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Solidarity Observer Mission for East Timor (SOMET)

His Excellency the Speaker of the National Parliament Mr. Francisco Guterres

23 May 2007

Re: Amendments to the Law on the Election of the National Parliament

With respects,

The Solidarity Observer Mission for East Timor (SOMET) welcomes the amendments to the Law on the Election of the National Parliament passed by the Timor-Leste Parliament on 16 May 2007 that will ensure that prisoners, hospital patients and persons who are mentally ill will be able to exercise their right to vote in the Parliamentary election. At the same time, we have concerns over other amendments that change the location for counting ballots from polling station to district centers.

The transparency of the voting process will be reduced by centralized counting of ballots at district centers. Timor-Leste citizens have shown a deep commitment to the democratic process through consistently high turnout levels in all the elections that have been held since 1999. Large numbers of people gather at the polling stations to watch the counting of ballots and to see how their community voted. People can review these results with some confidence that they reflect the will of their fellow citizens.

The consolidation of counts at the district level will not permit citizens to see how regional variations contributed to the final count. Removing the count from public view will generate suspicions of manipulation. This may itself create civil unrest, having the opposite effect to that intended by the government.

There are also practical difficulties in implementing this amendment. Space limitations in some of the District Tabulation Centers have made it difficult to complete the tabulation process in a timely manner. In many district centers it will be difficult to find locations with sufficient space to undertake the much more complicated process of counting all the ballots in the district. Counting will be slower because ballots from all polling stations will not be counted simultaneously. The counting of several stations at a time in the district centers could be very confusing. If counting is continuous, the potential for mistakes increases due to staff fatigue. Polling staff, fiscais (party delegates) and local observers will have to leave their communities to conduct and observe the count.

With respect to security, experience in the two rounds of the Presidential election has clearly demonstrated the maturity of voters and parties in accepting the results without severe recrimination.

For reasons outlined above, SOMET encourages you to reconsider moving the vote counting from the polling stations to the district tabulation centers.

Yours truly

Jill Sternberg
Catharina Maria
Solidarity Observer Mission in East Timor (SOMET)

CC to: His Excellency the President of the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste Dr. José Ramos-Horta

see also Timor Votes in 2007

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