Subject: AsiaFd: Nat'l Survey of Voter Knowledge

[Foreword and Executive Summary only. The complete report available at (355k).]



This report presents the findings of the first ever random nationwide survey to assess East Timorese political opinions and knowledge. Conducted in February and March 2001, and sponsored by The Asia Foundation, the survey sought to gather essential information about the views and knowledge of the electorate in a critical year for East Timor’s political development.

The survey results are intended as a resource for all, but particularly as a guide for policymakers and practitioners to better target election support programs in East Timor in 2001. It is also intended to serve as a baseline from which any organization can measure the success of specific projects and assess the progress of democratization over time.

The survey involved 1,558 in-person interviews of potential voters in a total of 392 Aldeia in196 villages in all the 13 districts of East Timor. It addresses critical issues related to the national mood; voter and civic education issues; access to media; language use and preference; and demographics.

The methodology of the study is explained overleaf, following a summary of the survey’s most important findings. The report also contains recommendations for voter and civic education initiatives.

To conduct the survey, The Asia Foundation partnered with and trained the NGO Forum’s Kelompok Kerja Pendidikan Pemilih (KKPP-Voter Education Working Group), without whose substantial involvement this project would not have been possible. Some 69 KKPP members representing 21 NGOs carried out the field work and data entry over a month-long period. The dedication and commitment to non-partisanship of these individuals was commendable. The international survey research firm, AC Nielsen, also played an invaluable role, by working together with The Asia Foundation and the KKPP to design the questionnaire and train the staff who carried out the field work, as well as conducting the data compilation. The Asia Foundation would like to express thanks to USAID for its financial support for this project.

This is the fourth in a series of democracy surveys sponsored by The Asia Foundation in Asia. The first was a national voter education survey conducted in Indonesia in advance of the 1999 elections. The second was a follow up survey in Indonesia in August 1999, and the third was carried out in Cambodia in 2000.

The Asia Foundation, currently involved in East Timor in election support programs focusing on voter education, domestic election monitoring, media development and the constitutional development process, welcomes comments on this report.

The Asia Foundation Dili May 2001



• 75% of East Timorese feel that the country is heading in the right direction.

• Pessimism about the country’s direction is slightly stronger among younger respondents and concentrated mainly in Dili and Baucau and in areas of recent conflict (Viqueque, in particular).

• To 63% of East Timorese who say that the country is headed in the right direction, the calmer situation and the end to violence are strong indicators that the country is headed in the right direction. Economic recovery was the second most popular reason, but cited by far fewer respondents.

• Women are considerably more likely than men to refer to the problem of violence. Younger East Timorese, too, are far more likely to refer to violence than older East Timorese.

• Among the 12% of East Timorese saying the country is headed in the wrong direction, the main reason cited is riots and violence, followed closely by economic problems, high prices and unemployment.

• 26% of all respondents say that nothing has improved in the country. For others, improvements include greater freedom, the transitional government and preparations for independence, and improved security.

• When asked about problems in the country, violence and political conflict dominated the answers, and were regarded by 29% of respondents as the two biggest problems facing East Timor.

• 60% of East Timorese, and younger East Timorese in particular, disagree with the statement that the government does not care about them.

• East Timorese overwhelmingly feel free to express opinions where they live.

• Levels of concern about security within East Timor and at the border with West Timor are fairly high.

• Perceptions of security at the border are colored by perceptions of internal security. Unexpectedly, those most concerned about border security tend to live in the districts furthest from the border.

• Younger East Timorese expressed the greatest concerns about security.

• There is a lot of concern about corruption, collusion and nepotism in current and future government structures.

• Those with greater access to information and with higher levels of education express greater concern about corruption, collusion and nepotism.

• 42% of East Timorese say that they have had to reduce purchases of basic goods due to price increases. 27% say that they have remained unaffected by price increases.

• The eastern districts in East Timor have been hit hardest by price increases.

• A large majority of East Timorese are confident of a happy future for East Timor.


