Vol. 12, No. 1
Support Democracy! Become an Election Observer
Become an Election Observer
By Jill Sternberg
East Timor will hold its first parliamentary elections as an independent country this year, as well as a presidential election. In response to encouragement from civil society groups in Timor-Leste, we are organizing the Solidarity Observer Mission for East Timor (SOMET), a grassroots project of ETAN and the Free East Timor Foundation. We hope you will consider joining one of the delegations or support them in other ways.
ETAN plans to have a small team of people on the ground for a few months before and after each of the elections. A larger group will arrive around ten days before each election and remain several days after the voting. We are asking delegates to commit to spend a minimum of two weeks in country, but encourage a longer visit.
The current Parliament was elected in August 2001 as the Constituent Assembly to write the constitution. Under the election laws, they had the option of evolving into the country’s first parliament, which they did. The constitution set Parliament’s maximum term at five years. Thus, some political leaders argue that since the parliament did not begin its work until August 2002, that this year’s election can take place any time before August. As of early February, the parliamentary election date has not been set. The Presidential election is scheduled for April 9.
ETAN will support a free, fair and peaceful democratic process, working in partners hip with nonpartisan Timorese civil society groups. SOMET will monitor and report on the entire election process, including civic education, the campaigns, the voting and vote counting, and implementation of the election results.
Peaceful elections are critical to Timor-Leste’s young democracy, as many people are disheartened by the continuing violence in Dili. A problematic election or post-election violence will further alienate both the Timorese population and international support for the country. International solidarity lets the Timorese know that we continue to support their struggle for self-determination, and that they are not alone at this difficult time.
By joining the delegation, you will share a momentous occasion with the East Timorese people. Anyone who has visited knows that this visually stunning country and its welcoming people leave a deep, heartfelt impression.
You will have the experience of a lifetime and contribute to the country’s emerging democracy. The delegation will consist of solidarity activists from around the world, organized in cooperation with our sister organization in the Netherlands, Foundation for a Free East Timor. We expect that everyone will return home invigorated and committed to ongoing solidarity work.
Before going, each observer needs to form a group at home to support them and to help raise funds for their participation. You must be in good mental and physical health—conditions in Timor-Leste are basic and unpredictable, and there is potential personal danger. Delegates will have to be flexible, stable and mature, committed to nonviolence and nonpartisanship. You must commit to follow project guidelines.
We ask you to publicize your involvement, write about your experience and give presentations upon your return to broaden support for East Timor in the U.S. Even if you cannot go, we need your help with fundraising and publicity.
ETAN will provide advice and materials for fundraising and publicity, select and train delegates, and organize logistical support in East Timor. We will have a debriefing after the elections to prepare delegates as they return home and continue their solidarity work with the people of East Timor.
For an application form or for more information about the observer project, go to ETAN’s website http://etan.org/etan/obproject/ann.htm or contact Observer Project coordinator Jill Sternberg at firstname.lastname@example.org.