April 12, 2007 / 11:13 AM / 13 years ago

East Timor election body rejects call for recount

DILI (Reuters) - East Timor’s election commission rejected on Thursday calls for a vote recount as the tiny nation looked set for a presidential run-off between Prime Minister Jose Ramos-Horta and the ruling Fretilin Party’s candidate.

Monday’s polls were mostly peaceful but a drawn-out election period and allegations of irregularities will raise concerns about fresh instability in the impoverished nation, still suffering from deep divisions five years after independence.

Overnight dozens of people in the predominantly Roman Catholic country, once a Portuguese colony, held a candlelit vigil near a statue of the Mother Mary in Dili to pray for peace.

Martinho Gusmao, the election commission spokesman, said the commission had offered to meet candidates to discuss voting disputes. But he said there would not be any major shift in the results and rejected calls by some candidates for a recount.

“If there’s a change it wont be drastic. No candidate will win more than 30 percent.”

He said it was almost certain Ramos-Horta and parliament chief Francisco Guterres of the ruling Fretilin Party, who is also known by the guerrilla nickname “Lu’olo” he had during the fight against the 24 years of Indonesian rule that followed Portugal’s withdrawal, would contest a run-off.

In a later news conference, Gusmao said all complaints would be submitted to the court of appeal.

“If the court decides we have to do a recount, we will do so,” he said.

If no one wins more than half the vote, a run-off will be held on May 8.

Preliminary vote counting showed that Guterres, whose well-organized Fretilin Party has bigger support in rural areas, had 29 percent of the vote, while Ramos-Horta, a Nobel peace prize winner who spearheaded an overseas campaign for independence from Indonesia, had 23 percent.

The election commission spokesman said, however, that there were still disputes over the validity of 30 percent of the votes.

“We must understand that we are not well prepared for this election and things are a bit chaotic.”

COUNTER CLAIMS

Five candidates, including Fernando de Araujo of the Democratic Party, called for a recount on Wednesday, alleging widespread irregularities.

Ramos-Horta also said there had been many flaws in the polls.

“I think there should be another count because there are serious allegations,” he told reporters.

But he said if there was no recount he would accept the results to contribute to stability. He accused police in some districts of acting as thugs for Fretilin.

Ramos-Horta said he had been told by the chief of the U.N. mission assisting in the polls that about 150,000 voters did not vote, either because of too few polling stations or bad weather.

A U.N. mission spokeswoman said: “If any of the candidates have concerns they should be raised with the national authorities and appealed through the court of appeal if necessary.”

EU observer chief Javier Pomes Ruiz said on Wednesday that the election had mostly gone smoothly with a high turnout.

The secretary general of Fretilin said there had been a “well mounted campaign against Fretilin” which he linked to Ramos-Horta and outgoing President Xanana Gusmao.

“This campaign includes disinformation, abuse of power and intimidation,” said Mari Alkatiri, replaced as prime minister by Ramos-Horta after taking much of the blame for the chaos that emerged in East Timor last year.

A regional split erupted into bloodshed last May after the sacking of 600 mutinous troops from the western region. Foreign troops had to be brought in to restore order.

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