The Carter Center observers witnessed a successful election day in an election that clearly met international standards for freeness and fairness. In the post-election period, democratic development will be needed at all levels of government down to the grassroots if East Timor is to succeed as a democratic nation. It is the responsibility of Timorese civil society and the elected government, with the full support of the international community, to work toward this end.
On election day 15 observers visited 60 polling centers in 11 districts. The Carter Center congratulates the Timorese voters and the Independent Electoral Commission for elections implemented with a high degree of commitment and professionalism. The Center commends the United Nations for the important role it has played in this final step in East Timor's transition to independence.
The Center released a statement of its pre-election findings on April 12th. This summary report focuses on observer findings during a four-day deployment, April 12th-15th.
· Voter Participation: On election day, voters turned out early and in large numbers. According to the IEC, as of late April 14th the official estimate of eligible voters who cast ballots is 86.3 percent. Experiencing their third election in less than three years, East Timorese were knowledgeable about the process and for the most part voted quickly and in an orderly fashion, with but a few incidents of confusion, mainly with elderly and infirm persons. The prevailing mood was businesslike, yet there was also a sense that the day was a defining moment in a long struggle to culminate shortly with independence. The success of voter education programs was evident on election day, as most voters seemed well acquainted with the election's purpose and procedures. The decision to increase the number of East Timorese on voter education teams has had a positive effect.
· The Election Process: The IEC, established to organize for and oversee the elections, showed a high degree of professionalism in accomplishing its multiple responsibilities. The IEC recruited and trained polling staff deployed to voting centers and stations throughout the country, conducted a nation-wide voter education program, and ensured voting materials were distributed throughout the country, including its most remote regions. It is noteworthy that in this election half of the officers presiding over voting centers were Timorese. IEC offices in each of the 13 districts were coordinated by Timorese, in what is clearly an achievement in capacity building. This election demonstrates that East Timor has a cadre of trained and qualified electoral staff needed to conduct future elections at an international standard.
· Political Conduct: The two presidential candidates, Xanana Gusmao and Xavier do Amaral, adhered both to formal rules and informal agreements as the campaign period came to an end. No campaigning was observed on the day before the election or on election day itself. Gusmao and do Amaral's decision to vote together was a fitting seal to the informal agreement struck by the candidates to conduct a respectful campaign. This gesture contrasted with statements made by other political leaders regarding their intention to abstain or to invalidate their ballots.
· Domestic Observers: Carter Center observation teams encountered many of domestic observers actively monitoring polling stations across East Timor. The spectrum of groups engaged in ensuring accountability is a positive signal for future elections and the development of democratic civil society. Domestic nongovernmental organizations were instrumental in training and deploying domestic observers.
· Party Agents: There was a marked increase in party agent professionalism compared to their first efforts in August 2001. It was noted in some districts, however, that party agents were not present to witness the return and check in of ballots and other voting materials after closely watching the balloting all day. In a few districts, some stations had only one party or candidate agent present.
· Security Groups: Before election day, observers noted so-called "security groups" with no formal ties to the police or defense forces. Some described themselves as preparing for independence day activities and possible inclusion in the defense forces. We did not observe any disruptions on election day.
· Registration: Extensive registration efforts appear to have been successful, including mobile registration teams, even with the added challenge of a sharp rise in the return of refugees from West Timor since March. Observers saw no voters being turned away except for those genuinely ineligible due to problems with age or citizenship.
· Participation of Women: One-third of the District Electoral Officers were female. Women observers representing Timorese NGOs were present at most polling centers. Women of all ages, including mothers of small children and elderly made their way to the polls. In polling centers in some districts, however, observers noted few or no female party agents.
Background: After observing the 1999 referendum and being forced to leave amid the violence that followed, The Carter Center re-opened a field office in East Timor in May 2001 for the long-term observation of the August 30, 2001 Constituent Assembly elections and the subsequent constitution drafting process.
Carter Center long-term observers were deployed again to East Timor in March 2002 to monitor the pre-electoral environment in the lead-up to the territory's first Presidential election on April 14, 2002. Observers met with political parties, nongovernmental organizations, domestic observers, and voters in 12 districts.