International Federation for East Timor

2002 Presidential Election Observer Project

Report and Recommendations

16 April 2002

The International Federation for East Timor (IFET) is an international coalition of East Timor support groups from around the world. During the 2002 Presidential Election in East Timor, IFET fielded ten East Timorese observers and 13 observers from seven other countries, most of whom are long-term residents of East Timor. The IFET team included staff members from APCET, Apheda, Free East Timor Foundation (Netherlands), Judicial Systems Monitoring Programme, KSI, La'o Hamutuk and other organizations.

We observed the last day of Civic Registration in Comoro (Dili), voting in Gleno prison, and numerous polling centers in seven districts: Aileu (Remexio), Liquiça (Maubara), and several subdistricts in each of Dili, Ermera, Cova Lima, Baucau and Viqueque.

From what we saw, the election was professionally-conducted, free, fair, and the results will reflect the wishes of the East Timorese electorate.

IFET Background

During the 1999 Popular Consultation in East Timor, IFET organized the 140 volunteer observers from 23 countries who lived for weeks in every district of East Timor. Our numerous reports and releases documented the Indonesian military's key role in militia terror and violence and called for the UN and the international community to act to prevent its continuation or escalation. We were evacuated on September 6 and 7 as the military/militia violence reached its peak.

For the 2001 Constituent Assembly elections, IFET organized 20 observers from nine countries. We observed in eight districts. Our report highlighted the patience and commitment of the voters, and pointed out problems with the electoral rolls and capacity-building of East Timorese election officials. We analyzed that election in context, calling for improvements in civic education and more discussion of issues during the campaign, and critiquing deficiencies in the party-based nature of the election and the unspoken inevitability that the Constituent Assembly would become East Timor's first Parliament.

Principal Election Observations 2002

Overall, this year's election went extremely well, and most of the process-related problems from 2001 have been addressed. The election workers, candidates, voters, parties, national and international observers, with very few exceptions, performed their tasks calmly, conscientiously and competently. We are encouraged by the growth in capacity since last year, and confident that the East Timorese people will be able to hold their own elections in the future, as an essential component of a peaceful democracy.

We were impressed by the serious and skilled way the East Timorese workers in each polling station carried out their tasks. In polling centers directed by East Timorese DEOs, the staff often communicated better and worked as a complete team. This is a significant improvement in "Timorization," and a welcome surprise given last year's problems in this area. We are also encouraged by our sample observations of last-day registration in Dili and of voting at Gleno prison; local staff skillfully conducted both assignments.

Nevertheless, we remain concerned about the preparation of East Timorese staff to administer future elections at the district and national levels. In the three district capitals where we checked, internationals still largely directed and performed the checking-in and counting processes. IFET is disappointed that East Timorese were not given these responsibilities, as they will have to perform these tasks in the future.

We also observed the observers, and found, with few exceptions, that national observers and party agents were serious, competent, and determined to do their jobs. Many spent hours or the entire day at a single polling center, thereby helping to ensure that the process was monitored throughout. Most international observers, by contrast, spent 10 minutes or less at the places they visited, too little time for the process to normalize after the disequilibrium caused by their entrance. National observers functioned well despite limitations in resources, transportation and communication, and we hope that they will continue their crucial role in the future, as international observers are likely to be fewer.

The simple voting process, without using election rolls and with voters able to choose any polling center, made the day easy for both election workers and voters. Although these were appropriate choices for this national Presidential election, they may not be applicable in future parliamentary, district, or local elections. We continue to be concerned that the civil registry database is too inaccurate to serve as an election roll, and that the computer and human systems developed by UNTAET for civil registry appear not to be sustainable.

We asked voters for their impressions about the campaign and the process. The voters we interviewed did not report significant covert or inappropriate pressure to vote a particular way, or not to vote. Most were knowledgeable about the purpose and procedures of this election, although information about the powers and term of the presidency was not well-known. Many had unrealistic expectations of what their preferred candidate could do after he was elected.

Although the IEC has reported an impressive 86.3% turnout (lower than in recent East Timorese elections, but higher than nearly every country without compulsory voting), we remain concerned that many East Timorese were unable to participate. Most notably, approximately 65,000 East Timorese nationals remain trapped in West Timor and other parts of Indonesia.

Recommendations and concerns

1. UNTAET should perform its obligation to provide East Timor's independent government with the necessary support and expertise to develop and maintain a workable and accurate electoral roll.

2. Future elections should be conducted by a non-partisan, East Timorese, independent electoral commission. Support from the UN, UNDP or other international agencies should be only advisory, not operational.

3. Future civic education should stress the structure, powers, and limitation of different branches of government, and not only the voting process.

4. Training and opportunities for East Timorese and to handle national and district-level management and other tasks should be improved.

5. With the next election five years off, we are concerned that the currently competent polling center staff may not be available. The staff with longer training shortly before the election were more confident; this will need to be made available to all polling staff as some may forget their skills.

6. Institute overseas or absentee voting for voters who will be out of the country or have difficulty getting to polling stations. This could impose a residence or citizenship qualification for voter eligibility, and will need an accurate electoral roll.

7. Continue to provide training for sufficient numbers of East Timorese election observers, with better transportation and communication support. Encourage international observers to spend more time in each polling station they visit, and coordination between the two.

8. Consider counting ballots at polling stations to simplify the process, speed the results and provide fewer opportunities to violate the integrity of the ballot. However, this should be flexible for exceptional elections where retaliation might be expected against communities.

9. Issue replacement certificates to prisoners who do not possess their original registration due to their incarceration.

10. Our observations of polling process details suggest several relatively minor improvements. IFET is glad to provide additional details of our observations and suggestions upon request:


Contact: Charles Scheiner
International Federation for East Timor (IFET) 
P.O. Box 88, Dili, East Timor via Darwin, Australia 
Tel. +61-417-923273 or +670-390-325013 

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