East Timor: Historic presidential elections
The people of East Timor enthusiastically voted in presidential elections on April 14, 2002. There was no surprise in their choice of President for their new state, the Democratic Republic of East Timor, which will be officially born on May 20, 2002. Xanana Gusmao won a massive 83 per cent of the vote. As Andy Alcock of Australia East Timor Friendship Association (SA) pointed out, the people of East Timor "have endorsed the new President's deep commitment to forgiveness, reconciliation and international social justice. "The East Timorese are going to need a lot of support to develop their nation after the death and destruction that has occurred since 1975 when the Indonesian military invaded the tiny nation. This development can only occur when there is peace, security and social justice in the region", said Mr Alcock. Two hundred thousand East Timorese lost their lives in the long, courageous struggle for freedom and independence. Every family has lost at least one member. After the 1999 referendum in which people overwhelmingly voted for independence, the Indonesian military unleashed their regular forces and militias — against the people and against the physical structures of the country. Everything that could be destroyed was destroyed. The United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) was installed with a mandate to provide security and set up a civil service. It employed 8500 foreign peacekeepers across the island and more than 1000 hired experts and volunteers were engaged in different projects. However, UNTAET's record is not very impressive. The presence of all those people in the capital has created an artificial bubble economy to provide for the needs of these very people. East Timor as a whole continues to be one of the poorest nations in the world. There is 85-90 per cent unemployment; 40 per cent of the population lives in poverty and 80 per cent of the population is illiterate. The Indonesians occupying forces did not educate or promote the advancement of the local people. The UNTAET has done little if anything to build a sustainable economy either. As the head of the UN Administration said, "we did not know how to do it". Seventy-five per cent of East Timorese live in rural areas with coffee as the principal crop. Low world prices for coffee and lack of infrastructure will not see a quick return for growers. It is expected that self-sufficiency in agricultural production may be achieved in two to three years. Oil gas revenues are not expected soon either. The East Timorese people face many problems on a still long road to a true economic independence, peace and security. They have achieved a great victory despite terrible odds and paid a huge price. They have also won deeply felt support and solidarity from the many people around the world who followed their courageous struggle. They are a great inspiration to the many others with similar aspirations. Given their resolve and courage there is hope that the East Timorese will achieve their goals and enjoy the peace and prosperity that have been denied them for such a long time.