Australia Timor-Leste Friendship Network (AusTimorFN) in conjunction with Deakin University’s Centre for Citizenship, Development and Human Rights (CCDHR)

Formal Report:

Presidential election 17 March 2012

21 March 2012

Prepared by Damien Kingsbury and Michael Maley

The Australia Timor-Leste Friendship Network Facilitators Incorporated and Deakin University’s Centre for Citizenship, Development and Human Rights congratulates the people of Timor-Leste on a successful 2012 presidential election and the consolidation of the democratic process in Timor-Leste.

Based on reports from more than 50 AusTimorFN observers deployed across 12 of Timor-Leste’s 13 districts, despite poor weather and a number of manageable technical problems, all preliminary reports indicate that the polling and counting processes which were implemented on 17 March 2012 substantially met internationally recognised standards for free and fair elections at the venues observed.

The 2012 elections are the second national polls to be Timor-Leste administration, with support from the United Nations Integrated Mission (UNMIT) in Timor-Leste being provided on a more limited scale than in 2007. UNMIT is due to conclude its operations at the end of 2012.

AusTimorFN Timor-Leste coordinator and CCDHR Director, Professor Damien Kingsbury, said Timor-Leste’s Technical Secretariat for Electoral Administration (STAE) and National Elections Commission (CNE) had very largely performed in a professional and competent manner. STAE is responsible for running the elections and the CNE oversees the electoral process.

All indications are that Timor-Leste is now very capable of running its own electoral process, based on reports from the Network’s observers.

Unlike the elections of 2007, there were no reports of significant political or other violence or intimidation leading up to or on the day of the ballot. The elections were undertaken in a very peaceful manner. Network observers all reported that the atmosphere in the polling stations attended by AusTimorFN volunteer observers was peaceful and positive, with a clear commitment on the part of both electoral staff and voters to an orderly and successful process.

AusTimorFN observers did note a number of technical problems with the election process, the main ones of which were shortages of ballot papers in a small number of polling stations; some quality issues with indelible ink used to mark voters (two types of ink were used in the process); some concerns with the requirement faced by some voters to travel at their own expense to their place of registration in order to vote; and some aspects of the counting process which gave rise to disputation.

There was a shortage of ballot papers in some cases, which was primarily due to underestimating the number of voters and to spoiled ballot papers in transit as a result of poor weather conditions. Even though STAE attempted to get fresh ballot papers to the few affected polling stations, in a couple of cases road conditions and rising rivers impeded their timely delivery.

AusTimorFN observers noted a number of technical infractions of the ballot process. However, these infractions were relatively few and were not regarded as compromising the integrity of the vote in any of the polling stations observed. Observers noted that these infractions reflected a desire to ensure that people could vote, but sometimes by stepping over the bounds of what is formally allowed by STAE.

There was also a report of confusion with the counting of votes, which was undertaken in local voting centres. This was due to using numbers rather than candidates’ names, with number four on the list, Francisco Xavier do Amaral, being removed from numbering due to his prior death. This then moved the numbering of the following eight candidates by one, resulting in confusion in counting. This problem was, however, resolved by re-counting.

AusTimorFN wishes to again confirm that the 2012 Timor-Leste elections were a demonstrable success for the electoral administration and democratic process in Timor-Leste. AusTimorFN looks forward to its observers attending the expected second presidential round in mid-April, as well as the parliamentary elections in late June.


Technical Annex

1.         This Technical Annex elaborates three aspects of the polling and counting processes for the 2012 presidential election which could usefully be reviewed by the competent authorities of Timor-Leste in the light of experience on 17 March 2012.

Indelible ink

2.         Article 42, no. 9 of Regulation No. 04/STAE/X/2011 (Regulation on the Voting, Counting and Result Tabulation Procedures for the Presidential and Parliamentary Elections) provides that:

“Once the voter has cast his or her vote, the indelible ink controller shall mark the right index finger of the voter in such a manner as to stain the cuticle so as to ensure that the voter exercises his or her right to vote only once”.

