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East Timor Candidates Intensify Campaigns - 2001-08-26

Campaigning in East Timor is entering its final phase, leading to elections next Thursday for an assembly that is to draw up a constitution for the soon to be independent nation. Candidates are intensifying their rallies as the countdown to the election nears an end.

Dili's sports stadium hosts another rally, a political festival that in recent weeks has become an almost daily occurrence. The rally was held by the Democratic Party, one of the larger of the 16 political groups competing in the upcoming elections.

A few blocks away on a soccer field that is the second most popular rally location, the Timorese Workers Party was holding its assembly with speeches, cheers, and a local rock band. A couple of hundred people turned out for this one.

Political analysts note this election is part of a transition process that is to make East Timor an independent state sometime next year.

Because East Timor is still in transition, little popular attention is focussed on political or ideological issues. Despite an intensive voter education campaign by the United Nations, which is overseeing the transition, many voters are confused. Some people think they are voting for president, others think they are voting for immediate independence and the departure of the U.N. staff.

But almost everybody wants to conclude the process that will end centuries of foreign domination and close the file on one of the world's last decolonization issues.

A number of observer groups are here to monitor the vote. The Asia Network for Free Elections is a regional group that is deploying dozens of observers around the country. Coordinator Steven Beeby told VOA it is clear that this is a new experience for East Timorese.

"A lot of political parties are new, I mean they are very new at the campaigning, so they got off to a slow start," he said. "Some of the parties have not done a lot of campaigning, but the major parties have certainly done some effective campaigning."

Mr. Beeby noted that despite fears of violence the campaign has been peaceful and orderly. As a result, he feels East Timor is entering the elections on a positive note.