The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) today presented its final, certified election results to SRSG Sergio Vieira de Mello at a ceremony in Dili. The Chair of the IEC Bong-Scuk Sohn, who presented the results to the SRSG, praised the East Timorese for the dignity and determination with which they turned out to vote in such massive numbers on 30 August.
“They sent a signal to their community leaders, and indeed to the whole world, that for them, a successful electoral process was more important than any particular outcome,” Bong-Scuk Sohn said, adding that “it is an attitude which typically distinguishes mature democracies from those still in a process of development.”
The SRSG congratulated the Independent Electoral Commission and the Board of Electoral Commissioners for their “remarkable work”, adding that the administration of the polling centers was carried out virtually entirely by East Timorese electoral officers.
The SRSG went on to say that the people of East Timor “have proven the skeptics wrong” and that they have shown that their country’s democracy, after only one election, “has indeed taken root.”
“While the winners at the ballot, Fretilin, deserve our congratulations, all those who took part in the elections likewise deserve credit and our utmost respect,” the SRSG added. “In East Timor today, democracy looks to be in a very healthy state indeed.”
The event was attended by more than 200 diplomats, political leaders, newly elected Constituent Assembly representatives, media and members of the public.
SPEECH BY THE CHAIR OF THE IEC, DR BONG-SCUK SOHN
Special Representative, distinguished guests, newly elected members of the Constituent Assembly, colleagues.
This morning’s ceremony marks an important milestone in the long journey undertaken by the people of East Timor.
On 10 December 1948, the General Assembly of the United
Nations, in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, proclaimed that:
With the election of the Constituent Assembly which took place on 30 August, the long-held wish of the people of East Timor to enjoy this basic human right, taken for granted in so many other countries of the world, has finally been achieved. This is a precious moment in the history of any country, and particularly precious for a country like East Timor whose people have suffered so much over the years due to historic reasons. On behalf of the Board of Commissioners, I would like to reflect for a moment on how this has come about.
Most importantly, the people of East Timor have supported the electoral process in a number of vital ways. They showed, during the campaign period, a respect for each other’s views, and a desire for peace, which even many established democracies would envy. They stood in line to vote patiently, and with great dignity and determination, overcoming the fears of electoral processes which had been burned into the minds of many of them by past tragic events. They sent a signal to their community leaders, and indeed to the whole world, that for them, a successful electoral process was more important than any particular outcome. It is this attitude which typically distinguishes mature democracies from those still in a process of development.
The political and community leaders of East Timor have also played a major role in ensuring the success of the poll. They, too, have shown a wisdom in their approach to the process which bodes well for the future, both guiding and reflecting the views of their supporters. The Pact of National Unity among a number of the contending political parties constituted a positive step towards a peaceful election campaign. Those who have enjoyed success at the polls have accepted the will of the people with humility; those who did not enjoy such success have been graceful in defeat. This, again, is a good sign for the future.
The elections have also succeeded because of the involvement of the people of East Timor in the organisation and administration of the poll. From the Board of Commissioners, to the Headquarters and District Offices of the Independent Electoral Commission, to the subdistricts and polling centres, East Timorese staff have played vital roles in the organisation of the poll. In keeping with the mandate given to UNTAET by Security Council resolution 1272 to support capacity-building for self-government, special workshops were organised for the Headquarters and District staff of the IEC to give them the opportunity to learn about, and discuss, the fundamental principles of independent and neutral electoral administration. The feedback received from the East Timorese participants has been extremely positive, and the Board is most gratified that many of them have decided to continue working with the Independent Electoral Commission, and to seek to make careers as electoral administrators.
International staff of the IEC, at the Headquarters, District and Subdistrict level, have also played a vital role in the success of the elections. Without their hard work and commitment, a fair and transparent election would have been much more difficult to achieve. The presence throughout the country of people who have come from many parts of the world with the aim of helping, and forging bonds with, the people of East Timor, symbolises the commitment of the international community to ensuring that the path to independence will be a smooth one.
Finally, organisations which worked cooperatively with the Independent Electoral Commission as the election approached have done much to ensure the poll’s success. Particular credit should go to UNTAET’s Department of Administration, Civic Education Division, Political Affairs Division, Peace-keeping force and CIVPOL; the Timor Lorosa’e Police Service; and the UN Development Programme. It needs to be recognised that successful elections are normally a result of, rather than a cause of, a good political process, and therefore special praise is also due to the community leaders of East Timor, to the non-governmental organisations which supported the process especially by undertaking civic education and deploying election observers, and to the Special Representative of the Secretary-General as the embodiment of the sovereign authority of the United Nations.
I would not have been able to stand here with a degree of pride and sense of achievement without the support, cooperation and sense of professional esprit de corps of my fellow Commissioners. Therefore, I feel it is my final duty to recognise my colleagues, and to express my heartfelt thanks to each of them. I wish in particular to pay tribute to the Chief Electoral Officer, Carlos Valenzuela, for his outstanding professionalism, which has contributed so greatly to the success of the election.
It only remains for me to thank you for joining us at this ceremony today, and to say that it has been a great honour for all of the Commissioners of the Independent Electoral Commission to have been given the opportunity to make a contribution to East Timor’s transition to independence. In this regard, let us express our fervent hope that the path towards the establishment of true democracy in this country will continue to be a smooth one, and that the people of East Timor will achieve their long desire to live in a country in which peace, prosperity and stability prevail.