Social and Pastoral BulletinNo. 90 15, Jun. 1999

From Shimonoseki (14)

Hayashi Hisashi (Jesuit Labor Education Center)

At the end of last April, right after the unified local elections, many people in Shimonoseki, including those involved in citizens' movements, felt some kind of uneasiness for a while. The reason was that Mr. K, a motor-operated wheel-chaired candidate for the city Assembly, who is the delegate of the NGO group "Building a Welfare Town", stood first on the list of unsuccessful candidates. He fell this year again by 12 votes, the same as in the last elections.

There was, for a while, a complicated collision of remembrances and opinions, but once more everybody moves forwards aiming again, without time for rest, to new goals. Grass roots get stronger upon been stepped on.

Darkness is still present there. At the same time a movement has started to expose it with light. By darkness I mean the unclearness of the stages from the time the vote, a basic human right, is given to the moment the results are publicly declared. Since Mr. K, a disabled person, presented himself as a candidate, the votes declared invalid, because they were difficult to be deciphered, increased. We, the main actors in the elections, were not aware of its dark side, in other words, we did not know about braille ballots and the measures taken when the votes of disabled people are difficult to read. Observers of the voting are limited to 10 persons settled by lots from the persons, one per candidate, selected. Political camps with many candidates have a high proportion of possibilities of more observers being selected to be present at the important time of counting the votes. There is no other fair way than the settlement by drawing lots.

Observers will not draw votes to their own camp, but they are able to decide on the invalidity of votes. People will say: "Trust their conscience", but we are continually experiencing political and economic corruption, as well as deprivation of conscience at all levels. I have the feeling of having peered through the dark defects of the election law. Citizens supporters of Mr. K filed a complaint, taken up by the media, demanding the public exposure of the invalid votes. The fact of solving such an unclearness is our responsibility as electors with the right to respect each single vote.

Overseas, East Timor, a country invaded 24 years ago by the Indonesian army and forcibly annexed to Indonesia as its 27th province, is confronting new historic times at the end of the 20th century. In a continuous situation of oppression, the people of East Timor will decide next August, by direct ballot, whether they become annexed to Indonesia as a special region or whether, denying that choice, they select their own independence.

I just visited East Timor for 10 days. The situation is much more tense than what one can hear. Even Dili city, which during the day seems safe, once it gets dark becomes a silent town where fear reigns. If one leaves for the country side, the mountain regions naturally are sites of intimidation. During my 10-day stay, at the beginning of May, the UN Conference between Portugal and Indonesia - why the Timorese themselves were absent? - took place, but people could not be protected and many were killed, wounded, and missng. Armed militia men, often drug addicts, could be seen everywhere, and people asked: "Who provides them with arms?"

The Army presence could be seen fluttering around the place. My impression was that there is no probability of fair elections, unless the Indonesian army retreats, or the UN peace keeping military makes them surrender their arms. Indonesians who came along with me thought also the same way. If the vote in favor of the plan to become an administrative region of Indonesia, forced on the natives by death threats, takes place, then the annexing becomes officially recognized by the UN. But if the plan is rejected by a majority of votes, there is a need to continue also after the election the disarming of the integration faction that, possessing great power due to their plentiful arms, boasts that they will exterminate the people desiring independence. UN officials that have entered East Timor, guarded as they are by the Indonesian army and local police, are in fact isolated from reality and those who look for true facts are hindered to do so. It is already 10 days since I left East Timor and although I pray for a favorable turn in the situation, I only receive dark news of continuing assassinations and repression. While the eyes of many around the world are fixed in Kosovo, the true reality is that irrevocable massacres are now under way in East Timor.

A Japanese TV crew entered East Timor the time I was there and I heard that they were so strictly guarded that, they just took conventional shots, without being able to do much news gathering. Due to intimidations of death, the natives are not free to speak about the coming elections. Filing a complaint in Japan to defend the respect for voting and the right to freely vote, according to one's conscience, as well as the fight against violations of self-determination coincide with supporting the people of East Timor. I agree that there is a big difference among both realities, but both of them hold dark sides and it is our task, facing the 21 century, to pour light on them.

Since time left is limited, let's move immediately into possible action.


From the Editor

§§§ I'm busy these days translating into Japanese an official document "Reflections onEcology" just published by the Jesuit Rome Headquarters. My feeling is that "finally something came out". Theworld created by God has been entrusted to us. We are not the masters of this world, we are just stewards.Presumptuousness must be avoided. The Japanese translation will be ready in July.

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