Subject: New Poll Documents East Timorese Optimism about Democracy Associated Press

November 15, 2003 -- Post-independence confidence in East Timor has declined, with nearly 40 per cent of East Timorese saying they feel worse off now than under Indonesian rule and less than half optimistic about the future, according to a survey.

However, most of the 1,561 surveyed by the non-partisan International Republican Institute voiced confidence in their government, with 90 per cent describing the presidency as good or excellent, and positive appraisals of 75 per cent for the courts, 67 per cent for Parliament and 53 per cent for the prime minister's office.

The poll comes as East Timor is wrestling with a stagnant economy and doubts over the government's ability to run the country after the United Nations departs next year. The survey is based on a representative national sample with an error margin of 2.6 per cent.

"Things aren't perfect here," Deborah White, the institute's country director, told The Associated Press. "People have said there are problems with this and that," she said. "But when they rated institutions, people overwhelmingly rated them good or excellent. It says to me that there is still confidence in these institutions. People are willing to give the government a chance to solve these problems."

According to the US-funded annual survey, 42 per cent of respondents felt East Timor was better off since the country became independent in 2001, while 38.9 per cent felt it was worse off. Another 17.2 per cent felt the country had not changed.

More significantly, the percentage of Timorese who voiced optimism about the country's future dropped from 75 per cent last year to 48 per cent this year. However, only 30 per cent felt the country was headed in the wrong direction.

Respondents said their concerns about the future were fuelled by unresolved problems, with 65 per cent saying corruption had worsened since independence and 43 per cent saying the economy had deteriorated.

However, Timorese said that freedom, security and the educational system had improved since independence.

Indonesia's brutal 24-year occupation ended in 1999, prompting Indonesian troops and their proxy militias to rampage through the country, killing 1,500 people and destroying much of the infrastructure.


New Poll Documents East Timorese Optimism about Democracy

On November 11, 2003, the International Republican Institute (IRI) announced the results of East Timor's first public opinion poll. According to the survey, conducted across the country last month, a sizable majority of 68% of respondents are optimistic that democracy “will reform East Timor and solve the problems we face.”

When asked if democracy is "our best hope for the future," 84% of respondents agreed; only 6% disagreed. When asked if democracy is the best way for East Timor "to industrialize," 85% agreed. Respondents also have respect for various institutions, from the Presidency to the UN to the Prime Ministry; each received a "good" or "excellent" rating of more than 50%.

Another finding of the poll is that 89% of respondents feel free to express their political opinions, while only 5% feel they are unable to express their opinions openly.

East Timor's Foreign Affairs Minister Dr. Jose Ramos-Horta introduces the results of his nation's first public opinion poll. Photo by Nicole Seibel, USAID/East Timor

This survey reveals that citizens feel free to express their political opinions and are willing to give democracy a real chance," said Deborah White, IRI's country director in East Timor.

According to the poll, East Timor's citizens have two main concerns: "KKN" (the Indonesian acronym for corruption, collusion, and nepotism) and the economy. Some 65% said that "KKN" has become worse since independence and 43% said the same about the economic situation. On issues of democracy, freedom, security, education, and health care, more people believe that conditions have improved rather than deteriorated since independence.

IRI and the University of Dili conducted the poll in all 13 of East Timor's districts. They released the results at a special seminar in Dili, the capital. Foreign Affairs Minister Dr. Jose Ramos-Horta served as moderator with six other panelists representing political parties, academic institutions, and IRI. About 200 people attended the seminar and received copies of the results and the IRI press release in Tetum or English. The poll sampled the opinions of 1,561 East Timorese citizens across the country in numbers proportional to the population of each region. IRI estimates the survey's margin of error at plus or minus 2.5%.

USAID supports IRI in its work to strengthen East Timor's democratic institutions and encourage participation in politics by more of the country's citizens, including women. IRI's polling program seeks to increase political leaders' awareness and responsiveness to the concerns of the electorate.

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