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"The heated debate surrounding citizenship is an indication of the resentment that exists toward former East Timorese emigres by those who stayed in East Timor or in Indonesia during the liberation struggle. ... Another hotly debated issue is quotas for women. In its recommendations, the NC argued that 30% Constituent Assembly seats must be filled by women." Vanja Tanaja, Dili


Green Left Weekly

Wednesday March 14, 2001

Timor: Debate over Constituent Assembly election process

Vanya Tanaja, Dili

The “Draft Regulation on the Election of a Constituent Assembly to draft the Constitution of an Independent and Democratic East Timor” was presented to East Timor’s National Council by the United Nations Transitional Administration for East Timor (UNTAET) on March 2.

In February, many representatives of political parties and non- government organisations made submissions at public hearings on the draft regulation for the registration of political parties.  At the hearings, representatives argued that laws regulating political parties needed to be part of a broader set of electoral regulations. Suggestions were made about what should be contained in the draft regulation.

In the end, the draft regulation on the registration of political parties that was discussed in February became part of the Constituent Assembly regulation.

The draft regulation includes rules on the composition of the Constituent Assembly, the tasks and authority of an independent electoral commission, the registration of political parties and how Constituent Assembly seats are allocated. Much of the regulation is derived from recommendations made by National Committee’s Political Affairs Committee (PAC).

The draft regulation stipulates that the role of the assembly is to implement the aspirations of the East Timorese people as expressed at the August 1999 independence ballot. The regulation states explicitly that the Constituent Assembly will be composed of those who support independence for East Timor.

This counters the worries of some council members that pro- Indonesian integrationist parties would run in the elections.
In accordance with the recommendation of the PAC, the assembly will have 88 members. Thirteen will represent districts and will be elected on a “first past the post” basis. The remaining 75 will be elected by proportional representation and be known as “national representatives”.

Once elected, the assembly is expected to adopt a constitution within 90 days of its first sitting. The constitution will have to be approved by 60 of the 88 members. After adopting a constitution, the assembly will become East Timor’s parliament.
The same criteria used in the August 1999 referendum to determine a person’s eligibility will be used in the Constituent Assembly election. A person must have been born in East Timor, or had at least one parent born in East Timor, or be married to a person who was born in East Timor. Voter registration and the casting of ballots will only take place in East Timor, unlike during the 1999 referendum when voting also took place in other countries.

An Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) will be formed to oversee the registration of political parties, the Constituent Assembly election and, subsequently, the allocation of seats. The IEC will determine whether the poll is “free and fair”. The IEC will be composed of five commissioners, only two of whom will be East Timorese. The others will be “internationally recognised” experts on electoral matters.

A National Constitutional Commission will be formed under the aegis of the Constituent Assembly to organise “consultations” on the process of drawing up the country’s constitution.

Under the provisions of the draft regulation, a political party will require 500 endorsees before it can register. A person signing one party’s application may not sign another party’s. A party must also submit its statutes, constitution and the details its leaders to the IEC in order to register. Under the previous draft registration of political parties regulation, a party needed to present 1000 signatures.
Independent candidates are also required to present 500 signatures. A district candidate needs the signatures of at least 100 people from the particular district they are seeking to represent. District representatives may run without endorsement from a political party.
Some National Council members remain undecided about recommending the passing of the draft regulation. The NC has no power to pass regulations, it can only recommend that the transitional administrator, Sergio de Mello, pass them.

The doubts stem from not knowing the details of the date of the election, where and how vote counting will take place and the number of votes that will be required to win a seat. Trabalhista (Labour) Party representative Angela Freitas has questioned these gaps.
UNTAET representatives responded that such details will be addressed by additional regulations and directives to be issued by de Mello. There is also disquiet in the NC regarding the issue of dual citizenship. Many members are opposed to candidates for the Constituent Assembly holding dual citizenship. Avelino Coelho de Silva, the Socialist Party of Timor’s NC representative told Green Left Weekly that this issue needs to be settled soon.

UNTAET has stated that the issue of citizenship must be decided by an elected body, not by unelected officials. But no elected representative body exists in East Timor.

The heated debate surrounding citizenship is an indication of the resentment that exists toward former East Timorese emigres by those who stayed in East Timor or in Indonesia during the liberation struggle. Should dual citizenship be ruled out for candidates, this would cut out most of UNTAET’s present coalition partners, especially in the cabinet.

The registration of voters will be conducted by a Civil Registry Office which will issue ID cards for registration purposes only.  The cards will denote residency, but are unrelated to the issue of citizenship. It seems no part of UNTAET is prepared to deal with the citizenship issue.

Another hotly debated issue is quotas for women. In its recommendations, the NC argued that 30% Constituent Assembly seats must be filled by women.

However, criticisms were raised in the council—ranging from the argument that such a measure would discriminate against men to the view that quotas are tokenistic and imply lower quality of candidates. UNTAET was opposed to the quota proposal because it was worried it would set a precedent for other elections it presides over.

The recommendation was acted upon in the draft regulation in the form of a provision that stated that parties who meet the quota shall receive assistance from UNTAET. This assistance will be in the form of free air-time on UNTAET’s media, space in newspapers and publications, and assistance with photocopying and transport.  Parties who field more than 50% women candidates will receive double the amount of assistance.

There was much consternation over this section of the regulation, especially from small parties who may not be able to fill this quota. One woman member of the council argued it was treating women as commodities to be traded.

UNTAET and the NC member representing women (and Social Democratic Party member) Milena Pires responded by saying that this provision was an incentive for parties to promote women and it avoided the UN imposing quotas on an elected body.
Avelino Coelho strongly argued against quotas and condemned them as a system of “trading in women” to obtain material assistance. He said he was concerned that candidates’ political abilities would not be tested adequately if they were put forward simply for being women.

The PST is fielding a large number or women candidates in the 88 seats it will run for. These candidates have been chosen on merit, the party said.

However, women’s groups and Milena Pires are concerned that should no decisive attempts be made to ensure that women are included among political parties’ candidates, then there will be no women elected at all.

“A constitution should not ignore half of its population”, Pires said in an address to the NC. She did agree that quotas alone were not enough to tackle women’s lack of representation.

The NC’s will decide whether to recommend the draft regulation at its next sitting on March 12.

Green Left Weekly
GLW was launched in 1990 by the Democratic Socialist Party (DSP), the socialist youth group Resistance and other progressive activists to present the views excluded by the big business media. In these days of growing media concentration GLW is an independent voice committed to human and civil rights, global peace and environmental sustainability, democracy and equality.
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