Subject: LUSA: Electoral Commission Comments on Ballot Paper Controversy

14 Mar 02 19:11 East Timor: Electoral Commission Comments on Ballot Paper Controversy

Campaigning in East Timor`s presidential race gets underway Friday and the territory`s Independent Election Commission (CEI) has explained its decision over party symbols on ballot papers, a controversial matter over which Xanana Gusmao had threatened to step down as a candidate.

Gusmao, widely expected to become president, had objected to the CEI`s initial decision to print on ballot papers the symbols of the nine parties backing him. The ex-resistance leader, who holds his first campaign rally Friday, threatened Saturday to withdraw his candidacy over the issue.

The only rival to Gusmao in the presidential election is Constituent Assembly Vice-President Xavier do Amaral, who announced Tuesday he had no objecting to the dropping of party references on the voting slips for the April 14 election.

In a statement sent to Lusa Thursday, the CEI said there was "some speculation" over the decision to exclude party symbols from the ballot papers, despite previous announcements that they would be included.

After Gusmao`s initial protest on March 9, the CEI, which comprises three Timorese and two international members, said it decided to "wait for a reasonable period for a possible political agreement".

Xavier do Amaral`s decision to accept exclusion of symbols allowed for "the basic principle of unanimity", the CEI statement said.

CJB/ASP -lusa-

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