• On 22 July the Timorese electoral management bodies (EMBs) demonstrated again their ability to organise well-administered, credible and inclusive elections. Voters could exercise their franchise in a peaceful environment and without undue interference. Voting, counting and tabulation were conducted efficiently and transparently. There was a marked improvement in certain areas since the recent presidential elections, such as verification of ink traces on voters’ fingers, the only safeguard against multiple voting.
• The legal framework for elections is in line with international commitments. It allows for inclusive and transparent elections, and provides opportunities for lodging complaints and appeals and for obtaining effective remedy at all stages of the election process. Nonetheless, avoiding late changes to the election laws would have contributed to greater legal certainty and stability. The amendment reducing the CNE’s (National Election Commission) competencies does not contribute to enhancing independent oversight of the electoral process and may adversely affect its institutional sustainability.
• The CNE and STAE (Technical Secretariat for Electoral Administration) completed most technical preparations for elections in a timely and efficient manner, including the update of the voter register and the production and distribution of election materials. Training of polling officers was observed to be effective. STAE increased the number of polling centres to offer voters closer access to polling locations. Information made available by the Election Management Bodies (EMBs) was comprehensive, although STAE did not ensure a public display of provisional voter lists and CNE deliberations were not published. The effort to allow Timorese living abroad to vote yielded little more than 2,000 registered voters.
• The campaign was peaceful and low key and the silence period was generally adhered to. Basic freedoms of expression, association and assembly were respected. Parties signed a pledge to hold peaceful elections and complied with campaign rules. Only minor complaints regarding the rearrangement or cancellation of scheduled campaign activities were reported. Misuse of the advantage of incumbency, noted during previous electoral processes, continues to be a problem, and civil servants were observed campaigning. Some cases of voter intimidation during the campaign period were reported to EU observers.
• The criteria for candidate eligibility include no discriminatory or excessive restrictions. The Court of Appeal rejected three candidacies for not fulfilling eligibility requirements. Failure to publish the lists of candidates raised the possibility of voters going to the polls without detailed knowledge of who was running for election. The absence of spending ceilings and the delivery of subsidies only after elections favours FRETILIN and CNRT, which have considerable financial means compared to other parties, and poses a challenge to parties with fewer resources.
• Efforts to increase the political participation of women through a quota system have resulted in the highest representation of women in Parliament in the Asia-Pacific region. However, women are reportedly overlooked once elected and representation in leadership positions remains low at local levels. The EU noted and absence of women both as speakers and as participants at campaign events.
• Press freedom was respected during the campaign, but a legal provision allowing state-owned media to broadcast paid political advertising resulted in parties’ unequal access to public outlets. Public and private media provided ample space for parties to inform voters of their platforms. Coverage was mostly balanced, as established by law, with the main exception of Rádio Maubere. While the Press Council’s mediation role in disputes and a requirement for journalists to obtain a professional licence are improvements to the media legal framework, the compulsory registration of all media, including online outlets, is contrary to international good practice. Defamation (‘denúncia caluniosa’) is a criminal offence, which is not in line with international good practice. Timor Lorosaae, Timor Post and Jornal Nacional Diário did not respect the electoral silence period.
A European Union Election Observation Mission, headed by Chief Observer Mrs Izaskun Bilbao Barandica, a member of the European Parliament observed both the 2017 Presidential and Parliamentary elections. The mission’s preliminary statement on the Timor-Leste Legislative elections was presented in a press conference held today in Dili.