Subject: Tight ballot box security for East Timor

Tight ballot box security for East Timor

Agence France-Presse

From correspondents in Dili

June 21, 2007 06:42pm

EAST Timor's caretaker Prime Minister Estanislau da Silva today said the Government had ordered tight security to protect ballot boxes used in parliamentary polls at the end of the month.

Mr Da Silva met with newly elected President Jose Ramos Horta to discuss logistics for the June 30 elections in the half-island nation of one million people.

“We discussed preparations for the elections and I explained how we will overcome some of the logistical obstacles by seeking secure means for boxes to be transported from polling to counting centres so that no accusations of fraud arise,” he said.

Ballot counting is to take place at counting rather than polling centres ­ unlike for presidential elections held last month ­ due to legislation introduced by the ruling Fretilin party last month and only gazetted on May 31.

Each of the tiny country's 13 districts will have one counting centre.

The Brussels-based thinktank International Crisis Group said in a report earlier this month that the change to the counting procedures “promises to create significant difficulties” and that Mr Ramos Horta had been reluctant to promulgate the law.

Fretilin says the decision was taken to reduce opportunities for intimidation and manipulation of ballots.

“To prevent any efforts to disturb the election, boxes should be tightly closed and should be marked by particular numbers and should not be opened by anyone,” Mr da Silva said.

He said it was the responsibility of the National Election Commission, the Electoral Technical and Administrative Secretariat, national and international observers as well as UN police to see that the boxes remained intact.

Ballot boxes are to be flown to and from isolated polling stations in helicopters, he said.

The ICG said that with the changes to the counting procedures, tabulation was expected to take much longer, and allegations of irregularities were likely.

“This may lead some parties to refuse to accept the results and cause considerable uncertainty, which would in turn delay the formation of a government,” the thinktank warned.

The legislative election is expected to be a tough contest between the new party of former president Xanana Gusmao and Fretilin, which has dominated parliament since East Timor officially gained its independence in 2002 from Indonesia.

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