More Links in News & Events

Postelection Statement on East Timor Elections, Sept. 1, 2001

Dili, East Timor…We would like to commend the people of Timor Lorosa'e for their massive and peaceful participation in the August 30 elections and congratulate the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) and the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET), which worked hard for an efficient and peaceful electoral process. Political party leaders, candidates, and supporters together with civil society organizations, actively participated in the democratic political process on a large scale. To this point, but with vote tabulation still ahead, we find that the elections meet international standards for freeness and fairness.

Summary of Findings:
Due to clear voter commitment to a peaceful vote, and the coordination of the Civilian Police (CIVPOL), the UN Peace Keeping Forces (PKF) and the work of Timorese polling officials and IEC staff, the security climate was calm, with no major incidents of violence or intimidation. Turnout was high and concentrated in the morning hours. Voter education seemed to have been successful, with the majority of voters understanding the mechanics of the voting process.

However, questions remain about the impact of civic education programs and capacity building for future elections. Many voters were unclear as to the specific purpose of the election. While Timorese polling officials were for the most part well prepared despite a brief training period, in some cases there was an absence of ownership of the process. Political party agents, widely present in all districts, varied in their understanding of the Code of Conduct and will need to be better informed in the future to play their essential role.

We were invited by UNTAET and welcomed by East Timorese political and civic leaders to observe this historic election. Our delegation consisted of 27 people representing nine countries. The delegation was led by US Representative Eni F. H. Faleomavaega, former Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea Sir Michael Somare, Director of the Carter Center's Democracy Program Charles Costello, and Jeff Carter.

The Carter Center monitored the 1999 referendum balloting but was forced to leave after the wave of violence directed by Indonesian military forces. The Center re-established its field presence in East Timor in May 2001. In late June we began deploying long-term observers around the territory to monitor the pre-electoral environment. In the days prior to the August 30 vote, observers met with political party leaders at all administrative levels, IEC and UN officials, other international observer groups, domestic election observers, civil society representatives, and members of the local populace. The short-term observers and Carter Center staff joined the long-term team on August 25.

Prior to the arrival of the short-term delegation, the Center issued one pre-election report on August 23 commenting on campaign activities, electoral preparations and the security situation in the territory. During the pre-election monitoring, the Center found that:

- Although there were serious technical problems in the production of the civil registry from which the voters roll was drawn, the IEC worked hard to ensure that all eligible voters would be able to cast a ballot. The Exhibition and Challenges period proved an important step in the process for identifying and addressing the problems.

- UNTAET's civic education programs started too late, leaving very little time before the elections for civic education teams to build a strong understanding of multi-party democracy and the political process.

- Political activity, including campaigns, proceeded smoothly for the most part and without serious incident. This was due in large part to the Pact of National Unity developed by the political parties themselves. Some parties, however, for a time used language that both voters and other parties found inflammatory and intimidating, and a few incidents were reported of threatening behavior on the part of political parties.

On election day, our delegation observed 49 polling centers in 12 districts. This preliminary statement covers initial findings from our observation on balloting day and the days immediately prior to the election. Observers reported no major irregularities and a relatively small number of minor irregularities. The teams' observations were as follows:

