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Timor-Leste Election Observer Project Experience

George Ereu

Election observation is a key element of building a stable democracy. In states that are undergoing democratic transition, election observers can build citizens’ confidence in the electoral process; while in states holding elections following a conflict, observers can help conflicting parties trust the election will be conducted fairly even if they do not yet trust each other.


The queues are very long, but the voting process is organized and calm. The situation is similar in other polling stations.

Having been briefed by the Technical Secretary of Electoral Administration (STAE) on the do’s and don’ts during Election observation ,we set out on a journey to Viqueque District. The journey seemed unending, characterized by meandering road’s that coil around high hills. We reach Viqueque after six hours drive and the little town is more of a city of rejection - sleepy, sparsely populated and generally cool. Extremely exhausted, we are then ushered in into our hotel rooms by the kind hotel staff.

After a good night’s sleep, we are at EP cabira Oan Polling center by 6:00 am. Election equipment together with the polling officials had arrived accompanied by the police. The morning is extremely cold. Also present at the polling center was also an observer from the European Union. Minutes later two observer officials from Church Observatory for Peace and Social Advocacy (OIPAS) appear at the site. At exactly 6:40 am, voters started arriving and by 7 there are about 35 voters queued waiting to cast their ballots. Official voting commenced at 7:15, with many more voters standing on organized queues and the process running smoothly.

One hour later, we are out to Umwawainkuaik Polling station, Rai Tahu sub district. I am amazed by the huge turn out of voters. The queues are very long, but the voting process is organized and calm. The situation is similar in polling stations such as Beloi and Bebuia and many more with the presence of police officials in each polling station. I remember walking past the queue and voters smiling at me and I suddenly hear voices whispering in Tetum language - “malaya metan”, which translates in English to "black foreigner." This is not derogatory in any way, since malaya is a word used to name foreigners from Africa, Europe or the Americas . If you are visiting Timor-Leste in the future and you are called by this name, please do not get upset, just ignore it. Voting went on peacefully until the 3 pm. Counting began and we stayed awake until midnight to observe the preliminary results being displayed at STAE's suboffices.

Viqueque District has registered violent incidences during past election years and my mission objective as an observer this time is to assess the security situation and citizens’ rights to free elections. Citizens  are entitled to live in peace and in a safe environment, and voters must be free to exercise their rights. My personal view and observation - and in comparison with elections in 1999 and 2007 - the 2012 elections have been a success with political analysts saying Timor-Leste has moved on from being a fragile environment in jeopardy.

The ETAN observer volunteer mission was an exciting experience and provides a window of opportunity for discovery of new cultures and ways of life. This shouldn’t be scary. but if you are a city dweller and you plan to volunteer as an observer with ETAN in the future, please be ready to adapt, adjust and change lifestyle to fit in the communities that you will give a hand.

“Long Live ETAN, Long live Timor-Leste”

see also

ETAN Volunteers Observe Timor-Leste Parliamentary Election 2012 (observations and reflections)

Letters of Support: H.E. President Dr. José Ramos-Horta; H.E. Ambassador Constâncio Pinto

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