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Cablegate: Update On East Timor Election Issues

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SUBJECT: UPDATE ON EAST TIMOR ELECTION ISSUES


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1. Summary: Representatives of IFES, the International
Republican Institute (IRI), and the National Democratic
Institute (NDI) on October 18 briefed Charge d'Affaires on their
electoral related programs and the current status of
preparations for the 2007 elections. Discussions centered
around three key areas of current concern. First, Parliament
has yet to approve an electoral law framework for the elections,
and probably will not for at least another month. Second, the
government-controlled body responsible for election
administration is slated to receive far more support than the
independent body tasked with overseeing its work. Third, both
the ruling Fretilin party and some opposition parties may not be
ready to campaign fairly or to accept an election outcome in
which they lose. End summary.

IFES, IRI and NDI election support
----------------------------------
2. At a briefing on October 18 for Charge d'Affaires,
representatives of IFES, IRI and NDI provided an overview of
their electoral-related activities and their views and concerns
regarding current election developments. Main activities
include:
-- IFES: providing analysis and advice regarding the development
of electoral institutions and legal framework. Organized a
series of briefings for the international community on the draft
electoral laws. Commissioned an evaluation of the role of the
National Elections Commission (CNE) during the local elections
in 2005.
-- IFES and IRI: with USAID support and in coordination with
several national NGOs, organized a series of civil society
workshops on the draft electoral laws.
-- IRI: providing training for all registered parties. Will
also be training party agents as observers for the elections,
with a goal of having 2-3 observers from each party at every
voting station
-- NDI: Providing support to the Parliamentary committee
responsible for review of electoral laws. Will be supporting
the establishment of a network of domestic non-partisan
observers.

Electoral law discussions continue, no consensus law in sight
--------------------------------------------- ----------------
3. Currently under discussion in Parliament are two competing
versions of the law on parliamentary elections, one drafted by
Fretilin and one by the opposition. (Discussions on drafts of
the presidential election law are reportedly on hold until the
parliamentary one is passed.) Opportunities for key
stakeholders and civil society to review and discuss the draft
laws have been relatively good. The Parliamentary Committee for
Constitutional Issues, Rights, Liberties and Guarantees A,
(Committee A) held public consultations on the draft
parliamentary election laws over the first two weeks in October.
While the NDI representative remarked that there were a "large
number of good inputs," the IFES rep highlighted several
concerns, noting that much of the testimony to the committee was
in the form of rote reading of statements with limited practical
suggestions on the laws. Moreover, it was evident that the
election-related knowledge of the committee members is quite
limited, with many key issues -- such as the representational
system and the electoral formula -- getting little or no
attention.

4. Current estimates are that it will be at least another month
before a parliamentary election law will be passed. The
Committee A chairman notes that there are only a "few items of
divergence." However, IFES rep argues that the currently
identified areas of divergence are in fact significant so
getting a consensus document will take time. Given Fretilin's
dominance in Parliament, there is the possibility that its
version will simply be pushed through, resulting in a faster
timeline. However, President Xanana Gusmao has his own strong
priorities for the law which are much more in line with
opposition views and Fretilin would run the risk of a
Presidential veto if they refuse to compromise on their version.
Anuncompromising stance by Fretilin conceivably could also
result in a boycott of the election by opposition parties.

DILI 00000528 002.2 OF 002

National supervision of election administration may be weak
--------------------------------------------- --------------
5. A major concern expressed by the briefing participants was
that the National Elections Commission (CNE), the independent
body to be entrusted with supervising and monitoring the
elections,may lack the powers and capacity to do so effectively.
Current developments significantly disadvantage the CNE
vis-`-vis the Technical Secretariat for Elections Administration
(STAE), the government body responsible for election logistics
which CNE is supposed to supervise. The Government's
FY2006-2007 budget funds STAE at ten times the amount allotted
for CNE. Moreover, the UN Development Program's (UNDP)
electoral assistance plan is primarily focused on assistance to
STAE with only cursory treatment of CNE. Part of the difficulty
of ensuring strong support of a CNE now is that the body does
not yet exist since its establishment is predicated on the
passage of the electoral law. Given that the parliamentary
election law discussions could continue into December, the
future CNE is likely to be further weakened by having
insufficient time to ramp up operations in advance of the
elections. (Note: A law proposing the establishment of a
permanent CNE is also currently being reviewed by Parliamentary
Committee A, but is considered a long shot.)

Parties are preparing, but many may have unrealistic expectations
--------------------------------------------- --------------------
6. The IRI representative reported that their political party
training is in high demand, with all registered parties
participating. This includes Fretilin, which has in the past
declined to participate in such programs. (Note: Fretilin
Mudansa, the party's reform faction, has requested to
participate in IRI programs training, but IRI indicated that
they can only work with the designates of the official
leadership of registered parties.) The IRI representative noted
that their focus is of necessity on "Campaigning 101" training
as the level of capacity in this area is limited across the
board. Most opposition parties are particularly weak in their
campaigning skills and resources, with many having virtually no
capacity outside of Dili.

7. All briefing participants expressed their worry that the
campaign environment will be tense and combative and that
unrealistic expectations on the part of many parties could
contribute to rejection of the outcomes as illegitimate. The
IRI representative cited as an example that smaller opposition
parties have expressed unconcern regarding the possibility that
a threshold as high as five percent may govern the parliamentary
elections. Many of these parties are considered unlikely to
reach even that threshold. Participants all noted need for an
agreed code of conduct among the political parties, with a
credible enforcement mechanism, and reported that they are
looking at how they can support its developments. In addition,
they will be looking at options for parties to gain a better
understanding of their popularity to both support more effective
campaigning and to prepare for likely election outcomes. (Note:
This concern is also relevant to Fretilin which may well have a
much lower outcome then they seem to currently expect.)

8. Comment: Ensuring not only that elections are legitimate, but
that they are accepted as such by all regardless of outcome will
be the largest overall challenge. To this end, the key issues
to watch are a) ensuring a level playing field and fair play
during the lead up to the election, including but not exclusive
to the official campaign period, and b) ensuring a political
environment conducive to both peaceful elections and wide
acceptance of the results by both winners and losers. There is
a significant risk that an environment of mistrust, especially
if accompanied by the country's polarization on East-West lines,
will produce an outcome that the losers will reject regardless
of how well the elections are run. End comment.
GRAY

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