Indelible ink has been used at elections in Timor-Leste on a number of occasions since 2002.  The efficacy of its use as a mechanism for prevent multiple voting is, however, dependent on the ink being in fact indelible, as required by the Regulation.

3.         Confirmed information was received by the observers from a number of sources that in various parts of the country the ink used proved not to be indelible, and was able to be removed with relatively little effort using a cleaning agent such as household detergent.

4.         The use of indelible ink in the electoral context is intended both to prevent multiple voting, and to reinforce public confidence that effective prevention measures are in place.  The use of ink which is not in fact indelible is therefore problematic even if no attempts are made by anyone to vote more than once, since the credibility of the mechanics of the electoral process can be undermined.

5.         It is strongly recommended that at future elections, only indelible ink meeting the highest standards (such as those laid down for ink utilised at elections in India) be used.

Place of voting

6.         At the election, voters were required to vote in the sucos (local areas) for which they were registered.  Such a requirement does not of itself breach international standards – indeed, at the Popular Consultation of August 1999, people were required to vote at the place where they registered – but it may in practice have undesirable or discriminatory effects.  The observers received a number of reports of voters having to undertake significant travel at their own expense to go to the place where they could vote, and there was something of a mass exodus from Dili in the days prior to polling day as people returned to the districts.  The costs to individuals of having to undertake such travel would in some cases have been considerable, as would have been the economic costs to the nation of having people travelling rather doing productive work on the days in question.

7.         It is a recognised norm of legitimate elections that voters should not be required personally to incur other than the most nominal costs (such as the petrol required to ride a motorbike to a nearby polling station) in order to cast their votes: as a matter of principle, a voter should never have to ask whether he or she can afford to vote.

8.         It is strongly recommended that the requirement that people vote in their sucos of registration be urgently and holistically reviewed, with the aim of ensuring that it cannot in practice serve as a disincentive to voting by people for whom travel costs would represent an unacceptable burden.

Counting procedures

9.         While counting at polling centres is a sound practice which in general worked very well, some difficulties arose in at least one large centre (> 3700 voters) witnessed by observers.  As a result, the counting did not finish until the early hours of the morning on Sunday 18 March, and took longer than the polling had taken.

10.       It is recommended that the following aspects of the process be reviewed.

•           Premises: If large numbers of ballot papers are to be counted at a centre, a spacious room is needed for the conduct of the counting.  At the particular centre in question, both polling and counting took place in old, small classrooms, while much newer, better lit and better equipped classrooms were not used.  (This, of course, may not have been STAE’s decision.)

•           Avoidance of bottlenecks: At the centre in question, the counting for four separate polling stations at the centre was done centrally and consecutively, and with ballot papers from all four amalgamated.  This converted the task facing the counters from four smaller and basically manageable operations to one very large and difficult to manage operation.  The process would have worked much more efficiently had each polling station secretary been able to conduct a separate count, under the overall supervision of the centre president, with figures being added together at the end to produce a consolidated centre result.

•           Standardisation of process: counting venues should always have pre-printed cards to organise stacks of counted ballot papers.  Similarly, there should be a requirement to use names of candidates or parties when calling out the votes from particular ballot papers: at the centre in question, the initial use of numbers in lieu of names led to confusion as to the candidate for whom some ballot papers had been counted, because of the cancellation of the candidacy of the deceased candidate.

•           Transparency: The need for counting to be done transparently cannot be over-emphasised in training.  As part of this training, the need for counting officials to explain to all present, in detail, what is going to be done in each phase of counting as it arises should be emphasised.

•           Training of fiscais (party agents, scrutineers): It would also be useful if parties and candidates could emphasise, in their training of their fiscais, the need to treat all STAE and CNE staff with appropriate courtesy and respect.

  • It was reported that subsidised rice was distributed from at least one polling station prior to the election, which could have been construed as buying support for a particular candidate supporting by the main government party. While this was not regarded as a critical matter, care should be taken in future to ensure that there is no confusion, potential or otherwise, between government programs and polling stations.

For further information, please contact:

AusTimorFN Timor-Leste Coordinator Professor Damien Kingsbury +6707266770, +61439638834, or

AusTimorFN’s electoral expert Michael Maley +670759850.