Long lines formed in front of polling stations
in the morning twilight more than an hour before they opened at 7 a.m.
(2000 GMT Wednesday). The atmosphere was relaxed as people joked with police
who were ushering women and children to the front of the line.
Election monitors said there were no reports of violence.
“The atmosphere is excellent,” said Wolfgang Kreissl-Doerfler, who heads the European Union’s observation team. “Voting is running very well - very fair, and disciplined.”
Voters will choose the 88-member assembly that will write the fledgling country’s constitution, and there was little doubt who would win. The Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor, which led the country’s independence struggle, had a comfortable lead in polls.
The United Nations, which has governed East Timor since 1999 when four-fifths of its people voted to end 24 years of Indonesian military occupation, says first results of the election will not be released before next week.
U.N. officials say they expect turnout at Thursday’s vote to match that of the Aug. 30, 1999 referendum. Then, 98% of voters cast their ballots despite brutal intimidation by the Indonesian military.
Despite initial fears that the current election would be marred by bloodshed, campaigning has passed practically without incident and there were no reports of violence on Thursday.
Thousands of people streamed through the suburb of Mataturo toward a high school used as a polling station.
Behind it was the old U.N. compound where 3,000 refugees sought shelter during the violence in September 1999.
Directly behind the polling booths was a brick wall topped with concertina wire which the terrified people had scaled as they fled attacking Indonesians. In scenes that shocked the world, many desperate parents flung their children over the wire into the arms of besieged U.N. workers.
“We were very scared two years ago of the violence. But two years later we are here again and it is peaceful,” said Natalia Florindo da Costa, 23, who brought her three children with her to the polling station.
Jose Ramos Horta, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and East Timor’s de facto foreign minister, was overcome with emotion as he arrived to cast his ballot. Horta predicted a turnout of 80%-100%.
“My work for 24 years is done,” he said. “People have come in freedom without violence to vote today.
BD: Peoples' Participation / Participação Dos Povos / Partisipasaun Politika - A collection of recent media releases, reports and articles