Subject: NYTimes: U.N. Certifies First Election in the Newly Born East Timor

The New York Times Tuesday, September 11, 2001

U.N. Certifies First Election in the Newly Born East Timor


BANGKOK, Sept. 10 -- The United Nations today certified the results of East Timor's first democratic election, and a newly chosen constituent assembly prepared to start drafting a Constitution that will set the stage for full independence.

The main independence party, Fretilin, won 55 of 88 seats, putting it in a position to dominate the drafting, which is to be completed in three months.

Depending on what the new assembly decides, a presidential vote could be set for early next year, after which the United Nations would withdraw and leave East Timor to govern itself, virtually for the first time in its history.

The assembly is generally expected to transform itself into the East Timor legislature.

The former Portuguese colony was invaded by Indonesia in 1975, shortly after it had gained independence from Portugal. The United Nations has administered it since it voted to break from Indonesia two years ago.

In a statement today, the United Nations electoral commission approved the vote, on Aug. 30, as free and fair. "Henceforward, East Timor will have an elected representative body working for the people to frame a Constitution that is of the people," said Sergio Vieira de Mello, the United Nations transitional administrator for the territory.

The election was held exactly two years after East Timor had voted in a referendum for independence by nearly 80 percent. The moment the results were announced four days later, Indonesian-backed militias that opposed independence began a campaign of violence and destruction. Much of the destruction, which left 80 percent of East Timor buildings damaged or destroyed, remains unrepaired.

Without the support of Indonesian administrators or markets, the economy has collapsed, leaving up to 80 percent of urban residents unemployed.

The new Constitution has to put in place a blueprint for the world's newest nation, addressing issues as far-ranging as government structure, tax policies, women's rights and the protection of natural resources.

When the assembly convenes on Friday, simultaneous translations will be provided in Indonesian, Portuguese, English and the dominant local language, Tetum. The reason will be more politics than necessity. The constituent assembly has yet to decide which will be the national language.

As the political arm of East Timor's independence war, the winning party, Fretilin, easily dominated the campaign and the voting. But it fell short of the two-thirds majority that will be needed to pass the Constitution.

Political experts said that would open the way to political tradeoffs and coalition building, the first small steps as East Timor begins to put its new democratic system to work. Policy differences among the parties are relatively minor, but differences over constitutional ideas could lead to intense lobbying in the three months to come, with political power the prize.

The Fretilin secretary general, Mari Alkatiri, is expected to become the assembly's first chief minister.

The two most politically prominent figures in East Timor — the independence leader, José Alexandre Gusmão, and a Nobel Peace Prize winner, José Ramos-Horta — did not run for assembly seats. But they are likely to play prominent roles in leading the country, with Mr. Gusmao widely expected to be the first president.

Until that new government is in place, an East Timorese Council of Ministers will rule the territory under United Nations sponsorship. The council, selected today by Mr. de Mello, replaces a mixed council with membership from both East Timor and the United Nations.

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