14 July 2012

People with Disabilities have the Right to Vote

Ra’es Hadomi Timor Oan (RHTO) National Disabled People Organisation in Timor Leste (NDPO-TL) Address: 10 Rua Balide-Lahane, Mascarinhas, (PO Box 1006), Dili, Timor Leste - A woman in a wheel chair approached the voting station across a rough, rock-strewn path with the assistance of her small son pushing with mighty effort. At the entrance to the booth she abandoned her chair and crawled up 3 steep steps into the polling station, located in a suco in the district of Viqueque. She sat on the dirty floor in frontof the president of the polling station and marked the box of her chosen party in full view of the 20 or so people gathered around. Her completed vote was folded and posted in the voting box by a STAE worker. Her vote was not confidential.

Throughout Dili and the districts, people with disabilities observed the National Parliament Election as members of the OIPAS observer team. RHTO project officer and campaign organiser Joel Fernandes said that all but 3 booths in Dili had stairs that created barriers to people with disabilities, many of whom had to be carried up stairs in order to cast their vote. Toilets, when available, were not accessible and ballot boxes were too high for people in wheelchairs. He also reported pregnant voters, the elderly and people with disabilities were not given priority to vote.

“In Viqueque blind people, accompanied by a family member were assisted instead by STAE. The President of the polling booth completed the blind person’s ballot sheet by reading aloud the party names and numbers for the person and punching the sheet as instructed’’. Maun Joel said. “And this was seen and heard by up to 30 people. Such a breach of privacy is something no Timorese person should endure. It is a denial of our most fundamental rights – to equality and freedom from discrimination.”

The experience of RHTO members, people with disabilities, who observed in the March Presidential Elections, identified areas for action for the National Parliamentary Election. The RHTO campaigned actively to increase participation of voters with disabilities.

The RHTO distributed brightly coloured T-shirts throughout the districts – with the message that People with disabilities have the right to vote. RHTO also identified poor vision and poor lighting, the size of the ballot card and photographs, as barriers for many voters. The organisation purchased and distributed magnifying lenses throughout Timor Leste. With the assistance of STAE, lenses were also provided at every polling booth in Dili.

Mr Joaozito dos Santos CEO of RHTO said that RHTO delivered some training to OIPAS observers, STAE staff, ASEAN and UNMIT observers prior to the election but noted: “ït was clear that people had little knowledge of what it means to have a disability. We are keen to workin partnership with STAE and CNE in the future to ensure access for all voting Timorese – in compliance with the Constitution of Timor Leste.”

RHTO is pleased to receive any photographs or reports from other observers recording issues of access.

Email:joaozito.dpo@tlmtl.org mobile: 7329907joel.morais.fernandes@gmail.com mobile: 7287342

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