Subject: SMH: Timorese punish ruling Fretilin

Timorese punish ruling Fretilin

Lindsay Murdoch in Dili

April 11, 2007

VOTERS have rebuffed East Timor's ruling Fretilin party in presidential elections, with the Prime Minister, Jose Ramos-Horta, last night polling strongly in unofficial counts amid Fretilin complaints of foul play.

In a shock for Fretilin's leaders, who have been in power for five years, their candidate Francisco "Lu-Olo" Guterres polled poorly in many parts of the country, including some eastern towns and villages where the party won landslide votes in previous elections.

Early vote counting had indicated that Mr Guterres was struggling to win enough votes to contest a run-off election with Mr Ramos-Horta, who swept the polls in the capital, Dili. Analysts said it was likely that Mr Ramos-Horta would face a run-off in one month with either Mr Guterres or Fernando "Lasama" de Araujo, head of the reformist, youth-based Democratic Party.

But a Fretilin spokesman, Filomino Aleixo, said last night that Mr Guterres was leading with 40 per cent of the vote with 214,000 votes counted.

"This is our estimation - our candidate has the highest percentage," Mr Aleixo said.

Throughout yesterday election officials and representatives of other candidates had said that Mr Guterres was running third in the count. Even if Mr Guterres won 40 per cent of the final vote, he would still be forced to contest a run-off election.

Under East Timor's presidential voting system the two candidates with the most votes must contest a run-off if one candidate does not win 51 per cent in the first round.

Mr Ramos-Horta declined to comment on the result until it has been formally announced, which may not be until Saturday.

"It seems that I have swept Dili and other places … I have not been updated fully," Mr Ramos-Horta, a Nobel peace prize winner, told the Herald."I'm happy with the election, which was a lesson in democracy and civility by the poor and illiterate … It serves as a lesson in civility for our leaders."

Before the vote, Mari Alkatiri, Fretilin's powerful secretary-general, had refused to even consider the possibility that Mr Guterres would not win an outright majority in the first election organised by East Timor since the country achieved independence in 2002.

But at a school where both Mr Alkatiri and Mr Guterres voted on Monday, Mr Ramos-Horta won 440 votes while Mr Guterres received only 191. At another Dili polling booth, Mr Ramos-Horta received 2093 votes while Mr Guterres got only 144.

Fretilin officials claimed at the news conference in Dili that the election had been marred by voter manipulation including the destruction of some ballot papers.

Mr Aleixo said the party would complain that thousands of voters did not get the chance to vote because arrangements were not in place, including more than 8000 people in the Oecusse enclave.

"We are preparing papers to submit formal complaints," Mr Aleixo said.

Asked if the party intended to protest over the overall result, Mr Aleixo said: "Why not".

Many voters who queued in the sun for hours on voting day said they wanted to see leaders who could put an end to violence and help provide jobs in Asia's poorest nation.

Mr Ramos Horta, who replaced Mr Alkatiri as prime minister during last year's violence, wants to see the outgoing President, Xanana Gusmao, elected prime minister after forming a party to contest the parliamentary elections.


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