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Osaka East Timor Association, Japan

Observer Report

Constituent Assembly Elections in East Timor


Preliminary Report

6 September 2001


Osaka East Timor Association

Kokubunji Bldg. 6F, 1-7-14 Kokubunji, Kita-ku, Osaka, Japan

tel/fax. 06-6354-6620  e-mail.

Contact in Dili: Akihisa Matsuno tel. 0408-788-665




Osaka East Timor Association (OETA) was established in 1985 to campaign for the right to self-determination of the East Timorese.  It is a member of the Free East Timor Japan Coalition which was formed in 1988.  At the time of the Popular Consultation in 1999, OETA, as a member of the Japan Coalition, collaborated with the International Federation for East Timor's Observation Project (IFET-OP).  This year it accredited seven observers for the elections for the Constituent Assembly who observed the election process from mid-August until the polling day in Dili, Ermera, Liquica and Aileu Districts, though the intensity of observation varies from time to time and from place to place.

General impressions


The OETA observers had a post-election meeting in Dili on 4 September and concluded that the elections were conducted largely in a peaceful and orderly manner.  People showed enthusiasm and determination to express their aspirations, which is powerfully illustrated by the 91% turn-out of the voters. OETA Observers were impressed by the patience shown by people who had to wait for hours under hot midday sun on the polling day partly due to inefficiency on the part of electoral officials.


This, however, does not mean that there are no lessons we can get from the elections this time.  OETA observers think that in a country like East Timor, where many people have been deprived of a chance for proper education and have been violently subjugated under authoritarian foreign domination, special considerations must be taken in order to guarantee full participation of voters in the election process and to create a truly fair and democratic atmosphere.  OETA observers also think that in a country like East Timor a full range of training should be given to local electoral officials who are to become the core of the future election staff.  Based upon these standpoints, OETA observers present the following points and suggestions.


Code of Conduct

 Some kind of code of conduct concerning election campaign should have been worked out.  Regulation No. 2001/11 on Electoral Offenses for the Election of a Constituent Assembly is a necessary regulation and it would be enough if the elections were held in a country with a long history of elections. But this was the first democratic elections in this country, and people are still sensitive and nervous in expressing their political choice. Persons of a higher status, either economically or politically, can rather easily influence voters who are less educated and economically weaker.  Traditional vertical hierarchy is very much alive particularly in the country side. Patriarchal tradition is also a source of concern from a gender perspective because the father's decision is often imposed on the whole family.  Modern electoral system assumes that an individual is independent and can choose a candidate he or she wants.  But this is not the case here from reasons mentioned above, and this is caused by complex historical factors including the war of the past 24 years.


Some political party leaders say that the UN should have been able to work out the code of conduct. But the IEC apparently regards the matter was up to the Timorese political parties.  OETA observers do not know who is to blame about the failure to bring about a code of conduct.  We think that in normal circumstances the political parties should have had the initiative, but when they failed, the UN could have taken up the initiative.


Civic Education


As far as Dili is concerned, and to some extent Baucau, people had a variety of chances to participate in civic education events and were in a much more privileged position to have access to information on the elections in general.  But the things were quite different in the country side.  OETA observers heard that some people did not know that the election was for the Constituent Assembly, and that people were really confused about the 16 political parties.  Some political party leaders complained to OETA observers that the facility prepared by the UN was totally not enough for their campaign to cover the country side.


In Letefoho, Ermera District, a civic education concert was planned for a mid-August day.  The plan was to have a concert with a band and after that to show a civic education video to people who gathered.  The concert began at 5 PM as scheduled, but the civic education team from Gleno arrived too late.  As a result the video was not shown.  The organizers in Letefoho were angry.  OETA observers were there but did not know why the team arrived too late.


In Manatuto District, OETA observers heard that the number of the cars allocated for a three-person UN civic education team was reduced from two to one when the program was at its peak.  It was feared that they could not fully implement the planned program.


Besides civic education, people needed information on the political parties to compare the differences among them. The IEC apparently chose to hand over this task to the political parties.  But it could be well anticipated that by this way information on the political parties would not reach individual voters. The OETA observers think that the electoral system itself should have been made as such that it would guarantee that minimal information on the political parties reach individual voters, or at least, each household. This could be done, for example, by the IEC or UNDP's Support Centre, by printing summaries of the electoral commitment of the all parties as presented by themselves as an official electoral information to be distributed to each household through the existing administrative network.


