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Pre-Election Statement on East Timor Elections, Aug. 23, 2001

Carter Center observers have monitored the pre-election environment in East Timor since June 2001. Teams in the eastern, central, and western regions have conducted interviews with election officials, political party representatives, peacekeepers, police, domestic observer groups, voters, and civil society organizations. They have also observed civic education campaigns, voter education, campaign rallies, and other events related to the political process. The long-term observers will be joined by short-term observers on August 25, to provide greater coverage for the balloting on August 30. This is the first in a series of public reports on observer findings.

On August 30, 2001, East Timorese voters will go to the polls to elect an 88-member Constituent Assembly comprising 75 national representatives and 13 district representatives. Voters will vote on two separate ballots, one for national parties and independent candidates, and one for district-level party and independent candidates. There are 16 political parties registered to contest the ballot, along with 5 independent candidates at the national level and 11 independent candidates spread throughout East Timors' 13 districts. The official campaign period runs from July 15 - August 28, with a one-day 'cooling-off period' before the ballot on August 30. Civic education and voter education campaigns began before, and continue through, the political campaign period.

During the July 16-27 exhibition and challenges period, the Independent Election Commission (IEC) heard complaints from prospective voters missing from the preliminary voter rolls. According to information from the various IEC district officials, this discrepancy or shortfall ranged from 3% to 18%. The challenges of setting up both a Civil Registry and Voters list at the same time, coupled with the challenges of using high tech computer equipment under difficult field conditions, led to some confusion and errors. Nevertheless, the IEC has worked hard to reinstate as many 'lost' voters as possible, and approximately 20,000 voters were added to the voters list after the exhibition and challenges period. The final voters list of more than 420,000 is available for viewing as of August 23 to ensure that all voters clearly understand where they must go to vote.

The IEC generally is to be commended for its preparations for the elections; however, mechanisms for investigating or processing electoral violations are inadequate. Most of the burden falls on the civilian police and court system, and criminal cases do not address party responsibility for behavior. This is a lesson learned for corrective action in the future.

The UNTAET-sponsored National Civic Education Program got off the ground after some debate, ultimately leading to a program which was more inclusive of civic society organizations. This delay, however, has left very little time before the elections for civic education teams to build a strong understanding of multiparty democracy and the political process. The national civic education campaign has been complemented by a number of programs conducted by church, university, and civic society organizations. The widespread dissemination of information by Radio UNTAET and the community radio stations has been significant for the civic education campaigns. Both the national program and parallel NGO activities plan to continue for several months after polling day.

Voter education teams, focusing on the balloting process itself, have achieved wide coverage, sometimes down to the sub village level. Sample ballot posters, flipcharts, and illustrative comics can be see throughout the territory. Voter education programs have been hindered, however, by constraints of time, transport and translation, as well as technical problems. The final phase of voter education covers technical aspects of voting, vote counting, and the secrecy of the ballot. As with the civic education programs, parallel NGO voter education programs are important for ensuring better coverage and supporting democracy in the long term.

In a number of districts, political parties with significant local level bases of support were unsuccessful in placing their district level candidates on the ballot. Candidates were rejected largely due to application errors, such as registering the same person for national and district elections or selecting someone with an address outside the district. Despite a one-week extension in application deadlines by the IEC, last-minute submissions made it impossible for some parties to correct their errors in time, also leading to rejections. Although most parties have accepted their errors in registration, the lack of local candidates in some districts may exacerbate party tensions.

Since the beginning of the campaign period on July 15, parties have carried out rallies and events largely without violence or inter-party conflict. Feared threats from those opposed to the political process have not materialized, as most East Timorese have decided to join the electoral process.

A significant step in the in the political process was the signing of the Pact of National Unity by 14 of the 16 political parties on July 8, 2001. The Pact is especially important as it was generated by the political parties themselves. A critical clause in the Pact (Article 3) states that, "the representatives of the political parties signing this Pact commit themselves to defend the principles of non-violence by fostering dialogue, a culture of tolerance and mutual respect, and observe the principles of good citizenship and social conviviality." The Pact has also been replicated in a number of districts by district-level unity pacts, which have helped to maintain tolerance between political parties in those districts. In some districts, smaller political parties have successfully campaigned together, reinforcing the idea of multi-party democracy.

However during the campaign period, some political parties have used inflammatory or provocative language in their campaign speeches that raise serious questions about the parties' adherence to the Pact. References to opponents as "communists" or "traitors" are unfortunate examples. The most troubling statements involve references to "sweeping up," a phrase in the local Tetum language reminiscent of previous Indonesian military and militia threats. Following these statements, East Timorese in some areas have expressed fears of post-election retribution toward political parties, their leaders and supporters. Carter Center observers have also received credible reports of similar statements by non-party political organizations.

In addition to verbal statements, limited but credible reports of sporadic intimidation and violence at the local level, including at least one case of physical assault which resulted in criminal charges, have also been received. A number of parties cite these instances of intimidation as affecting their ability to campaign, causing them to scale back planned campaign activities, and in some cases party members have resorted to meeting in secret. Any such intimidation is clearly contrary to both the spirit and the letter of the Pact of National Unity.

As the political campaign period draws to a close, political parties should refrain from language that can be interpreted as a call for followers to intimidate other parties. A peaceful campaign period is one of the most important steps that East Timor can take towards ending the fears of the past and establishing a strong and successful democracy.

Domestic observer groups supply both geographical coverage and local knowledge which is critical to ensuring free and fair elections. Carter Center observers have benefited from discussions and cooperation with the national observer groups in various stages of development. Logistics and transportation, however, have been difficult, and in some districts groups that were interested in becoming observers had to decline due to lack of transportation. The IEC has been very responsive in accrediting groups wanting to do election observation, and this should build considerable domestic observation resources for future elections.

Despite initial confusions and delays regarding the registration of political party poll-watching agents, these party observers are now being identified and trained throughout East Timor. Like the problems with candidate registration, much of the problem lay in the breakdown of communication between national and district party offices. Political party agents will be responsible for informing IEC officials of observed irregularities in polling stations on voting day. Each party can field one political party poll watcher at each polling station.

Most of East Timor's political parties have incorporated women candidates in their national and district party candidate lists. While UNTAET suggested a goal of 30% women candidates, the national average for all parties is 27%. In addition, there are 3 independent candidates at the national level and 3 at the district level. Of potential concern is the number of women who will actually win seats in the Constituent Assembly, as many of the women candidates on national party lists are near the bottom of the lists and less likely to be elected. The Women's Caucus, however, has been lobbying strongly for women candidates and women's issues, and intends to provide support for elected assemblywomen as well. Women are also playing an active and important role in NGO elections-related activities and as election observers.

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