Hopping Toward Disability-Friendly East Timor Elections
Just like citizens of other countries in the democratic world, the citizens of Timor Leste are also given the right to choose their leaders. Freedom of choice is certainly inseparable from Article 47 of the Constitution of the Democratic Republic of Timor Leste which stipulates that every citizen aged 17 years and over has the right to vote and to be elected. The exercise of the right to vote is personal and is a citizen's obligation.
Apart from that, every citizen also has the right to keep their privacy regarding who is chosen. Ideally, other people shouldn't know to whom one's votes are being given so it doesn't create a gap in the future.
However, this did not happen for people with disabilities in the general election in Timor Leste. Based on the testimony of persons with disabilities, there is not the slightest secrecy in who they provide support. This is because of their limitations and the election organizers do not provide special facilities that are friendly to disabilities.
In a citizen journalism report written by Deonizia Tilman dos Reis entitled “Visually impaired citizens remain discimin” remark, Martinho Guterres, a blind man from the City of Viqueque admitted that the local government did not provide facilities so that people with disabilities could easily access polling stations .
Moreover, those who have limited eyesight cannot see who they choose automatically. They are indeed allowed to be accompanied at the ballot stations, but they also don't know who their escort will choose at the private booth.
He also expressed concern over the condition of the tall at the polling station which is not disability friendly so he had to use stairs to get there. Those who use wheelchairs will experience difficulties so they need help from other people too.
He hoped the government would pay attention to the problems they were experiencing. Based on the experience of the blind, election organizers are asked to provide ballot papers in braille as other countries do in general elections. He also offered assistance that the organization where he is affiliated, Blind Union, could produce ballots in braille. (neonmetin.info/23 Januari 2023/ Visually impaired citizens remain discimin).
The same thing was also conveyed by Loyala da Costa Cruz, one of the blind. He shares his concerns with the Timor Leste National Election Commission (CNE) and the General Election Administration Technical Secretariat (STAE) because they did not receive braille ballots for them. When they were already at the polling stations, they felt like they were not the ones who voting, but the stranger else on their behalf.
This condition occurs in the past 2022 Timor Leste presidential election. They think that from the beginning, the government has never prioritized the rights of persons with disabilities. They cannot exercise their rights in a secrecy way. And they also don't know who to choose on behalf of his name. ((neonmetin.info/2 Februari 2023/ the countrys visually impaired citizens need braille ballot papers on election day).
Meanwhile, the Director General of STAE Timor Leste, Acilino Manuel Branco explained that from the beginning he had been informed that there was no confidentiality for persons with disabilities in elections. By law also allows people who are not disabled to help people with disabilities when voting on election day.
However, he said that in the future, as an election organizer, he would to improve adequate facilities so that people with disabilities could make their choices easily, democratically, and in confidentially. They are also committed to cooperating with the organizations of people with disabilities to fulfill the aspirations of persons with disabilities.
Based on data obtained from The Psychosocial Recovery and Development in East Timor (PRADET), the number of persons with disabilities is 34 thousand. Out of this number, 3 percent, or 1,787 of them were persons with psychosocial disabilities aged between 25 and 45.
PRADET has provided medical services to these psychosocial survivors in order to support their cognitive development. As of 2023, they have worked in seven cities, namely Aileu, Ainaro, Dili, Atauroo, Liquisa, Bacau, and Manufahi. (neonmetin.info/24 Maret 2023/ADTl Citizens Recuperated From Mental Illness Can Vote Apolinario Got Bullied In The Voting Center).
From these facts, the State of Timor Leste still has a numerous homework to continue to improve the electoral system for disabilities. Disabilities should be the government's priority and actually special attention in various matters, including elections.