OETA observers heard that the IEC once tried to collect information on the political parties by using a questionnaire but few political parties sent back the questionnaire to the IEC.  If this is the reason why the information on the political parties was not distributed widely by the electoral authorities, the political parties have the responsibility about the insufficient dissemination of information on the parties. But even so, if there were a few political parties which sent back the questionnaire, it should have been printed as planned and distributed because this was the right of the political parties and the exercise of the right should not be obstructed by the failure that did not belong to the parties concerned.


The Civpol


OETA observers are concerned with a case of violence which occurred in mid-August in Letefoho.  After a PST campaign gathering in the village, a man who made a question during the gathering was surrounded by about twenty men and was hit by some of them.  His question was what the campaigner would call it if a company or any organization did not pay when a man worked for it.  The civilian police later called those who hit the man to the police post and questioned them.  But one of the men who were being questioned said he would go out for a while to buy cigarettes, and he was allowed to do so. The man did not come back to the police.  Some time later the case was filed by PST on behalf of the man who was hit.  At this stage the police began to arrest those men who hit the man.  Now it is expected that the case will proceed to the tribunal.


What is illustrated by this case is the lack of commitment of the civilian police to uphold justice and maintain order in this country.  OETA observers heard people in the village say that the police knew that the man who went out to buy cigarettes wanted to be free.  Observers could not confirm whether this was the case or not, but it is reasonably assumed that if the case had not been filed by PST the arrest of those men would not have occurred. The attack was an organized one and was carried out by many against one person.  It is a violent threat to the freedom of expression, a principle so vital in the process of the elections, and is indeed a possible offense.


OETA observers received complaints by people during the campaign period and also heard that when people went to the civilian police the police did not seriously listen to them.  OETA observers share the same feelings about the attitude of the police (international staff).  It is not clear why they are so.  It might be that they are not interested in "internal political matters" of the East Timorese.  It might be that they don't want to take a risk in the country they are not primarily concerned with.  But this is a UN peace-keeping operation which is being carried out in a post-conflict country.  Those who work here must be reminded of the nature of the operation so that they will be more attentive to what people are expecting to them.


The Polling Day


Generally speaking, the polling day passed without serious problems that would affect the legitimacy of the elections. But there are numerous minor irregularities and small mistakes all over the country.  OETA observers found such problems at almost all polling centres they visited. The reasons of the problems vary from case to case and the future election organizers can learn many lessons from these.


At some polling centres the voting started very late.  A few polling centres in Dili and Liquica started the voting of ordinary voters one to two hours later than the planned time 7 a.m. One problem seemed to be a lack of smooth communication between DEOs and local polling officials partly because DEOs did not understand Indonesian or Tetun or because there was only one or few translators. Another reason was a lack of training of local officials.  At one polling centre local officials were making so many procedural mistakes that the DEO him/herself had to handle the opening procedures at all polling stations.


At one polling centre, because the opening of the polling centre for ordinary voters delayed almost two hours, OETA observers observed voters who were waiting in queues were not well controlled.  They were not properly informed about the reason of the delay that they packed at the gate of the polling centre.


At one polling centre, OETA observers saw an identification officer allowing a voter whose name on the voters list had been already lined to go voting. OETA observers reported this procedural mistake to the DEO and they all came to understand, from the identification officer's explanation, that the officer had wrongly lined the name when a man of a very similar name came to the polling station. This kind of mistake can happen, but OETA observers think that this must be reported to the DEO first and that then the problem must be settled with the consent of the DEO.


At some polling centres the voting continued well over the planned time. OETA observers saw one polling centre in Dili was working until 7 p.m.  It seems that the identification procedure took much more time than had been expected.  One reason for this was that voters had been told to go to a voting centre which is far from their residence.  OETA observers heard that this was caused by some confusion at the civil registration process.  The IEC wanted to compile a voters registration list but the UNTAET requested to make the civil registry to avoid the over wrapping of the work.  This decision is understandable, but it is our question why the necessary information for the voters list was not systematically included in the civil registry.


Like in the popular consultation in 1999, voters had to wait standing for hours under hot sun.  OETA observers think this almost amounts to torture, and strongly recommend that in the future elections organized by the UN or the East Timorese government some improvement be made. OETA observers also recommend that the advance poll be allowed for those who wish.  By the advance poll, the opening of the polling centres will be much smoother and the right to vote will be more perfectly guaranteed.