted as encouraging informal votes and abstention.
The Independent Electoral Commission had received "a handful of complaints" before polling day.
Provisions were made for refugees from West Timor who have been crossing the border to vote after a visit to their camps by Mr Gusmao. A record 3000 returned last week, and about 450 were expected to cross into the enclave of Oecussi before polls closed.
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