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KEVIN CAREY reports on the controversy surrounding the Presidential election in Impovria which still hangs in the balance.
Latahasi, Democratic Republic of Impovria - After more than a week of recrimination and legal skirmishing the final result of the Presidential election in this impoverished central African state is still in doubt. With almost all the results in the two candidates, Mr. Blood of the Democratic Front and Mr. Thicket of the Republican Alliance, are neck and neck but the outcome in Bamboo Province is still in doubt.
The initial count, which relied upon a primitive mechanical assessment, showed Thicket in front but after pressure from Blood, backed by the American Special Representative Ezekiel Y. Evangelista and a group of independent observers from the European Union, officials agreed to count all the votes in the Province.
Evangelista said that the practice of voting by pushing a pin into a piece of card was primitive and that this emerging democracy would fall back into ruin if the voting was not seen to be fair. Some ballot boxes had gone missing and one turned up in a church hall but as the process does not involve comparing votes cast with votes counted it leaves itself open to abuse. Evangelista said that every vote should be counted and every vote should count.
In reply to criticism that Thicket might win the Presidency while securing fewer votes than Blood, the Minister of Justice, Mr. Pedanti pointed out that in order to avoid populist excesses, Impovria's Constitution had been deliberately drafted to suit a Republic rather than a democracy.
Matters in Bamboo Province are greatly complicated by the fact that the Governor, Glob Thicket, is the Brother of the Republican Alliance Candidate while all six judges hearing Blood's appeal were appointed by his Party when it held the Governorship before Thicket. Evangelista said that this was a recipe for nepotism, cronyism and corruption.
Meanwhile, the Bamboo Planters Association is threatening to bring the whole country to a standstill if Blood wins. In a thinly veiled statement its spokesman said:"We pumped billions of Grotas into the Thicket campaign because we know he will be good for the country's economy but if bureaucrats and judges, egged on by external interference, rig the election in favour of Blood, we will have no option but to recoup our investment in other ways".
Controversy was sparked in Bamboo when voters complained about the ballot form. Some said that they could not see the writing and others said that they could not understand the layout.
A spokesman for the Washington based World Vote Watch said: "It's incredible that there isn't a Federal standard for voting forms and in a Province like Bamboo, where there are so many elderly people because of the moderate climate, special care should be taken to provide a clear ballot form. Just because some people are not very bright doesn't mean they don't have the right to vote."
The New York based Action Against Genocide put out a statement saying that it was an "Affront" that some Bamboo voters had voted for a candidate that had massacred many of their tribe in a recent bout of internescine warfare.
At a press conference in Latahasi today, a Federal spokesman was sharply criticised by international journalists led by Tom Knowall from GNN who asked why the Federal Government was standing back from involvement in Bamboo.
"There's nothing we can do under our constitution", he replied, smiling sadly "We've been completely sidelined with key decisions left to the provinces."
Although nothing has ever been put in writing it is strongly believed in Latahasi that the American Government tied development assistance to acceptance by the interim government of a constitution drafted by Jefferson G. Lincoln of the Methusaleh Institute of Constitutional Affairs based in Williamsburg, North Virginia.
Franco van der Svensen from the European Observers was scathing in his criticism of the counting procedure: "You would think with so much depending on it they could hand count the votes just a bit faster; what's so sophisticated about taking a pile of ballot papers and putting them into two or three piles? Couldn't they just draft in a few university students; they'd be glad of the extra money".
And Lady Sniffin from the Forum for Penal Reform said that the practice in Impovria of not allowing convicted felons to vote, even when they had completed sentences laid down by the courts was "A clear breach of human rights". She went on "It's the kind of thing that needs to be put right if Impovria is finally to take its place among modern, democratic nations".
It is not clear whether the recount by hand will be allowed to become complete but it is certain that, whatever the result, the issue will be contested right up to the Supreme Court.
"It's a pity", said Evangelista "that something as simple as counting votes should end up in a legal wrangle. It's hardly asking a lot of a Province with six million votes to get a complete count of every single vote sorted out inside a week. After all, they had years to prepare for this very important election and I gather that for months now pollsters have been warning of a close result with the possible need for re-counts and", he added (quoting Tom Stoppard without acknowledging the debt) "The essence of democracy isn't voting it's counting."
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