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Presidential elections in Timor Leste marred by violence and “shortage” of ballot papers

Updated On: Apr 10, 2007

Voters in Timor Leste (East Timor) cast their ballots Monday (9 April 07) in a presidential election they hoped would pull them from a cycle of violence and political tension that has paralysed efforts to rebuild one of the world's poorest nations five years into independence.

Polling opened Monday morning in an election to replace the former guerrilla leader Xanana Gusmao as president of troubled East Timor.

As of Saturday, the situation in the capital Dili was calm after the campaign period ended Friday. About 200 people have been arrested ahead of Monday's presidential election in East Timor, which will be secured by more than 4,000 local and international police backed by peacekeeping troops. At least 32 people were injured, five with steel darts, in clashes between rival factions here on Wednesday.

Besides the current Prime Minister Ramos-Horta, other presidential candidates are Francisco Xavier do Amaral of the Timorese Social Democratic Association (ASTD), Fernando de Araujo of the Democratic Party, Joao Carrascalao of the Democratic Timorese Party (UDT), Francisco Guterres of the Revolutionary Front of an Independent Timor Leste (Fretilin), Lucia Lobato of the Social Democrat Party, Avelino Coelho da Silva of the Timorese Socialist Party (PST) and Manuel Tilman of the Sons of the Mountain Warriors. Gusmao is not seeking re-election. Instead, he said he would join a new political party and seek to become prime minister, prompting Fretilin to allege he is trying to "facilitate a job swap" with his close associate Ramos-Horta.

It is believed that Ramos-Horta and Fretilin's Francisco “Lu-Olo” Guterres are the front runners in the election. Jose Ramos Horta (57) is seen as the strongest candidate. Although he is not backed up by any political party, he is regarded as experienced politician. Horta is believed to have better international acceptance.  Moreover, he is supported by Xanana Gusmao, the president that will soon leave his office.

Horta has the strongest supporters in Dili. His closest rival, Guterres is well accepted in the rural areas especially in the eastern part of Timor Leste and appears to have more supporters from grass roots. Another candidate is Fernando Lasama de Araujo from the Democratic Party. He is known as human rights activist. He was sentenced to jail by Indonesian Government in 1991 for allegation of participation in “November 12” demonstration that was followed by riots in Santa Cruz.

Half the candidates contesting East Timor's presidential vote next Monday have complained that attempts are being made to manipulate the poll process. In a joint statement, they alleged the ruling party had received preferential treatment for its election observers. The four also complained of threats of violence and intimidation and asked the UN to guarantee security for the vote.

While most of the eight candidates in Timor Leste's presidential election have continued to express fear about fraud and intimidation in Monday's election, the public seems upbeat and hopeful of a fair and peaceful election. At least, that is what The Jakarta Post tried to portray. An eligible voter, a supporter of Ramos-Horta, said he would prefer a peaceful outcome to a violent victory for Ramos-Horta.

This election is very important in the country’s history. This will be the first election after its independence in 2002. The people of East Timor are fed up waiting for economic improvement, five years after the tiny state became a nation, President Xanana Gusmao said on Wednesday. The young country remains under the shadow of the violence that broke out last year, displacing more than 100,000 people and requiring the dispatch of foreign troops to end the chaos. "People feel that they are sick of waiting, waiting for something good," Gusmao told foreign correspondents in the capital, Dili.Voting took place under tight security and amid concerns over whether the result will be credible in a contest seen as a three-way fight. At Meti Aut there was no tension as about 30 people lined up to cast their ballots under a bright early-morning sky at the simple polling station with a desk and yellow plastic tape that marked the area for people to wait. However, in some areas, polling stations ran out of ballot papers. 

Election officials were forced to scramble 5,000 extra ballot papers to remote locations after 14 of the 504 polling stations ran out of ballots with many people still waiting to vote. Two UN helicopters and one from the international peacekeeping force made four 'rapid reaction support flights to meet ballot paper deficits,' said the Timorese Technical Secretariat for Election Administration (STAE).  East Timor's national election commission later said four places did not get ballots in time and it was now considering the 'reoperation' of the polls there. It was unclear how many voters were affected.

Timor Leste has a population of just over a million people and over half of the population is eligible to vote. More than 522,000 people are registered to vote at more than 700 polling stations secured by more than 4,000 international and East Timorese police. The police are backed up by about 1,000 troops from an Australian-led international peacekeeping force dispatched to quell deadly unrest last year. The government body described voting as 'peaceful' and 'successful'. It said turn-out had been higher than expected.

Counting of the votes has begun and results should be available later this week. (9 April 2007)

Sources:

Polling opens in East Timor presidential election (Antara, 9 April 2007)

Hopes high for peaceful, fair election in Timor Leste, Jakarta (The Jakarta Post, 7 April 2007)

Ramos Horta Menjadi Calon Kuat Presiden (Kompas, 8 April 2007)

Timorese disillusioned after independence (Antara, 4 April 2007)

East Timor election ‘manipulated’ (BBC, 6 April 2007)

East Timor holds presidential elections (Associated Press, 9 April 2007)

ETimor votes to heal 'broken' nation (Associated Press, 9 April 2007)

East Timor votes for president after year of crisis (Associated Press, 8 April 2007)

Polling opens in ETimor presidential election (Associated Press, 8 April 2007)

About 200 arrests ahead of ETimor election (Associated Press, 9 April 2007)

East Timor predicts violent election (AFP 6 April 2007)