|Subject: SMH: Poll reveals public ignorance
about East Timor election
Sydney Morning Herald May 23, 2001
Poll reveals public ignorance about East Timor election
By Mark Dodd, Herald Correspondent in Dili
Only 5per cent of East Timorese understand the purpose of the United Nations-organised election to be held on August 30, a voter education survey released yesterday found.
Most thought they would be choosing a president rather than an assembly.
The survey [full report as PDF file], undertaken by the US-based Asia Foundation with help from local non-government organisations, is the first to assess East Timorese political opinions and knowledge.
Its findings raise serious concerns for the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) on whether the August ballot can be called democratic with such a low level of public awareness.
The election is for an 88-seat Constituent Assembly which, once elected, will have 90 days to ratify a new Constitution.
"Of particular concern is that so few people - just 5per cent - know that the purpose of the upcoming election is to elect a Constituent Assembly," an Asia Foundation official, Ms Tessa Piper, said.
"Sixty-one per cent mistakenly think that the election is to chose a president and 22 per cent think that the election is to achieve full independence."
On a positive note, 75 per cent of those polled said they felt the country was heading in the right direction, although the survey also revealed a high level of anxiety about the potential for election-related violence.
The survey, conducted in February and March, polled 1,558 people living in 196 villages across all of East Timor's 13 districts. The international survey research firm AC Nielsen helped to design the questionnaire and train survey staff.
Ms Piper said that while the report offered specific recommendations on civic and voter education programs before polling day, she had doubts whether a turnaround could be achieved.
"There is actually a staggering lack of knowledge on what this election is about. Whether or not we have time to do all of the work that is necessary ahead of the election is a very good question," she said.
"Clearly there will be an enormous amount of work to be done by UNTAET and by the NGOs concerned to try and catch up and clearly it is going to be an enormous task."
UNTAET's director of civic education, Mr Colin Stewart, said,
"These are important results and are helpful. But, I don't think they are shocking - we knew we would be dealing with a significant challenge. I'm confident we will have the means and the time to address this."
Other important findings that will challenge the civic education campaign include a 34per cent nationwide illiteracy rate. The incidence is highest in the enclave of Oecussi (69 per cent) and lowest in the capital, Dili (20per cent).
The survey found that 91 per cent of East Timorese chose the national language, Tetum, as their most preferred means of communication.
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