Subject: ABC PM: ET election official should be replaced: observer

ABC Online

PM - E Timor election official should be replaced: observer

[This is the print version of story http://www.abc.net.au/pm/content/2007/s1898699.htm]

PM - Monday, 16 April , 2007 18:21:40

Reporter: Sabra Lane

PETER CAVE: An Australian observer at last week's East Timor presidential election says the country's spokesman for the Election Commission should be replaced, because he's brought the Commission into disrepute.

The spokesman, Martinho Gusmao, today blamed the East Timorese Technical Secretariat for Election Administration, which for obvious reasons is shortened to STAE, for problems with last weeks vote. And he's also offered some surprising views on the candidates in the election.

Academic and long-time observer of East Timor, Damien Kingsbury, says Mr Gusmao should be replaced for those and other comments made in the lead-up to polling day.

While Dr Kingsbury says there were a number of discrepancies with the vote, he's confident they won't alter the final result.

It's a view shared by another larger international observer groups, which are due to complete their reports tomorrow on the first-stage of the election process.

Sabra Lane reports.

SABRA LANE: Father Martinho Gusmao is the Catholic Church's representative on East Timor's National Election Commission. He is the public face of the Commission.

What he says carries a lot of weight in this predominantly Catholic nation.

Today he told Radio Australia there were a number of problems with last week's vote.

In the district of Bacau for example, which has 100,000 eligible voters, an election official wrongly entered the station's polling number into the computing system, recording 300,000 voters.

MARTINHO GUSMAO: We see that the official in the polling centre, they put the code of polling centre into the voters result. And the code exactly is 0311301, so it becomes 311,000. And that's why it became a strange one in the system.

SABRA LANE: But Father Gusmao says the mistake was corrected during counting.

He's blamed the East Timorese Technical Secretariat for Election Administration, which is known as STAE for the problems.

MARTINHO GUSMAO: It is the failure of STAE that they don't seriously provide voters education and official training in such a way that they can operate all the systems. So this is really lamented.

SABRA LANE: The final results of last week's vote are now expected on Wednesday.

Preliminary figures suggest Jose Ramos Horta and ruling Fretilin Party candidate Francisco Guterres, who's also known as "Lu-Olo", have scored the most votes and will probably face one another in a second-round vote in three weeks.

Despite his position at the election commission, Martinho Gusmao doesn't hold back in giving his views about "Lu-Olo" and the country's previous prime minister Mari Alkatiri.

MARTINHO GUSMAO: Alkatiri acts as if he is the candidate of President and every day if you find in journal or in every news, "Lu-Olo" never states whatever he think and whatever he figures out for future. And every day, Mari Alkatiri talk and talk on behalf of "Lu-Olo". So, we are wondering who will be the President - "Lu-Olo" or Mari Alkatiri?

SABRA LANE: That doesn't impress academic Damien Kingsbury, who headed an Australian observation team at last week's presidential vote.

DAMIEN KINGSBURY: Martinho Gusmao has made a number of mistakes in his own right throughout this campaign period.

He's made a number of comments that he really ought not to have made about his personal preferences in front of journalists, and that's highly inappropriate for somebody who's meant to be an independent adjudicator.

I would not regard his views as being those of an independent or an impartial mediator.

SABRA LANE: Should he be replaced?

DAMIEN KINGSBURY: Absolutely.

He's the Catholic Church representative on the Commission and I think that he got there for reasons that have less to do with his technical ability and more to do with some internal political preferences.

He simply has shown that he is not the right person for that job and his commentary on the electoral process before the election and since then has really brought I think, the Electoral Commission into disrepute and that's a dangerous thing.

SABRA LANE: Dr Kingsbury believes last week's vote was pretty good, given the United Nations Development Program had a hands-off philosophy, allowing the East Timorese to run and control the election.

He says lessons have been learnt and won't be repeated in the run-off poll on May the 8th.

DAMIEN KINGSBURY: We've got to keep in mind that the UNDP is really keeping a very close eye on this whole process and they're not going to let it get too far out of hand. And I think on balance too we ought to keep in mind that whilst this was less than a perfect process, it was not nearly as bad an electoral process as you see in many other developing countries.

So, it may not have matched the Western standard, but it certainly much better a process than you would find in a number of other developing countries, not least in our own immediate region.

SABRA LANE: The Solidarity Observer Mission for East Timor is preparing a report on the vote which will be published tomorrow.

The Mission's Coordinator Jill Sternberg also believes the problems can be fixed before the next vote.

JILL STERNBERG: I believe they can be fixed but it will take effort and initiative on the part of the election officials to be sure that people are more fully briefed and prepared for the next election.

PETER CAVE: The Solidarity Observer Mission's Jill Sternberg ending that report from Sabra Lane.


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