Prayer and Peace During East Timor Elections

East Timor

Young people and community members participate in a 2-day camp to discuss how to promote peace in their homes, communities, and country. Photo by Jennifer Hardy/CRS

East Timor, the world’s second-youngest country, experienced violence during elections in 2007. Now, with election season in full swing, CRS is supporting the Church’s efforts to promote a peaceful and fair election process. Darren Hercyk filed this report from the capital city of Dili.

As we approached the second round of the East Timor presidential election this week, we were not sure what to expect. There were reports of tensions rising and that the election would be too close to call. In the closing days there were large truckloads of supporters on the streets chanting for their candidate. None of this added to a festive spirit of the elections, it just seemed to add to the tension.

Timor class

Following East Timor’s independence from Indonesia in 2002, the country has faced difficulties with conflict among neighbors and groups. CRS and Church leaders in East Timor launched 111 days of prayer for peace in February 2012. Photo by Jennifer Hardy/CRS

Voting began at 7:00 a.m. on Monday, April 19, and most everything in the city was scheduled to be closed. Due to all the uncertainties of the day, the CRS offices in Dili and Baucau were also closed. As I traveled the streets of the capital Dili on election day, there was almost no one outside. At first this seemed eerie, but as the day passed, there were only reports of organized, peaceful voting. My eerie feeling was eventually replaced by calm and I enjoyed the rest of the sunshine-filled day like everyone else.

In the early evening, the preliminary results were announced and it was clear the Timorese selected their next president by a wide margin. As I called staff in different locations, there were no reports of violence. They were relieved that even the most volatile locations in Timor-Leste appeared to accept the results. Like the first round of voting, the integrity of the voting process was not in question.

Timor CRS

Peacebuilding technical advisor Lili Amaral leads an activity for young people reflecting on peace at the Comoro/Haslaran Conossian School in East Timor. Photo by Jennifer Hardy/CRS

When we opened our Dili office on Tuesday morning, all staff met for a staff safety and security meeting to discuss the elections and look ahead. Our Timorese staff were clearly pleased with the election process even though it’s likely some of them supported the second-place candidate. At the end of the meeting, our Timorese staff gave their young nation a round of applause for what it had just accomplished. The United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also congratulated the Timorese people by saying “The peaceful and orderly manner in which the people of Timor-Leste exercised their right to vote, reflects once again their commitment to stability, democracy and national unity.”

At CRS, we were pleased to play an active role in the elections with the 111 Days of Prayer for a Peaceful and Democratic Election program. This program promoted peaceful messages and education at all levels of the church, through the parishes, in schools, through youth camps, and through the media. This week we received many votes of thanks for our role in the elections to date.

The parliamentary elections are scheduled for July 7 and CRS will continue to work with the Church to promote peace through the 111 Days of Prayer for a Peaceful and Democratic Election program.

Darren Hercyk is country representative for CRS in Timor-Leste. He was most recently country representative in Sudan where he oversaw CRS’ participation in the 101 Days of Prayer for a peaceful referendum in 2011.

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