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Fretilin Leading in East Timor Vote

Election officials in East Timor say preliminary results from last week's elections show the party that led the independence struggle is poised to dominate the constituent assembly. But officials say the party has not done as well as its leaders predicted.

The Independent Electoral Commission set up by the U.N. transitional administration in East Timor announced results from five of the territory's 13 districts. In all but one district, the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor, known as Fretilin, received more than one half the votes cast, in some cases more than two-thirds of the votes.

Combined with results from five other districts released on Tuesday, the preliminary tally indicates Fretilin will enjoy a considerable majority in the 88-seat constituent assembly. The Democratic Party, founded by student leaders, is in second place with 10 percent of the vote. Under the current electoral system, each of the territory's 13 districts will choose one assembly member. The remaining 75 seats will be divided among the parties according to the proportion of votes each receives overall.

More than 900 candidates from 16 parties and 11 independents competed in the election last Thursday. U.N. officials praised the vote as free and fair despite some isolated incidents of voter intimidation during the campaign.

The assembly will draft a constitution by December that is expected to lead to presidential elections next year and a formal declaration of independence.

The overwhelming popularity of Fretilin, which led the independence struggle against Indonesia, has caused some East Timorese to worry that the new nation could become a de facto one-party state. But Fretilin party leader Mari Alkatiri has pledged to include other parties in any Fretilin-dominated government. Prior to the elections, 14 of the 16 parties signed a document pledging to respect the results and to work together.

U.N. officials say they will gradually turn over day-to-day administration of the territory to East Timorese officials in preparation for independence. Ten thousand civil servants have been hired and are being trained. And the senior U.N. official says he is preparing to name an all East Timorese transitional cabinet when the final results of the elections are announced in five days.