COVER STORY: by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
East Timor election: what's cooking?
, April 28, 2007
East Timor's recent Presidential election has been characterised by allegations of fraud and voting irregularities, reports Peter Westmore.
Despite the evident desire of about half a million people to vote in East Timor's recent Presidential election, the counting of the ballot has been so tainted by allegations of fraud and irregularities that it should be done again.
|East Timor voter.|
Although the United Nations has been involved, the conduct of the election was in the hands of an East Timorese government body, STAE (the Technical Secretariat for Electoral Administration), a body reputed to be dominated by members of Fretilin, the governing arty.
The early count indicated high levels of support for Fernando de Araujo of the Democratic Party and Prime Minister José Ramos Horta, but the final vote showed that the Fretilin candidate, Lu Olo, won the largest number of votes, with Mr Horta second.
If the count is confirmed by the National Electoral Commission, these two candidates will go into the second round of the election, to be held on May 9.
Six of the eight candidates, including José Ramos Horta, indicated publicly they had concerns about the conduct of the election.Intimidation
Five of them wrote to the president of the National Electoral Commission alleging that there had been a climate of intimidation by Fretilin against opposition candidates in three of the country's 14 districts, Viqueque, Baucau and Ermera. In two of these, opposition supporters had been attacked, and some had sustained injuries.
Further, they alleged that some supporters of the opposition arties had been prevented from voting, that ballot boxes had not been kept secure, and that government members had intervened at a number of polling centres.
A letter, documenting specific allegations, was also released by Fernando de Araujo, president of the Democratic Party.
They alleged that valid votes cast in favour of the opposition were rejected by STAE officials; that there had been fake ballot apers found in some polling centres; and that in at least one district, the number of ballot boxes returned at the end of the count was larger than the number of ballot boxes issues.
Other allegations were that only agents for Fretilin were permitted to be present at one polling station, while the Minister for State Administration, Ana Pessoa Pinto (a close associate of Fretilin secretary-general Mari Alkatiri) was seen carrying 350 ballot papers outside a polling booth.
Mr de Araujo said, “Based on these facts, the Electoral Team of Fernando 'Lasama' de Araujo demands CNE [the National Electoral Commission] declare invalid the Presidential Election which took place in East Timor on 9 April 2007 and ask competent authorities to investigate and punish those responsible for such repulsive and undemocratic acts of electoral manipulation.”
CNE referred the matter to the judiciary, but no decision has been released at the time of going to press.
Serious problems in the administration of the election were confirmed by CNE. It found more than 100 violations of the electoral law and irregularities in the Presidential election.
The commission plans to submit its findings to the Supreme Court, which will decide whether the cases affect the legal validity of the election.
CNE spokesman Martinho G. da Silva Gusmao said that after a CNE lenary meeting and two days spent examining the cases they had decided to forward them to the court.
“We have found 50 cases in Dili alone. We are still verifying other districts, but so far more than 100 violations have been found. We will submit the cases to the court once we complete our verification. It will then depend on the court to decide on the validity of the election,” he said.
The breakdown in the count appeared to be the result of problems in the official figures compiled at polling centres, as well as in the district offices where ballot boxes were sent after polling day.
One of the most surprising aspects of the result was the relatively low turnout, as recorded by the official vote tally.
According to figures calculated from the unofficial count, days after the election, there were about 401,000 votes cast, compared to 523,000 registered voters, a turn-out of 77 per cent, which was lower than expected. This figure contradicted the empirical observation of observers, who noted that many thousands of people lined up for over an hour to vote.
Shortly after the first unofficial count was released, CNE discovered “95 ballot boxes, holding several hundred votes each, which have either not been counted or were not added to the election data base. Fifty-nine of the boxes come from Dili.”
There is great pressure on the count to recognise the result, despite the irregularities, because the second-round election is scheduled for May 9, and the parliamentary elections are to be held at the end of June.
Delay in the first round would cause problems with the whole electoral timetable. Yet it would be wrong to endorse a flawed electoral process simply to meet the pressures of the election timetable. The result would be to discredit the entire election and the person elected to this office.- Peter Westmore