Fundasaun Mahein (FM) as a national non-governmental organisation conducted observation during the 2022 presidential election. On 19 April 2022, the Timorese people participated in the second round of the presidential election, with the result that Dr José Ramos Horta gained 62% of votes, compared to the current President Francisco Guterres “Lú-Olo” who received almost 38%. FM observed the election at several voting centres, including in Dili and in rural areas. From our observations on voting day, there was no vertical conflict between leaders and they accepted the results. The state electoral organs also worked effectively related to the administration of the election. At the same time, FM observed several problems which occurred during the election process, including in the campaign, preparation and voting phases. This article summarises FM’s observations during the second round of the presidential election, and discusses some of the implications for security and democracy in Timor-Leste.
During the campaign process for the second round, FM observes several irregularities. For example, on 8 April 2022, when Dr Ramos Horta campaigned in Atsabe, Ermera, the National Committee for Elections (CNE) observed that candidate Horta violated the Electoral Law because he campaigned outside the official campaign hours. According to the Electoral Law, campaigns begin at 8am and end at 6:30pm. However, in Atsabe Dr Horta continued to conduct a “mini campaign” until 8pm. Elsewhere, some militants showed negative behaviour towards electoral team staff, such as occurred in RAEOA-ZEEMS (Oecusse) on 7 April when members of FRETILIN’s “team success” chased a CNE team. Also, young children continued to participate in campaigns of both Dr Horta and Lú-Olo in Covalima municipality, even though the law disallows children to participate in election campaigns.
Before the preparation for voting, FM observed some other problems. For example, the election administration staff from Brigades, CNE, STAE and national observers were forced to sleep in tents on 18 April at Lesuhati voting centre, Holarua Suku, Same, Manufahi, as there was no place for them to sleep. In addition, there was only one PNTL officer allocated to provide security at this voting centre.
During the voting process, FM observed criminal actions of groups intending to create instability, such as occurred in Primary School No. 2 in Bidau Santana, Dili at 9pm on 19 April. When STAE staff were delivering the voting cards, a group of youths drinking alcohol attempted to kick down the door of the school. However, that night two PNTL officers from Cristo Rei squadron caught several of these youths. They were detained for 72 hours and PNTL continues its investigation. FM also heard from CNE staff in Gleno that an individual or group threw stones at them in Humboe at 11:45pm on 19 April, while an unknown group attacked a CNE staff member in Hera voting centre. Another case occurred in Nitibe, RAEOA in which a community member’s house was burned during after the election results were announced, is still being investigated.
Election security is an essential part of building peace and democracy, and it is especially important that election results are valid and that all citizens accept them. However, FM observed that some militants were not satisfied with the election results, such as in Makadiki Suku, Viqueque. After the voting finished on 19 April, some militants tried to disrupt the counting process at this voting centre, and PNTL detained two citizens for attempting to impede vote counting.
In addition to the security problems during the electoral process, FM is also concerned about several barriers to ensuring maximum participation of citizens in elections. One issue is that facilities for disabled people are still limited – for example, there is no Braille facility for voting cards, meaning that people with eyesight problems require another person’s assistance to cast their vote, which has implications for voting secrecy and privacy. FM calls attention to Article 47 of RDTL’s Constitution which states that citizens 17 years old and over have the right to vote and be elected, and this right to choose is private and an obligation for all citizens.
During the second round of the presidential election, many voters were able to vote, but many also could not go to vote in their home municipalities, especially those from remote areas, due to transport limitations and economic and financial conditions. Even though the Government and political parties provided transport facilities such as trucks and buses, these only brought people to the Municipal capital and did not reach the administrative post, suku or aldeia. The registration process also continues to be too complicated, which demotivates many people, while electoral authorities do not give priority to people in prison, hospital, people with mental illness and students who live in Dili and cannot travel to vote because of the distance and time limitation. These problems therefore raise implications for security and democracy in Timor-Leste, as they weaken the people’s respect for state institutions and democratic rule of law.
In addition to the issues identified above, FM also observes that PNTL faces major challenges related to resource limitations, especially in communication, transport and equipment, which are essential for PNTL to carry out its responsibilities during political and electoral processes. FM sees that even through PNTL was deployed to 1,191 voting centres and stations, and most voting was done peacefully and without major incidents, there are several gaps which raise implications for election security. For example, at several voting centres on the south coast in Manufahi municipality, only one Suku Police Officer (OPS) was deployed to each voting centre. As also occurred during the first round of the election, FM observed that PNTL members failed to maintain 25 metres distance from voting in several voting centres, such as in Fohorem, Tilomar and Wetaba Salele.
Based on these observations, FM gives the following recommendations to Timor-Leste’s election authorities and decision makers to prevent these problems from occurring again in the future:
- Election authorities must create improved conditions to increase election participation in the whole territory, thereby strengthening the democratic system in Timor-Leste. Unfortunately, out of a total of 859,692 registered voters, only 664,106 voted in the first round, while only 649,389 voted in the second round. This main reasons for the reduced participation was a lack of transport, financial and economic difficulties, long distances, limited time and a complicated registration process. Therefore, in addition to facilitating people to vote in their home areas, election authorities should simplify the registration process, such as creating a simple online system which people can use to change their registered voting location. This can reduce problems of transport, time, distance and money, and guarantee maximum voter participation.
- FM recommends to state security institutions to exert maximum control to avoid conflicts such as those which occurred during the election campaigns, including assaults committed by militants and recorded threats which went “viral” among the public. The people who committed these acts much submit to sanctions in line with Timor-Leste’s Penal Code, therefore FM asks PNTL to conduct thorough investigations into these cases.
- The Government must strengthen PNTL’s facilities and capacities such as transport, communication, equipment and other essential components, so that when there are indications that individuals or groups are attempting to create instability during election periods, PNTL can respond quickly and effectively. Thus, PNTL’s operations can promote peace, unity and friendship, so that democracy, stability, security and national development can be secured.
- Fundasaun Mahein recommends that election authorities should create viable and realistic conditions for prisoners, disabled people, and people with physical or mental illnesses who are in hospitals, clinics and health posts in remote areas.
- FM asks security institutions to apply laws equally to all citizens during election campaigns and ensure that PNTL investigates all violations which occur.