Village leadership in the rugged and sparsely populated country of Timor Leste is an essential element of daily life. The difficult terrain and remote locations of rural villages – many of which don’t have vehicle access – make local leaders the main source of information about community, municipal and national development. They also play a crucial role in mediation and dispute resolution.

Villagers in Iha Emera in Timor Leste

Villagers in Iha Emera participating in a Mai Munisipiu event

On October 29, 2016 the young democracy of Timor Leste held village elections for the third time since the Restoration of Independence in 2002. Run-offs were held on November 13. The outcome of village elections has a very important impact on the daily lives of Timorese people, especially in rural areas.

Counterpart, through the USAID-funded Mai Munisipiu project, recently supported the two electoral management bodies in Timor Leste to hold fair, transparent and inclusive village elections:

  • The National Secretariat for Electoral Administration (“STAE”) – responsible for voter education and the technical administration of elections
  • The National Elections Commission (“CNE”) – responsible for civic education and political party registration

By focusing on creating links between the electoral bodies and the civil society organizations that advocate for vulnerable groups – women, youth, and people with disabilities – civil society leaders and electoral bodies were able to align their messages in the lead up to the elections. This, we have seen, ensured that public outreach about the village elections promoted inclusive participation and informed voting.

The results of civil society working more closely with the electoral management bodies in the lead-up to elections are already evident. The election results, which were finalized on November 13, show a dramatic increase in women winning leadership positions – from 442 villages in Timor Leste, a total of 20 women were elected as Village Chief, an increase from 11 during the previous term. Additionally, a total of 42 women were elected as Hamlet Chief, an increase from two women during the previous term.

To achieve this, Counterpart partnered with key civil society organizations – Caucus: Women in Politics (“Caucus”), a prominent women’s advocacy organization; the National Youth Council of Timor-Leste (“CNJTL”), a youth representative organization; and Ra’es Hadomi Timor-oan (“RHTO”), a disability advocacy organization. We focused on linking these partners directly to STAE, creating a channel for the groups to voice their recommendations and concerns about inclusiveness and election accessibility directly to them for the first time.

Taking it a step further, we partnered with the electoral body and local civil society organizations to produce education campaigns for print, television and radio that informed the public – specifically women, young people and people with disabilities – about the elections and their rights to vote.

Like this video in Tetum, one of Timor Leste’s two official languages:

Another partner, RHTO, produced three one-minute public service announcements that also had sign language interpretation. This the first time sign language has been included on election advertisements in Timor Leste.

Numerous organizations, including Counterpart’s partners Caucus, Ba Futuru and the CNE , conducted advocacy campaigns to encourage women not only to vote, but to also nominate themselves as candidates.

Our work has shown us that successes can be achieved when government and civil society work together to achieve common outcomes. By partnering with civil society actors and organizations, we have empowered more voices and helped to create a more inclusive Timor Leste. As we continue our program, we remain dedicated to expanding our reach by engaging more Timorese in civil society and governance. In that way, we ensure that civil society will continue creating a more just and inclusive nation representative of all its citizens.

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