Subject: E Timor observers cheer smooth elections but fear trouble ahead

South China Morning Post

July 2, 2007 Monday

E Timor observers cheer smooth elections but fear trouble ahead

Fabio Scarpello in Dili

East Timor has emerged unscathed from what many feared would be an election day marred by violence - but as vote counting got under way yesterday, many feared the most dangerous part of the electoral process was still ahead.

There were few incidents to sully the election day on Saturday that saw East Timorese choosing between 14 parties to form the 65-member parliament. Officials said the turnout was good, but it appeared to be lower than for the recent presidential elections, when around 80 per cent of the 548,000 registered voters took part.

In Dili, the head of the European Union Election Observation Mission was delighted by what he saw but warned that trouble could emerge as a result of recently changed counting procedures.

"I visited four voting stations and I am happy with what I saw," said Jose Javier Pomes Ruis, also a member of the European Parliament.

"Our opinion is that East Timorese want peace and democracy and that, after the two rounds of the presidential elections, the system works much better," he said, adding that the assessment was provisional.

"But we all agree the most difficult stage is the counting procedure."

Mr Ruis questioned the wisdom of the change in the counting procedure, recently pushed through by the country's main party, Fretilin.

"I do not know why Fretilin wanted to change the previous system, but I am worried that the new one could cause problems," he said.

Ballot boxes from the polling stations were transferred to district counting centres. During the presidential elections, ballots were counted instead at the polling stations.

"Our opinion is that the ballots should have been counted at the polling stations in front of the representatives of the various parties and election officials," Mr Ruis said.

"It would have been important for voters also. They need to see the counting taking place where they have actually voted."

Some commentators have said that the change could make it more difficult for people to accept the results if different to their expectations.

Last night, with roughly 10 per cent of the vote counted, Fretilin led the National Congress for East Timor Reconstruction (CNRT), a new party led by former president Xanana Gusmao, by 5,100 votes, at 32 per cent, the Nation Election Commission said. The CNRT had 23 per cent.

Officials say that preliminary results may be known by late today or tomorrow, but final results may not be known until next week.

Political analysts have predicted a close race between Fretilin and CNRT. Among the others, the Democratic Party is considered the strongest outsider.

However, no party is expected to win an absolute parliamentary majority required to govern, and it is very likely that the next government will be the result of a coalition.

Some 500 foreign monitors and 3,000 peacekeepers oversaw the voting at hundreds of polling stations.

Violence was recorded only at one centre in Viqueque district, close to where two campaign workers were shot dead after a rally last month.

Additional reporting by Associated Press


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