Vot­ing seen as pre­cious gift

Matamata Chronicle - - News -

‘‘It was democ­racy at its best,’’ Waikato MP Lind­say Tisch said on his re­turn from mon­i­tor­ing the gen­eral elec­tion in East Ti­mor.

Mr Tisch said on Elec­tion Day, July 7, a day which of­ten led to civil un­rest in war-torn coun­tries, the streets were quiet and cit­i­zens stood pa­tiently for hours to cast a vote.

Along with col­league Phil Goff, Mr Tisch was part of the ASEAN (As­so­ci­a­tion of South­east Asian Nations) Re­gional Forum ob­server mis­sion which in­cluded 14 high-pro­file in­ter­na­tional po­lit­i­cal and ju­di­cial rep­re­sen­ta­tives, present when vot­ing took place.

It was the first time the young and de­vel­op­ing coun­try had run its own elec­tion and the gov­ern­ment had re­quested a del­e­ga­tion of in­ter­na­tional ob­servers be there.

New Zealand MPs Kennedy Gra­ham, Jac­qui Dean and Bar­bara Ste­wart also made up the wider group of in­ter­na­tional ob­servers, to­talling 150 as part of the re­gional mis­sion.

‘‘Our role was just to ob­serve the prac­tices in place,’’ Mr Tisch said.

He said with the help of a UN-spon­sored ref­er­en­dum in the past five years, the coun­try has been able to se­cure in­de­pen­dence and have sta­bil­ity.

The UN has kept a strong pres­ence in the coun­try to en­sure peace con­tin­ues, but had planned to pull out in De­cem­ber, partly de­pen­dent on how well the elec­tions ran.

‘‘In terms of Elec­tion Day it was de­scribed as ‘bor­ing’ – in the sense that they had no trou­ble,’’ Mr Tisch said.

‘‘It was such a sig­nif­i­cant day for these peo­ple. Some of them walked for two hours to get to a polling booth. The el­derly women were dressed in their Sun­day best. It meant a lot to them.’’

Voter turnout was more than 70 per cent. Teams of peo­ple manned the polling booths and man­u­ally went through ev­ery vote to re­lease the re­sults the next day.

While East Ti­mor has plen­ti­ful re­sources, with off­shore oil fields and nat­u­ral gas which has en­abled it to build a $10 bil­lion oil fund, it is rife with cor­rup­tion, Mr Tisch said.

‘‘There is no civil ser­vices or hu­man re­sources to help de­velop the coun­try and youth un­em­ploy­ment is high.

‘‘Fifty per cent of the pop­u­la­tion is un­der 24 and 40 per cent are un­der the age of 15. A whole gen­er­a­tion has been taken out by the con­flict.’’

‘‘The fo­cus is to make sure these kids have the op­por­tu­nity to get an ed­u­ca­tion,’’ he said.

New Zealand con­trib­utes $12 mil­lion to the coun­try each year, which goes to­wards ed­u­ca­tion, food, community polic­ing train­ing, in­fra­struc­ture and IT de­vel­op­ment.

‘‘ It’s in New Zealand’s in­ter­ests to have sta­bil­ity and se­cu­rity in the South East Asian re­gion,’’ Mr Tisch said.

New Zealand will continue to have a vested in­ter­est but he is op­ti­mistic East Ti­mor is on track to a bet­ter fu­ture.

‘‘I think the em­pha­sis will move to eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment.

‘‘ In 2030 it would have lifted its in­come and with the de­vel­op­ment of aqua­cul­ture, agri­cul­ture and tourism, it will be a mid­dle in­come earner.’’

Over­seas mis­sion: Waikato MP Lind­say Tisch was an of­fi­cial ob­server at the East Ti­mor elec­tions.

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