Australia Timor-Leste Friendship Network (AusTimorFN) in conjunction with Deakin University’s Centre for Citizenship, Development and Human Rights (CCDHR)
Formal Report:
Parliamentary Elections 7 July 2012

9 July 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 congratulate the people of Timor-Leste on the success of the 2012 parliamentary elections and what can now be recognised as yet another important step in the consolidation of the democratic process in Timor-Leste.

Responses have now been received from 142 ‘AusTimorFN’ observers deployed across each of the 13 districts of Timor-Leste. Despite a number of minor technical problems, all reports indicate that the polling and counting processes which were implemented on 7 July 2012 substantially complied with internationally recognised standards for free and fair elections at the polling centres observed.

The 2012 elections are the third national polls to be undertaken by the Timor-Leste administration. Support from the United Nations Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT) was provided on a more limited scale than in 2007. UNMIT is due to conclude its operations at the end of 2012.

Based on reports from the AusTimorFN observers, it is clear that Timor-Leste is now able to run its own electoral process. In particular, AusTimorFN is pleased that Timor-Leste’s electoral authorities have been open to considering and implementing recommendations for the further improvement of Timor-Leste’s electoral process.

‘AusTimorFN’ Observer Mission coordinator and CCDHR Director, Professor Damien Kingsbury, said Timor-Leste’s Technical Secretariat for Electoral Administration (STAE) and National Elections Commission (CNE) had done a very good job of conducting and overseeing the electoral process. ‘The 2012 parliamentary elections were conducted in a professional and competent manner’, Professor Kingsbury said. ‘Many other countries could learn from the success of Timor-Leste’s electoral processes.’ STAE is responsible for running the elections and the CNE oversees the electoral process.

As was the case during the two rounds of the 2012 Presidential Elections, the 2012 parliamentary elections were conducted in a peaceful and orderly manner. There were no reports of other than the most minor political or other violence or intimidation leading up to or on the day of the ballot. The peaceful and positive conduct of the parliamentary pre-election campaign period set a new benchmark for the standard of political conduct in Timor-Leste, and augurs well for the further embedding of its democratic process.

As Timor-Leste moves towards consolidating the practice of its electoral processes, increasing attention is now being paid to pre-campaign and campaigning processes, in particular the funding of campaigns of particular political parties. Within the context of increasing concerns about the transparency of the letting of government contracts and the willingness of some companies that have benefitted from government contarcts to financially support parties of government, the time is ripe for Timor-Leste’s electoral authorities to play closer attention to the issue of campaign financing. In particular, consideration should be given to increasing the transparency of campaign donations, as well as the regularisation of the letting of government contracts, to help limit the perception and possible reality of conflicts of interest.

Similarly, greater attention may be required to the timing of the provision of government services and the possible association of government officials providing services with particular political parties.

In regard to the electoral process itself, there were a number of minor technical problems, most importantly in a small number of cases where the strict neutrality of electoral officials could be viewed as having been compromised. Disturbingly, there was one clear report where an electoral official responsible for inking fingers as part of the process for preventing multiple voting took a lunch break and had a party official undertake the task on his behalf.

There were also reports that the placement of voting booths compromised the secrecy of the vote in some cases. However, these incidents were not viewed as compromising the overall integrity of the electoral process or its result.

The election itself was undertaken in a very peaceful and positive manner. AusTimorFN observers all reported that the atmosphere in the polling stations attended was calm and very largely happy or celebratory, with a clear commitment on the part of both electoral staff and voters to an orderly, transparent and successful process.

AusTimorFN observers did note a number of minor technical problems with the election process.

There was a common problem of lack of access to electricity in more remote polling stations, leading to a late start – due to a lack of light – to preparations for voting on the day. That having been said, even affected polling stations opened close to the required time of 7 am, and the slightly late start did not appear to impact significantly upon the capacity of voters to lodge their votes, with voting in most polling stations observed being largely completed well before the closing time of 3 pm.

While polling station staff were consistently friendly towards observers, there was also a lack of space at some polling stations, meaning observers were in some cases restricted from entering the polling stations to observe the polling process, or were placed awkwardly between polling station officials, which interrupted the flow of the voting process. This in turn limited the complete transparency of the voting process in some polling stations. This restriction appeared to contradict the regulations on unhindered access by observers to polling stations.

