Timor-Leste braces for ground-breaking village chief polls

Church leaders warn candidates to ensure aim of better governance at local level is realized
Timor-Leste braces for ground-breaking village chief polls

Villagers perform a traditional dance during celebrations marking 500 years of Catholicism in Timor-Leste in 2015. On Oct. 29, Timor-Leste Catholics will vote in the country's first simultaneous elections of village heads. (ucanews.com photo)

The church in Timor-Leste has warned voters and candidates to make sure ground-breaking local elections at the end of October are fair and that the victors focus on looking after the needs of the poor.

At least 2,000 men and women will contest the first-ever simultaneous election of village chiefs in Timor-Leste on Oct. 29.

More than half the country's 1.1 million population will participate in the elections to choose leaders in 442 villages.

The elections are significant because it is proof of the government's desire to decentralize the system of governance so that the needs of people can be better addressed at a local level, according to Salvador Pereira da Costa, a political analyst.

Village heads serve seven year terms and currently only implement policy directives from the central government. But when decentralization is applied across the nation in 2018, they will report to district heads and have the power to plan programs, propose budgets and implement them under the supervision of district chiefs.

Father Jovito Rego de Jesus Araujo, head of Dili Diocese's pastoral commission, said the church sees the election as important because it will lay solid foundations for democracy and nation building.

Since most contestants and voters are Catholics, therefore the church hopes that people exercise their faith and rights properly, cast their votes according to their hearts, not pressure from outside.

"What the church expects is that there are fair polls and no vote buying, because this does not educate or help people," Father Araujo told ucanews.com on Oct. 20

He also warned people to choose capable candidates who can lead and serve at a local level.

"Choose leaders who have the heart to serve, not ones who have money and power," he said.


Women's participation

Veneranda Lemos Martins, the Secretary of State for the Support and Socio-Economical Promotion of Women, said she was encouraged by the number of women standing in the upcoming elections.

Some 319 of the more than 2,000 candidates are women.

Women have contributed significantly to local and national development so people should give more women the chance to lead, starting at local level, she said.

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"I appeal to the people of Timor-Leste to support women candidates," Martins was quoted by the Suara Timor-Lorosae daily as saying on Oct. 21.

One female candidate, Rosantina Mendonca, said she is competing against five other candidates to become the leader of Comoro village in Dili.

"I am confident about going up against men because women's participation has been guaranteed by Timor-Leste law," Mendonca told ucanews.com.

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