Timor-Leste Holds Credible Parliamentary Elections
Dili, Timor-Leste - Following a two-round presidential election that concluded in April, the people of Timor-Leste returned to the polls on July 7, 2012, to elect a new parliament from the 21 parties and coalitions contesting the elections. IRI found that the national assembly elections were peaceful, without major incident and generally met international standards. While the final, official results will not be available for some time, there is in the making an election that is free, fair and well organized and whose results will be seen as legitimate by the people of Timor-Leste and the international community. IRI commends the country’s National Electoral Commission (CNE), Technical Secretariat for Electoral Administration (STAE) and other relevant authorities for administering a credible election process.
In casting ballots during the July 7 elections, the Timorese people showed support for democracy and their homeland. STAE and CNE deserve credit for a well-managed process, in which polling site officials carried out their work in a conscientious manner. Credit should also go to the contribution of the Timorese police, armed forces and United Nations security forces in providing a peaceful environment for the election. The atmosphere inside and outside polling stations was orderly. Disabled voters were given priority in balloting as provided by law. IRI observers noted the extensive presence of political party polling agents and domestic observers which further contributed to the atmosphere of transparency and inclusivity of the elections. The role of domestic observers from civil society and political parties is one of the more useful methods to deter fraud.
However, this election was not without some difficulties. IRI delegates observed some voters being given smudged ballots in several locations, which could lead to the ballot being voided in the tabulation process. A significant number of polling sites did not seek to verify that voters’ fingers were not already inked, which would indicate they had already cast a ballot in another polling station, before providing ballots. Confusion existed as to the placement of voting booths within polling stations. IRI also witnessed sporadic irregularities including what were apparently instances of voting by those younger than 17, the legal age of voting.
The vote count process was not consistent nationwide, but does not at this stage appear to affect the final results. IRI has no reason to believe the results will be seriously contested by any party; nor is there any indication voters were kept from the polls.
Elections are a multistep process wherein the pre-election environment, Election Day voting, counting and announcement of final results are equally important. The pre-election environment and administration in Timor-Leste were conducive to a credible process. IRI deployed long-term observers throughout the country to observe election related activities such as political campaigns, rallies and electoral preparations. These efforts gave IRI an in depth understanding of the election environment in Timor-Leste.
With the final tabulation of votes ongoing, IRI looks forward to an early announcement of the outcome and the seating of the National Assembly, thereby reinforcing the public’s assessment of the final results.
Overall, IRI concludes the election is an important step on Timor-Leste’s long road to a fully functioning, sovereign and democratic nation. Later this year, the United Nations will have a further opportunity to judge Timor-Leste’s progress. The United Nations should be able to conclude that these parliamentary elections made an important contribution to its judgment about Timor-Leste’s future.
IRI’s delegation was led by Frank G. Wisner, former U.S. Ambassador to Zambia, Egypt, India and the Philippines and included representatives from Australia, Egypt, India, Spain, Uganda and the United States.
Prior to the elections, delegation leaders were received by the president of Timor-Leste and the delegation was briefed by representatives from the U.S. Embassy, international and Timorese nongovernmental organizations, political parties and CNE. They were briefed on Timorese election laws and codes of conduct, and the rights and responsibilities of international observers. Delegates also heard from Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and former president of Timor-Leste, José Ramos-Horta.
IRI delegates were deployed to each of Timor-Leste’s 13 districts where they observed opening procedures, general voting procedures and closing and counting procedures at polling stations. Delegates identified and evaluated strengths and weaknesses in the election system, including campaign regulations, the balloting process, vote tabulation and reporting.
IRI also partnered with Observatorio da Igreja Para Os Assuntos Socials (OIPAS), a Dili-based nongovernmental organization founded in 2007 to develop Timor-Leste’s internal capacity to observe domestic elections. IRI assisted in training OIPAS’ 1,700 domestic observers, following a similar program for the country’s 2012 presidential election, which successfully deployed more than 1,600 observers at polling stations throughout the country for both the first round and the run-off election.
Funding for this election observation mission came from the United States Agency for International Development.