It should be noted, however, that this problem applied primarily to international observers, and domestic observers and party scrutineers (fiscais) were present at all polling stations observed.

There was also some reluctance by some voters to dip their index fingers in the ink, which appeared to be primarily due to aesthetic considerations.

There were also concerns with the requirement faced by some voters to travel to their place of registration in order to vote. The government did provide extra transport in some cases, but in others it was clear that voters had few or no options for returning to their place of registration in order to vote. This was particularly noticeable for voters returning to Oecusse, some of whom found themselves stuck at the border at Batugade with no available transport.

At a number of polling stations, members of the mission observed activities which tended to blur what should be a very clear distinction between the roles of political party representatives and staff of the election administration.

  • As noted above, at one polling station, a party fiscal took on the role of inking voters’ fingers while the electoral officer with that duty took a lunch break.
  • At another, party fiscais were seen to be playing an especially overt role in guiding voters through the polling process.
  • At yet another, party workers were observed seated at a table within a few metres of the polling centre exit door. They were recording in a ledger book the names and identity card numbers of some voters.
  • There were a number of reports of fiscais attempting to instruct polling station officials as to their role.
  • Fiscais were also reported to be otherwise active participants in the electoral process.

The indelible ink used at the election appears to have been of good quality. The effectiveness of indelible ink as a mechanism for the prevention of multiple voting depends, however, on the consistent checking of voters’ fingers by electoral staff. Observers’ reports
indicated that this was done with considerably varying degrees of thoroughness in the polling stations visited. The mission recommends that the importance of this element of the process be emphasised in STAE training.

The mission was pleased to note that STAE reviewed its policies on the orientation of voting compartments in the light of the earlier observer mission report on the presidential run-off poll of April 2012. The polling station layout changes flowing from that review have made it significantly more difficult for voters to make surreptitious attempts to photograph their marked ballot papers. Observers did, however, note significant differences across polling centres in the manner in which the compartments were located. The mission recommends that STAE examine the various possible layouts, and include in future polling staff training specific instructions on the optimal way of positioning compartments so as to guarantee the secrecy of the vote while also ensuring that photographing of marked ballot papers cannot go undetected. This should be supplemented by appropriate and explicit legal sanctions.

Some issues arose relating to the procedures for sealing of ballot boxes.

  • At at least one polling centre visited, the sealing of ballot boxes took place at 06h30, rather than at 06h50 as prescribed by STAE procedures. While fiscais were present and there were no complaints, any fiscais who had arrived after 06h30 expecting to be able to witness the sealing of the ballot boxes could have legitimately complained. The mission recommends that this matter be addressed in STAE training. If sealing of ballot boxes only 10 minutes before the start of polling is regarded as giving rise to difficulties, the polling day schedule could be reviewed to enable the ballot boxes to be sealed a little earlier: the important point is that there should be a common understanding of when it will happen.
  • At another polling centre, observers were permitted to observe the sealing of the ballot boxes from a distance, but were not permitted to view the seals from close-up to note the numbers. This negated the ability of the observers to perform the useful role of providing an independent verification of the integrity of the sealed ballot box at the end of the polling. The mission recommends that the right of observers and fiscais to verify the seal numbers themselves be emphasised in STAE training.

Some issues relating to ballot paper production quality control were noted. Observers saw cases in which ballot papers were identified by issuing officers as defective: at least one had a small hole in it, while a number of others bore ink marks. While proper and transparent mechanisms for dealing such problems exist, they place an additional burden on polling staff, as every ballot paper basically needs to be checked. The mission recommends that STAE review quality assurance mechanisms associated with ballot paper printing and contracts.

Observers noted that the vote counting process at polling centres with multiple polling stations was significantly expedited, without any significant loss of transparency, by a procedural change which enabled the counting of ballot papers to political parties and
coalitions to proceed in parallel in each polling station once the initial reconciliation had taken place.

AusTimorFN wishes to again confirm that the 2012 Timor-Leste elections were a demonstrable success for the electoral administration and democratic consolidation in Timor-Leste.

