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Wednesday, 29 August, 2001, 19:27 GMT 20:27 UK
Eyewitness: Enthusiasm for Timor vote
East Timor election rally
Turnout is expected to be high
East Timor is voting on Thursday in what is hoped will be its first free and democratic election since breaking away from Indonesia two years ago. The BBC's Richard Galpin has been assessing the mood.

There is a football match in the town of Liquisa, the site of a massacre during a vote for independence two years ago when dozens of people were hacked to death in the main church.

Boy with his face painted with the colours of the Fretilin flag
The public seems keen to take part in democracy
But this is no ordinary match. It has been organised by the United Nations and local organisations as part of what they are calling a celebration of democracy.

The aim is to help people put the trauma of the last time they voted behind them, and encourage them to take part in Thursday's election.

Colin Stewart, Director of the Civic Education Programme, says they have already reached a large proportion of the electorate.

"It is clear to us that most East Timorese have embraced this process and are very enthusiastic about the political process," he says. "I think most East Timorese have a sense that this is an important step on the road to democracy, and they're committed to that."

'Landmark vote'

The people voting on Thursday appear determined to be part of the democratic process.

"This election is important as the people have suffered for so many years," says one woman. "We don't want to suffer any more in our new country."

Mari Alkatiri, general secretary of Fretilin
Mari Alkatiri: Confident his party will do well
There has also been a major training programme across the country for the East Timorese who will be working as election officials. The majority of the population here is illiterate and has no experience of real democracy, after centuries of colonial rule under the Portuguese and oppressive military rule under the Indonesians.

That is why the head of the interim United Nations administration, Sergio Vieira de Mello, believes the vote on Thursday is such a landmark for this young nation.

"It is very, very significant indeed," he says. "The first truly democratic elections in this country in the past five centuries.

"An election which will provide us not only with the constituent assembly that will write the fundamental law of this country, but which will also, in all likelihood, convert itself into the first legislature of East Timor."


Campaigning by the 16 political parties contesting this election has certainly been extremely lively, with many rallies on the streets of the capital Dili in recent weeks.

Fretilin is the only organisation that has really suffered with the people during 24 years, died with the people, and organised people for the resistance

Mari Alkatiri, Fretilin
But fears the campaign could degenerate into violence, as rivalries among the politicians emerge, have so far proved unfounded.

Mari Alkatiri, one of the leaders of the largest party, Fretilin, says the process has been very peaceful.

"We already show to the international community that we are ready for a democratic system," he says. "This whole process of campaigning and the electoral process made it clear."

Mr Alkatiri's party is widely expected to win on Thursday. It enjoys widespread support after leading the long campaign of resistance to Indonesian rule, which finally ended in 1999.

Mr Alkatiri believes Fretilin could even win an absolute majority in a constituent assembly.

"People know Fretilin very well," he says. "Fretilin is the only organisation that has really suffered with the people during 24 years, died with the people, and organised people for the resistance.

"There is no doubt."

The result of this election will be officially announced in about a fortnight. The constituent assembly will then begin its primary task of drawing up a new constitution for an independent East Timor.

The United Nations administration is expected to formally hand over power to an East Timorese Government next spring.

See also:

27 Aug 01 | Asia-Pacific
East Timor's first election
24 Aug 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: East Timor
25 Aug 01 | Asia-Pacific
Gusmao runs for Timor presidency
08 Aug 01 | Asia-Pacific
Gusmao meets E Timor militias
30 Aug 00 | East Timor
Analysis: Gusmao's key role
29 Mar 01 | Asia-Pacific
Gusmao quits presidential race
30 Aug 00 | Asia-Pacific
East Timor marks year of freedom
30 Aug 00 | Asia-Pacific
Timeline: East Timor's 25 turbulent years
31 Aug 00 | Asia-Pacific
Timor's legacy of trauma
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