East Timor’s presidential vote has been thrown into chaos, with five candidates calling for a recount of votes in Dili. This follows what could be irregularities in the counting process.

The vote itself was largely free and fair – there were some logistical problem with some stations running out of ballot papers, although in most cases this was quickly fixed. There was also a small amount of intimidation and other inappropriate activity in some polling stations. But the voting process has been widely hailed as a success.

The real problem now appears to be in the gap between the registered number of voters – 522,933, the claimed voter turnout regarded as being in excess of 90 per cent, and the number of valid votes – 357,766. One explanation is that a quarter of the voters did not show up, which seems to go against the reported turn-out of over 90 per cent showed up – some say 98%. The problem therefore seems to be with the number of invalid and null votes.

At the count on Monday night, the null and invalid vote count was very low where it was watched, in the order or one or two per cent.

Something therefore appears to have gone awfully wrong.

It is also interesting to note that Fretilin’s Francisco Lu-Olo Guterres’ vote jumped from 23% with an unofficial but reliable 70 per cent of the votes counted, to 29% at the end. This is a significant statistical aberration based on the last 30 per cent of the vote.

As a result, five of the presidential candidates are calling for a clean re-count in Dili. As this will be a formal appeal, it will have to go through the courts, rather than simple be undertaken as a matter of course, which may create difficulties given the second round of run-off voting between Guterres and Jose Ramos Horta, who came in with 22.5 per cent, will be held on 8 May.

Based on the figures available, Fretilin looks to be dead in the water in the coming parliamentary elections. Assuming its organisation can only turn out the same number of voters, the non-Fretilin parties will take around 70 per cent of the vote.

A “government of national unity”, bringing together the coalition formed under the Democratic Party and Xanana Gusmao’s CNRT appears the most likely outcome of that contest.

Peter Fray

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