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Counting begins in East Timor

ballot boxes
The counting has begun after a peaceful election  


By Joe Havely
CNN

DILI, East Timor (CNN) -- Counting has begun in East Timor a day after the territory's first democratic elections.

As of Friday morning, all 1632 ballot boxes from 248 polling centers had arrived in their counting stations after being kept in secure storage overnight.

U.N. officials say they estimate the turnout at around 91 percent of some 425,000 registered voters in the poll, free from the violence and intimidation that characterized the referendum of independence exactly two years earlier.

Given the sensitivities in the territory following the violence of recent years, and that it is East Timor's first experience of democracy, the U.N. has been keen to emphasize the fairness and openness of the vote.

VIDEO
Independence leader Jose Ramos-Horta on the landmark ballot.

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Interview with U.N. Chief Sergio Viera De Mello.

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IN-DEPTH
East Timor's journey to nationhood  
• Key issues
 
• Flashback: August 1999
 
• Photo Gallery 1
 
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Election monitor Charles Costello on the successful poll
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CNN's Maria Ressa reports from Dili with the latest
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In an address to the East Timorese released Friday, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan praised all those involved in the campaign and on voting day itself.

He said the massive turnout and the "peace, maturity and tolerance" shown in east Timor was a "glowing example to the world community".

It has encouraged representatives of all 16 parties to observe the ballot process, as well as the counting and storage of ballot boxes.

Annan added that the U.N. would stand with East Timor as it enters the second phase of transition (independent rule), and ultimately towards full independence, sometime in 2002.

Fretilin expected to dominate

Before Thursday's vote got underway, tens of thousands of East Timorese queued in the sun, often for several hours, to cast their ballot.

The vote will determine the make-up of an 88-member constituent assembly, tasked with writing a constitution for the future independent nation.

Most observers expect the long standing Fretilin (Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor) party to win the lion's share of the vote and dominate the new assembly.

That will certainly be the case if the predominance of their party posters and t-shirts on the streets of the capital, Dili, is anything to go by.

Speaking to CNN on the day before polling, Fretilin leader Mari Alkatiri predicted his party would win an 80 to 85 percent share of the vote.

If the party wins 85 percent or more it will theoretically be entitled to write the constitution without consulting the other parties -- a prospect that has raised concerns East Timor could begin its democracy as a virtual one-party state.

The final result of the ballot is not expected until September 10, although unofficial results should be known some time next week.

After the election, the territory will still remain under U.N. administration until a new leader is chosen and formal independence is declared -- a move expected to be made sometime in mid-2002.

Broken seals

Polling station
Polling stations in East Timor  

With long lines reported at most polling stations Thursday, the U.N. says eight voting centers remained open beyond the official close of polling at 4:00 p.m. (0700 GMT). The last vote was cast at about 9:00 p.m.

According to the head of the U.N. Independent Election Commission, Carlos Valenzuela, six ballot boxes had their seals broken during transportation to the counting centers.

He said such damage was inevitable during the handling process as the seals were tamper-evident, but nonetheless each incident has been reported to the election board of commissioners.

The boxes themselves have been quarantined while the investigation goes ahead.







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