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Cablegate: Update On Election Issues: Still No Electoral Law

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UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 DILI 000600

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DEPT FOR EAP/MTS
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E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV KDEM UN TT
SUBJECT: UPDATE ON ELECTION ISSUES: STILL NO ELECTORAL LAW


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1. Summary: Parliament has made some progress on passing
electoral legislation but the overall process remains
excruciatingly slow. While a law governing the supervisory body
was finally passed on December 6, the review of the legislation
on parliamentary elections, begun last week, has made only
modest progress. Many Members of Parliament seem to have little
enthusiasm for the process - a number of opposition parties have
been boycotting the discussions and even the ruling Fretilin
party MPs did not appear in sufficient numbers late last week
for a quorum. While the UN is significantly ramping up its
election personnel, and reports to have a "critical mass" of
staff ready to go, concerns remain regarding the timeline for
effective election administration. In addition to the continued
delays in passing the necessary legislation, there are concerns
that the GOET is not being proactive on key logistics
preparation. End summary.

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Law on electoral supervisory body passed
----------------------------------------

2. On December 6 Parliament passed a law governing the
supervisory body, the National Election Commission (CNE). The
law as passed included several demands of the opposition
parties, including establishing the CNE as an autonomous
institution, providing it a separate budget and staff, giving
commissioners a six year mandate, and stipulating civil society
involvement in appointment of members. Many opposition parties
nevertheless refused to participate in the vote and instead held
a press conference to declare their unhappiness with "political
manipulation" of the law. Their central complaint is that the
Technical Secretariat for Elections Administration (STAE),
responsible for all election logistics, remains under the
Ministry for State Administration. In addition, they registered
unhappiness that their proposal for a new name for the
supervisory body was not approved. Embassy sources report that
President Xanana Gusmao is expected to sign the CNE law.
(Presidential signature is required by the Constitution for laws
to take effect.)

3. The UN electoral certification team, which arrived back in
East Timor on December 10, has assessed the CNE law as imperfect
but basically satisfactory, noting that the key issues will be
the quality of the commissioners and staff and its assertiveness
in overseeing STAE activities. UNMIT election officials do not
expect any progress on the establishment of the CNE until
January, at which point it should be able to instruct STAE
regarding the registration process. STAE is in the meantime
moving ahead with its organization and expects to have an office
in every district within the month. UN Volunteers are already
deploying to the districts to work with STAE on operations,
logistics, voter education, and training. By the end of January,
the plan is to have over 100 UN staff in country to work with
both CNE and STAE, including several advisors in the CNE to
assist with the issue of how it will relate to STAE.

But law on parliamentary elections moving slowly
--------------------------------------------- ---

4. Parliament began its article by article discussion last week
of draft law #26, the Fretilin-drafted parliamentary elections
law. Although public statements from Parliament have indicated
a plan to complete the law by December 22, and former Prime
Minister Mari Alkatiri has stated that he will push for
completion by December 19, the current pace of progress makes
either of these dates unlikely. Of 77 articles in the draft
law, as of December 15 Parliament had addressed and decided on
16. The major opposition parties, who walked out of
deliberations on the CNE law, have so far refused to rejoin
discussions. Combined with an apparent lack of enthusiasm on
the part of many other MPs, this contributed to the failure to
reach a quorum to continue discussions planned for last Friday.
One UN official also noted that many MPs, including Fretilin's,
may want to hold onto their seats as long as possible (it is
certain that some will not be continuing in the new smaller
Parliament), and are thus not seized with any sense of urgency.
The UNMIT mission nevertheless has continued to push for passage

DILI 00000600 002.2 OF 002


of the electoral law, and officials have expressed
disappointment with the opposition's refusal to participate,
describing them as politically immature in this regard.

5. Interestingly, despite the near absence of opposition MPs and
Fretilin's strength in numbers to push through any law it
pleases, the decisions thus far have included some concessions
to opposition preferences. For example, the threshold for party
representation in Parliament was set at three percent, rather
than the five percent originally proposed by Fretilin, and the
quota for women was increased from one in five to one in four.
It is likely that Fretilin is making some compromises on issues
that do not undercut their fundamental positions as insurance
against a presidential veto. It is understood that President
Xanana Gusmao has made it known that he will wield his veto
power if he does not see the law as sufficiently fair and
inclusive. UNMIT has also pressed Fretilin leadership on the
need for electoral laws reflecting compromise and consensus.

Separate presidential and parliamentary elections, but schedule
remains unknown
--------------------------------------------- --------------
--------------------

6. Although Alkatiri recently stated that both presidential and
parliamentary elections should be held on the same day prior to
May 20, Parliament has reportedly agreed to hold the elections
on separate days, at least three weeks apart. (Fretilin
leadership had earlier insisted that the elections be held on
separate days, in contrast to earlier UN recommendations, so
Alkatiri's recent position may not have been a passionately held
one.) The actual scheduling of the two elections remains
outstanding, however, with at least one advisor to Parliament
still arguing that parliamentary elections should be held in
August to more closely line up with the end of one term and the
beginning of another. Meanwhile concerns are building regarding
the time needed for adequate preparation. For example, UN
officials note the Government's lack of proactive measures to
ensure that election materials are moved to isolated areas
before the rainy season could complicate matters, especially
given the unavailability of air transport.

7. Comment: While some overall progress is being made, it is
clear that continued pressure is needed on several fronts.
First, the slow progress of the parliamentary election law last
week does not bode well. There should be continued pressure on
national leadership to support completion of the electoral laws
in a more timely manner. Second, the lack of broad
participation in the deliberations is of concern. Opposition
leadership and MPs need to be encouraged to opt back into the
process, rather than ceding the field to Fretilin. At the same
time, Fretilin leadership should continue to be reminded of the
importance of substantive compromise. Third, there are
indications of GOET foot dragging on key logistical issues. The
UN should be supported in its message to the GOET that this is a
Timorese election and that Timorese officials must be more
proactive rather than expecting the UN to step in to save the
day. End comment.
GRAY

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