Voting seen as precious gift
‘‘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.