Subject: problems in east timorese participating in the elections

this was sent to us by someone in the districts who wishes to remain anonymous.

Rights: Theory and Practice in East Timor

'How about my democratic right to choose the leaders to represent me?' asks a villager who will have to walk 4 - 5 hours to vote in East Timor's first ever democratic elections. The elections are for the constitutional assembly who will write East Timor's constitution. This is the foundation of the new country but some will be denied their right to participate. Many East Timorese will have to walk long distances to vote. The young can do it but how about the old, sick, handicapped and who will look after the children and village when people are away voting?

The Independant Electoral Commission (IEC) responded: people manage to go to the market so why can't they go to vote. From remote villages young people go to the market when there happens to be transport. Another answer was but they managed to vote in the 1999 ballot for independance from Indonesia. At that time there was more public transport and there were not the remote villages that now exist. The Indonesian policy was to translocate villages near the regional centres so the people were easier to control. Now people have returned to there traditional remote villages. The sustainability of the electoral process after UNTAET's departure is also stated as a reason for not having mobile or staggered voting in remote areas. The system, however, will not be substainable anyway without UN resourses. These elections are to choose the people to write the foundations of the nation. Surely the priority is for as many people as possible to be involved. Security of the ballot and of Electoral personel is another concern but the greatest risk to security seems to be from angry, frustrated people who feel they have been excluded from the process.

Another problem I have noted is the method of IEC giving their briefings. It is done with two internationals and a language assistant. The internationals often know very little about the local situation, history or language. This leads to information being given in a less than clear way and some inaccurate information being put out because of poor understanding of the local situation and/or translation through an interpreter.

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