|Subject: Age: Gusmao win likely, despite an
organised attempt to reduce his vote.
The Age April 14, 2002
Gusmao win likely, despite campaign
By Jill Jolliffe
Guerrilla hero Jose "Xanana" Gusmao is expected to win a sweeping victory today in a poll for East Timor's first elected head of state, despite an organised attempt to reduce his vote.
His only rival in the presidential elections is the elderly Francisco Xavier do Amaral, a nationalist who was president of the short-lived republic declared by the Fretilin party in 1975. He is unlikely to poll more than 25 per cent.
Figures from the right and left of the political spectrum among the 439,000 eligible voters have declared their support for Mr Gusmao, although the leaders of the governing Fretilin have refused to back him.
Mari Alkatiri, Chief Minister of the Fretilin Government, has made contradictory statements on his voting preferences. In one interview, with Portugal's Radio Renascenca, he said both candidates were "historic figures" and that if voters liked both "they should vote for the two".
He told journalists on Thursday that because he couldn't choose between them he would vote for neither.
Gusmao campaign workers have complained throughout of a concerted effort to encourage voters to lodge informal votes or abstain in order to reduce their candidate's winning margin. They also believe Fretilin leaders are privately directing votes to Mr do Amaral, although the rank-and-file are unlikely to follow.
"We think Mari Alkatiri's statement is very disappointing," spokeswoman Milena Pires said. "For a chief minister who was elected in our first free parliamentary elections to advocate abstention, which is equivalent to a boycott, is a very sad day for East Timor."
Mr do Amaral also distanced himself from the Chief Minister's stand, saying: "As a national leader, he should not have said what he did. He is misleading the people."
The Chief Minister's position drew an angry response from John Bowis, leader of a European Union observer delegation. He said his team had reported from various districts "that there are attempts to confuse voters into spoiling their votes", which was "harassment and undue pressure on people".
He warned that the EU may not endorse the election if such practices were widespread, adding "it is quite wrong . . . to fool people into thinking they can validly vote for both candidates".
Despite these problems, the campaign has been conducted peacefully. Refugees from West Timor have been pouring over the border in recent days after Mr Gusmao visited their camps a week ago. Special voter registration stations have been set up to ensure they are included.
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