• 54% of those polled are interested in politics. Men, younger East Timorese and those with higher levels of education are more interested in politics.

• There is little clear understanding of the meaning or implications of democracy. 36% understand democracy as freedom of speech. 11% of respondents defined democracy in cautionary terms. No-one equated democracy with elections.

• A majority of East Timorese view the government in paternalistic terms. Those in the east more strongly assert that the government and people are equals.

• Tolerance for free expression appears to wane in the context of political party campaigning. While 81% of East Timorese say that they feel free to express their opinions, only a slim majority, 53%, support all political parties holding meetings in their areas.

• There is less tolerance for political party activity in Dili and Baucau.

• 64% of those who consider political party competition a bad thing are concerned about the potential for violence and riots.

• A large majority of East Timorese support the idea that women should be as active as men in positions of political leadership. Young East Timorese are less likely to hold this opinion, and women are no more likely to be stronger proponents than men of equal participation in political leadership.

• Over half the population, 56%, do not know anything about East Timor’s constitution.


• 32% of eligible voters in East Timor have not heard about Civil Registration. Those East Timorese without access to media and in the more remote east and west of the country are least aware.

• While 75% of eligible voters have heard that there will be an election this year, only 30% know that the election is scheduled for August 30.

• Only 5% of eligible voters correctly stated that the election will be for a Constituent Assembly. 61% think the upcoming election is for the presidency.

• 94% of respondents said that they would vote. This does not guarantee a large turnout, though, since a majority believe the election to be for something other than the Constituent Assembly.

• Only a slim majority, 52%, said that voting in the 2001 election will make a difference. Men and better educated East Timorese are more confident of the

impact of voting.

• There is a lack of knowledge about the political parties that currently exist.

• Riots and political party-related violence are the two most prominent concerns expressed in relation to the electoral process.

• 56% of respondents indicated that the presence of election observers would increase their confidence that the election will be free and fair.

• While a majority of respondents expressed a preference for both East Timorese and foreign election observers, only 7% specifically expressed a preference for foreign observers.


• Radio is the most widely accessed medium in East Timor.

• Despite 34% illiteracy nationwide, more East Timorese are reading either newspapers or magazines and newsletters than are watching television.

• Younger and better educated East Timorese are listening to radio and watching television more often than those who are older and less educated.

• The eastern four districts of East Timor have particularly low levels of radio listenership.

• Radio UNTAET is clearly the most popular radio station in the country and is popular across all major demographic categories.

• Television viewership and VCD ownership is heavily concentrated in Dili.

• The peak time for watching television and listening to radio is 17:00 - 21:00.

• Suara Timor Lorosa’e (STL) is the most widely read newspaper in East Timor, with 72% of those who read a newspaper saying that they read STL most often.

• While Tais Timor is the most widely read periodical, East Timorese publications with much smaller print runs are more widely read in four districts.

• Tetum is the most widely spoken and understood language by those accessing media in East Timor.

• Indonesian is a practical language for use in media.


• The survey data confirm the strength of Tetum as a practical and preferred language. More East Timorese understand Tetum (91%) than any other language and can read and write Tetum (58%) than any other language.

• Tetum was overwhelmingly selected, by 80% of respondents, as the language of choice for election related information. Local languages were the second most popular choice at 17%, substantially more popular than Indonesian (3%).

• The use of local languages is strong and widespread: A majority of East Timorese (57%) identify a local language, other than Tetum, as their mother tongue. The remaining 43% cite Tetum. However, while 83% understand at least one local language, only 16% of East Timorese can read and write a local language.

• Portuguese is the only language that has a strong gender bias. While 21% of men can speak Portuguese and 19% can read Portuguese, this can only be said of 12% and 8% of women, respectively.

• Age is a significant determinant of language ability, with younger East Timorese relatively more proficient in Tetum, Indonesian and English and older East Timorese relatively more proficient in Portuguese.

