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Jesuit Relief Service

East Timor alert 31-08-2001

High turnout in election

International observers say 93 per cent of the electorate voted in East Timor's first democratic, free elections on 30 August. A total of 425,000 East Timorese above the age of 17 were eligible to vote for any of 16 parties contesting seats in the constituency assembly. The winning party will almost certainly be Fretilin, which led a guerrilla campaign against Indonesian rule. Preliminary results should be announced by 5 September, although the official result will be announced on 10 September.

Susana Barnes of JRS East Timor reports: "Teams in Suai, Maliana and Dili followed the days proceedings in their districts. The team in Dili accompanied workers from JRS West Timor, who had come to observe the process and be able to reassure the refugees in West Timor. Others went to Ermera. All reported that the polling seemed to proceed without incident.

Most people left their homes early in the morning to arrive as the polling stations opened. People were dressed in their Sunday best to go and vote, in this first democratic election for East Timor. Many people had left Dili to vote in the districts and there was little, if any, local transport functioning during the day. Sr Imigrades of JRS West Timor spoke on the early morning program at Radio UNTAET and sent a message to the refugees in the camps. The West Timor team visited Manufahi and Aileu districts prior to the vote and commented on the peaceful atmosphere of the political rallies they encountered on the way.

I spent the morning driving to Liquisa and Maubara. It was a good opportunity to offer a lift to those coming back from the polling stations and ask people how the day was for them. Most were both proud and happy. Proud because this is what they had waited and dreamed so long for, the chance to participate in a democratic process for their own country. A couple of people on the way back from voting in Hera, just outside Dili said to me that they were a bit nervous for the day of the results, 10 September. Let us hope it runs as smoothly as yesterday.

Today, 31 August, the atmosphere in Dili was one of satisfaction. So far, there have only been isolated reports of irregularities. Following much debate over Fretilin comments about 'sweeping the streets clean' after the election, many people were out clearing and burning the rubbish on the streets of Dili.