Technical Annex

This Technical Annex elaborates on 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 7 July 2012.

  1. While the transparency of the electoral process in Timor-Leste has proven to be one of its greatest strengths, another of its great strengths has been the perceived independence and neutrality of the election administration. In order to consolidate both of these strengths for the future, it is important that the roles of electoral administrators on the one hand, and party representatives on the other, be most clearly delineated, both legally and in practice. The mission recommends that this be emphasised in training both for STAE staff and for parties, to ensure that prescriptions governing the permitted numbers and behaviours of fiscais are implemented on the ground.
  2.  As noted in previous reports, consideration should be given to banning voters from taking mobile phones and cameras into polling stations (or, failing that, to requiring that they be left with the officials before the voters proceed to the voting compartment). Observers noted that in some instances voters were required to leave phones with cameras with officials, but this practice was not consistent across polling stations.
  3. Consideration should also be given to a consistent configuration of the layout of polling stations and the setup of the voting compartments so that the secrecy of the vote continues to be protected while, at the same time, any attempt by a voter to take a photograph of his or her ballot paper will be able to be seen by officials, observers and fiscais. There were several reports that voting compartments facing inwards allowed polling station staff and others in the polling station to see how voters marked their ballot papers. Given that a number of polling stations arranged voting compartments in different positions and at different angles, with varying degrees of voter secrecy, this matter should be addressed for future elections.
  4. 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. It may in practice, however, have undesirable or discriminatory effects, including restricting access to voting. Despite the reported provision of extra transport from Dili to the districts, 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 again an 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 state of having people travelling rather doing productive work on the days in question.
    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.
    It is therefore strongly recommended that the requirement that people vote in their sucos of registration be kept under review, 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.
  5. It is recommended that adequate lighting be made available in all polling stations, to help ensure that all necessary procedures are completed prior to voting beginning on time at 7am, and to facilitate the conduct of any counting which has to continue after sunset.
  6. It is recommended that the siting of polling stations be re-assessed for possible overcrowding, and to ensure access to adequate space for all polling staff, all voters and all observers.
  7. It is recommended that polling centre presidents and polling station secretaries be re-acquainted with the regulations regarding the role of party officials and fiscais, to help ensure that there is no actual or perceived interference in the electoral process.
  8. While the general quality of the ink appeared to have improved, it is recommended that priority continue to be given to ensuring that only the best quality ink is used.
  9. Given the reluctance of some voters to dip their index fingers in ink, and given further that such reluctance may have a negative impact on willingness to vote in the future, it is recommended that consideration be given to changing the marked finger from the index finger to the little finger, which appears to be more aesthetically acceptable.
  10. 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.
  11. 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 continue to treat all STAE and CNE staff with appropriate courtesy and respect.

The Australia Timor-Leste Friendship Network/CCDHR Observer Mission provided analysis of the pre-election environment, the election process and its outcome to the following media:
ABC Television News
ABC 24
ABC Radio News
ABC Darwin
Radio Australia
SBS World News
The Sydney Morning Herald
The Age
The Australian Financial Review
BBC World News
Voice of America
Radio France International
East Asia Forum
The Dili Weekly

Professor Damien Kingsbury is the Director of the Centre for Citizenship, Development and Human Rights at Deakin University, Australia. He has coordinated independent volunteer observers to Timor-Leste’s 1999 ‘popular consultation’, its three rounds of the 2007 elections and the three rounds of the 2012 elections. Professor Kingsbury was also an accredited observer to Cambodia’s 1998 elections and Indonesia’s 1999 and 2004 elections.
Michael Maley gave up full time work as Special Adviser, Electoral Reform and International Services at the Australian Electoral Commission in January 2012, having served as an electoral administrator for 30 years. He has worked on many elections in post-conflict environments, including in Namibia, Cambodia and South Africa. He was deeply involved in developing the process for the 1999 ‘popular consultation’, was a Commissioner of the Independent Electoral Commission which organised the 2001 Constituent Assembly elections in Timor-Leste, and served as a member of the UN Electoral Certification Team for the 2007 elections.

For further information, please contact:
AusTimorFN Observer Coordinator Professor Damien Kingsbury +6707266770, +61439638834