  • Security: Overall, the security climate was calm and very positive. No campaign activity was seen in the vicinity of polling centers, nor were identifiable party security groups visible near any polling centers. Neither CIVPOL nor IEC officials reported any security issues or major irregularities. Anticipated problems in Viqueque, as in the Ossu area [where significant numbers of people chose not to register for the election], did not materialize.
  • Turnout: Turnout averaged 91%, according to figures released by the IEC on August 31. The district with the highest voter turnout was Ermera, with 94.3%, while Dili had the lowest voter turnout, with 87.1%. Voting was peaceful and orderly throughout the territory. As in 1999, hundreds of voters were already present at the opening of the polls, some having spent the night at the polling center or arriving as early as 1:00 or 2:00am. Voters waited patiently, often for long hours, before voting. Except in large population centers, voting for the most part was finished by 4:00 p.m., and polls closed without incident.
  • Poll Openings: In some polling centers voting began after 7:00am. Delays were mostly caused by confusion on the part of newly trained polling staff or a lack of necessary materials. No poll openings were delayed by violence or intimidation.
  • Polling officials: Training programs only occurred a few days before polling and teams observed a range in the efficiency of polling staff. In some instances stations ran very smoothly, while others were quite disorganized. In almost all cases, the process improved over the course of the day. Many polling officials were conscientious about elderly men and women, pregnant women, and women with small children, allowing them to move to the front of the voting lines as advised in the polling manual.
    Some officials obstructed the legitimate work of observation perhaps due to misunderstanding of the IEC's code of conduct for observers.
    Opportunities for the East Timorese to increase their capacity to independently conduct an election was constrained by insufficient training and too little decentralization of authority from the international polling staff. Restrictions over central elements of the process such as ballot handling were requested by Timorese political leaders and agreed to by the IEC. A sense of ownership of the process by the East Timorese polling officials was noticeably absent in many polling stations, a matter of concern for future elections.
  • Voters List: Prior to election day, there was concern that substantial numbers of potential voters might not find their names on the voters list. The IEC put mechanisms in place to deal with this potential problem. Voters not found on the official voters list who had proof of registration were successfully able to vote. In a few cases, voters were redirected to the correct polling centers within their districts.
    The format of the voters list, however, made it difficult for polling officials to expeditiously locate voters' names. This substantially delayed the process and sometimes contributed to confusion. A poorly done civil registry compiled by a UN contractor from which the voters list was extracted will create problems in the future and will require further repair work.
  • Political Party Conduct: We commend the political parties for adhering to the Pact of National Unity by respecting the August 29 cooling-off day and refraining from party activities on election day. For the most part, political party campaigns did not focus on clear party platforms and parties' plans for the future constitution. Some parties relied on networks established during the pre-transition period to garner support and the popularity and influence of key leadership within the party.
    Now as the counting process moves forward, it will be important that all political leaders respect the result of the ballot which reflects the will of the people. Carter Center leadership met with major party leaders who all assured the delegation they would accept the election results. In addition, parties should engage in and support inclusive discourse and debate on critical policy issues.
  • Presence of party agents: Political party agents were present in all districts visited. In most districts, both large and small parties were represented. However in numerous cases, political parties had more than one party agent in each polling station and large groups of party agents from a single party were often outside a polling center. At times, political party agents were unclear of or overstepped their roles, assisting voters with their ballots, walking people to vote, giving advice, and attempting to do crowd control.
  • Domestic Observers: Domestic observers were present in most polling centers visited although their numbers were considerably less than anticipated. The combination of misinformation among domestic observers and strict rules on voting location prevented many from voting. We commend the numerous domestic groups whose coverage was an important contribution to a free and fair election.
  • Voter and Civic Education: Voters generally exhibited a good understanding of the technical process of voting. We commend the IEC, as well as many non-governmental groups, for conducting effective voter education campaigns in a short period. However, the effectiveness and impact of the broader civic education campaigns are far less clear. What could have been a broad and comprehensive UNTAET-sponsored civic education campaign started too late, and its effectiveness was reduced as a result. Voters in many instances seemed unclear about the purpose of the election. In order for the constitutional drafting process to be inclusive and participatory, a better understanding of the purpose of the constituent assembly is needed. Civic education should continue in the succeeding months as the Constituent Assembly meets and begins to draft the new nation's constitution.

The delegation's overall sense of the electoral process was positive. Our observers were impressed by the IEC's commitment to ensuring a free and fair election. We also commend the poll workers, party agents, and domestic observers who worked long hours over the past few months to take advantage of this opportunity for an exercise in democratic self-government. The impressive degree of voter participation; the calm and overwhelmingly tranquil election day environment; self-restraint by established and fledgling parties - all these characteristics of the Timor Lorosa'e election provide a lesson in democratic conduct to countries in the Pacific region, and elsewhere, facing challenges to their own democratic commitment.

Two years after their vote for independence, East Timorese turned out in large numbers, almost 91%, to participate in the elections to elect the territory's first Constituent Assembly. This is a precedent setting event and the election will set the tone for the next phase of the transition. Building democracy requires more than a single event of an election, the East Timor people have much work ahead and it is important for UNTAET to consider the elections as one of many steps still required to fulfill its mandate. We will continue to monitor the counting and tabulation of votes in the days ahead as well as the constitutional drafting process, and the Center will publish a final and more comprehensive report by late September.

Donate Now

Sign Up For Email

Please sign up below for important news about the work of The Carter Center and special event invitations.

Please leave this field empty
Now, we invite you to Get Involved
Back To Top