• While 96% of those under 25 speak Tetum, this can be said of 77% of those over 50. 83% of those under 25 can speak Indonesian, as opposed to only 27% of those over 50. 27% of East Timorese between the ages of 35 and 50 can speak Portuguese, as opposed to only 11% of those under 25.

• Those East Timorese with little or no formal education rely far more heavily on Tetum and local languages (82% speak Tetum, 90% a local language). Just 6% of this group have Portuguese language ability and 32% of them can speak Indonesian.

• The level of illiteracy in East Timor is still extremely high (34%). Country-wide, 41% of women are illiterate, compared to 31% of men. Illiteracy is highest in Oecussi (69%) and lowest in Dili (20%) and Manatuto (18%).


Target Group: All voters


• Fundamental Concepts of Democracy. Few East Timorese know anything about democracy and none polled equate democracy with elections. 40% of respondents revealed basic knowledge of rights but there are limits to the support of rights of others (especially in regard to political party campaigning).

• Representative and Accountable Government. With the country’s first democratic election approaching, a majority of East Timorese still view the government in paternalistic or authoritarian terms.

• The Benefits of Political Party Competition. Approximately half of the East Timorese polled are wary of political party competition.

• East Timor’s Constitution. Few respondents know that a process is underway to draft East Timor’s constitution -- one of the most important steps of which is the upcoming election.


• Radio is the most effective medium to use (particularly between 17:00 and 21:00).

• There should also be a concentrated effort to educate and engage Chefes de Suco and to encourage public discussions at the village level.

Specific Target Groups:

• Women in particular should be targeted for information on the fundamental concepts of democracy through village-based discussions.

• Equal political participation by men and women should be addressed more specifically with young East Timorese and women. Young East Timorese are more likely to access all media and understand Tetum and Indonesian, while radio and face-to-face discussions would be more appropriate for women.

• Programs in Oecussi should give extra attention to discussing the role of government and the constitutional drafting process. Given high illiteracy rates and low media coverage in the districts, public discussions should be used.

• East Timorese in Lautem, in particular, need information on East Timor’s constitution. Public forums supplemented by radio would be most effective.

• While residents in Viqueque, Aileu, Liquica and Bobonaro feel most free to express their opinions, they are less likely to accept political parties expressing themselves. These districts, together with Dili and Baucau, would benefit from campaigns about political party competition. Media coverage is relatively high in these districts.


Target Group: All voters


• Civil Registration. Public knowledge about civil registration is an immediate priority given the fact that one-third of respondents are unaware of the civil registration and that the deadline for eligible voters to register is June 24.

• Who will organize the election. Voters also need information about who is organizing the election (given the recent creation of the Independent Electoral Commission).

• The purpose of the upcoming election. Only 5% of respondents know the answer.

• Information on the parties who register and why political party campaigning is beneficial. There is little knowledge nationwide of the political parties that currently exist and little tolerance for competition between them.


• Radio is the most effective medium to use (particularly between 17:00 and 21:00).

• There should also be a concentrated effort to educate and engage Chefes de Suco and to encourage public discussions at the village level.

Specific Target Groups:

• Information on Civil Registration and the election is critically needed in the more remote eastern and western districts. Unless media coverage can be rapidly improved, this information must be provided in public meetings or door-to-door.

• Older East Timorese should also be targeted for civil registration and election information. Older East Timorese have less access to media and are less likely than younger East Timorese to speak Indonesian, so a face-to-face approach using Tetum or a local language is needed.

• Programs should engage the political parties themselves to address the concerns of East Timorese in the four eastern districts about party competition and the potential for violence.

• Anti-violence initiatives should engage women, younger East Timorese, and students prior to the election. Younger East Timorese access a variety of media and are more likely than women nationwide to speak Indonesian and Tetum.

• Women and those in the western districts of Liquica, Ainaro, Covalima and Manufahi should be targeted concerning the benefits of participating in the election process.

• Information about the role of election observers should focus primarily on Dili and Baucau. While Dili enjoys good media coverage, relatively speaking, more direct approaches are needed in Baucau.

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