Thursday, July 5, 2012

ETAN: Election Observers on the Move

Dili, July 5 - ETAN volunteers joined international election observers from throughout the world yesterday for an afternoon of training by STAE: Timor-Leste's Technical Secretariat for Electoral Administration. The structure and legal basis of STAE and the National Electoral Commission (CNE) were explained, as well as the process of setting up polling places, conducting the voting, counting the votes, confirming and announcing the results.

Last evening, STAE saw the observers off with a gracious reception, presided over by Tomas Cabral, STAE's Director General, and with thanks and good wishes from Finn Riske-Nielsen, Acting Special Representative of the UN Secretary General, along with representatives of other diplomatic missions whose compatriots are observing the parliamentary election.

Today, ETAN's volunteers join their Timorese NGO colleagues as they begin to move out to the districts to monitor the voting on Saturday, July 7. The Viqueque team departs this afternoon; other teams leave tomorrow morning for Baucau and Liquica.

What are we expecting to see? What are we watching for? What are we hoping for?

Starting with the last question - we're hoping, above all, for "free, fair and transparent" - the watchwords of a democratic election process. Asosiasaun HAK, with whom ETAN is observing in Viqueque and Baucau, developed the following objectives: 

Photo by John M. Miller/ETAN

 To observe how:

  • Citizens rights to free and secure elections are guaranteed. The State has a duty to ensure elections run well.
  • The entitlement to live in peace is safeguarded.
  • The people or voters are free to exercise their rights.
 HAK observers will watch, on the one hand, how well the security services are supporting the electoral process, protecting all citizens' human rights; and, on the other, will take particular note of conditions that particularly affect women's exercise of their right to vote. HAK's teams will include in their kit a checklist developed in conjunction with the Alola Foundation for women and children, including such questions as:
  • Is there a gender balance amongst the polling staff?
  • Is there separation of the sexes in the voting line?
  • Were pregnant women or women nursing small children adequately attended to?
  • Did the media interview females?
Election observation is, above all, accompaniment. We watch. We take note. We report. We do not intervene. We hope that our presence will serve as a measure of protection (if it's needed) but, more importantly, as a quiet sign of solidarity.

-- Elice Higginbotham

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

ETAN Volunteers Support Timor-Leste Groups Electoral Work


ETAN Volunteers Support Timor-Leste Groups Electoral Work

Dili, July 3, 2012 – Tomorrow is the last day of campaigning for Timor-Leste’s Parliamentary Election. The vote will be held on Saturday, July 7, and, by law, campaigning ceases for two full days before voters go to the polls.

It’s been a noisy day in the office of La’o Hamutuk (“Walking Together,” Timor-Leste Institute for Development Monitoring and Research), where an ETAN volunteer is preparing to accompany one of the group's staff as she returns to her home district to vote over the weekend, as well as to observe the election in that district. La’o Hamutuk is on a main Dili thoroughfare, and banner-covered trucks filled with chanting party members and sympathizers, roaring motorcycle caravans, cars with amplified music and loudspeaker campaign slogans, and police vehicles with sirens blaring have passed by regularly throughout the day.

La’o Hamutuk offered a briefing this morning for international media and election observers, to provide background on key development and other issues that the new government will face in the next five years, Presenters had to stop speaking periodically, until a noisy campaign parade had passed.

Photo by John M. Miller/ETAN
In addition to La’o Hamutuk, ETAN volunteers are assisting the electoral work of two other local NGOs: Fundasaun Mahein (monitoring, research and advocacy on the security sector) and Asosiasaun HAK (Association for Law, Human Rights, Justice). Hailing from Australia, France, Uganda and the U.S., the volunteers are attending and reporting on campaign events, receiving briefings on electoral monitoring from STAE (the Technical Secretariat for Electoral Administration), and will join NGO staff as they observe voting and counting throughout the country, bringing the particular questions and objectives of each organization to the observation process. 

From this observer’s perspective, it’s been a “quiet” campaign thus far (notwithstanding the street noise!). While the public media report how well-prepared the country’s police and security forces are to confront and contain any conflict, the people of Timor-Leste do not appear poised for violence. We are regularly reminded here that the United Nations security force will be withdrawing from Timor-Leste at the end of the year - if this election goes well, that is, without significant conflict. Yet conflict seems less on people’s minds than the real issues of survival: employment, sustainable development, education, health care, land rights. Whether and how the next government will move forward on these fronts seem a far more immediate and substantial matters than whether the elections will be marred by mayhem.

La’o Hamutuk reminded us this morning that an election is more than the mechanics of voting, and democracy does not lie only in a free, fare and transparent ballot. Rather, the election is the people’s opportunity to choose the leaders who will determine the direction the country takes over the next five years: whose leadership will – or will not – respond to the Timorese people’s aspirations to vastly improve their lives.

-- Elice Higginbotham