|Subject: Australian/E.Timor: The battle for hearts
and minds begins
Date: Sat, 14 Aug 1999 09:50:50 -0400
The Australian 14 August 99
The battle for hearts and minds begins
>From DON GREENLEES in Jakarta
JINGLES, a boy-meets-girl radio play, television spots and unsolicited gifts: the pro-Indonesia forces in East Timor have opened their pockets to woo voters for the 14 days of the official campaign for the August 30 ballot.
With the start of the designated campaign period today, the pro-Indonesia side is ready to make what may be its final pitch to win the hearts and minds of the 450,000 registered East Timorese voters.
>From Monday, radio listeners will hear the story of Ben, an Ambonese doctor, who travels to Dili to help his East Timorese brothers. Along the way he is kidnapped by brutal pro-Independence Falintil guerillas and falls in love with a beautiful rebel, the daughter of a Falintil commander.
The radio play will run twice a day. By episode 25, all is well. Pedro, the Falintil commander, realises the error of his ways and urges everyone to vote for autonomy in the ballot. Each 15-minute episode finishes with a folkloric jingle extolling the benefits of a vote for autonomy.
Those few East Timorese with a television will also see 30-second advertisements. One scenario has two men debating East Timor's future: one supports independence and the other Indonesian rule. A third man arrives with an alternative, autonomy, under which East Timorese can have the best of both.
But if the jingles, television ads and radio play don't convince the people, there are the giveaways. Some of the gifts being offered include T-shirts and audio cassettes of folk music. There is even talk of sponsoring parties in villages.
It will be, by East Timorese standards, an expensive exercise. The radio and TV spots alone, according to an Indonesian Foreign Ministry source, will cost at least $100,000. The origin of the money, the source claimed, is the Foreign Ministry's budget.
It wouldn't be the first time the Foreign Ministry has helped out financially. Back in April it spent about $50,000 on a three-day media training seminar at the Bali Padma Hotel for pro-Indonesian East Timorese, including militia commander Joao Tavares.
Mr Tavares and others were taken through public speaking sessions and mock media interviews to hone their skills. The military commander overseeing the region that includes East Timor, Major-General Adam Damiri, gave a speech and reminded the audience of the military's support.
Members of the pro-Indonesian Forum for Unity, Democracy and Justice (FPDK) argue that while the advertising and promotion will be an important component of the campaign, the more important element will be activities in villages.
"We are going to talk directly to the people, there will be more of that compared to radio," said Jose Tavares, a senior FPDK member.
On the independence side, funds for promotion are a little more scarce. But the Council for East Timorese Resistance (CNRT) has arranged an hour of air time on Catholic radio each day and five 30-minute spots on State-owned television, TVRI. A daily bulletin of campaign news, called Vox Populi, will also be printed by the CNRT's campaign committee.
Jakarta has ruled out allowing jailed independence leader Xanana Gusmao to go to East Timor for the campaign. He told reporters after meeting UN special envoy Jamsheed Marker that he would "talk through television and radio" from the Jakarta house where he is detained.
The official campaign period ends on August 27, when there starts a two-day cooling-off before the vote. The UN Assistance Mission in East Timor (UNAMET) has negotiated a code of conduct with both sides in the hope of avoiding an upsurge of violence after the success of voter registration.
The code forbids the carrying of weapons at any political gatherings and reaffirms the right of each side to campaign freely.
UNAMET will chair eight regional election committees, comprised of pro-Indonesian and pro-independence supporters, which will co-ordinate campaign activities, particularly public gatherings.
UN officials, buoyed by the relative peace of the registration period, say they are optimistic the campaign can proceed smoothly despite some continuing incidents of violence.
"The feeling here is very optimistic," a UN official said. "The registration was such an enormous success and the feeling is the momentum is up."
The pro-Indonesian side, whose militias have been responsible for most of the violence this year, are also making conciliatory noises.
"The situation will hopefully remain secure for everyone in the campaign," said the FDPK's Jose Tavares.