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EU EOM Timor-Leste 2017: “Timorese authorities organized well-administered, transparent and inclusive elections in a peaceful environment”
Dili, 24 November 2017
Today, the European Union Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) to Timor-Leste 2017 released its final report, with a comprehensive assessment of the 20 March presidential and the 22 July legislative elections. The report contains 22 recommendations to improve future election processes.
At a press conference held today in Dili, Izaskun Bilbao Barandica, Member of the European Parliament and Chief Observer of the EU EOM, highlighted the good and professional performance of the country’s electoral management bodies. The National Election Commission (CNE) and the Technical Secretariat for Electoral Administration (STAE), “have organized well-administered, transparent and inclusive elections in a peaceful environment”. According to Ms Bilbao, the electoral authorities achieved this without the massive logistical and operational support they used to have from the United Nations, though UNDP and other international agencies still lent the country important assistance.
The EU EOM Chief Observer found the legal framework for elections to be in line with international commitments, allowing for inclusive and transparent elections, despite late changes to the election laws which caused uncertainty. However, she added: “Reducing the CNE’s mandate did not contribute to enhancing independent oversight of the electoral process”.
Ms Bilbao noted that the European observers witnessed a peaceful campaign both during the presidential and legislative elections, in which basic freedoms were respected. “Our observers visited over 120 polling stations throughout the country and concluded that voters cast their ballot in secrecy”, she added.
According to Ms Bilbao, the legal framework for campaign finance is “vague and incomplete, and does not ensure a level playing field”. Regarding media coverage of elections, she declared: “Although the freedom of expression was generally respected, defamation remains a criminal offence which the EU EOM recommends decriminalising to avoid self-censorship and to be in line with Timor-Leste’s international commitments”.
Based on these findings, Ms Bilbao highlighted six of the 22 recommendations issued by the EU EOM, to which she advised giving priority for implementation:
Consolidating electoral legislation into a single Electoral Code and Electoral Regulations.
Restoring CNE’s competence as the supervisory body to approve regulation of the electoral laws.
Avoiding changes to electoral laws during a clearly defined time interval prior to elections.
Amending the legal framework for campaign finance to ensure a level playing field.
Giving the CNE a clear competency to supervise campaign finance.
Introducing measures to improve political participation of women.
Other important recommendations, according to Ms Bilbao, include:
Passing legislation to guarantee that state resources are not used in favour of any candidate, including a ban on inauguration of public works close to elections.
The decriminalisation of defamation.
Limiting paid advertising by candidates and office holders on state-owned media during the election campaign.
Ms Bilbao concluded the press conference with a call to unity, peace and stability, which were central topics of most platforms during the election campaign. “We trust that these topics remain at the centre of any discussions and negotiations among Timorese political parties to determine the arrangement of the executive power”, she said.