Press conference by Timor-Leste special representative

The two rounds of presidential elections in Timor-Leste on 9 April and 9 May had been "deeply satisfying" and proceeded much better than would have been expected six months ago, Atul Khare, the Secretary-General's Special Representative for that country, said at a Headquarters press conference this afternoon.

Briefing correspondents on the situation in the country, Mr. Khare, who also heads the United Nations Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT), said that, throughout the process, culminating in the graceful acceptance of the results by the political parties and the transfer of power between then-President Kay Rala Xanana Gusmão and his successor, José Ramos-Horta, Timorese leaders had conducted themselves wisely, with dignity and respect for democratic principles.

The parliamentary elections, to be held on 30 June, would be more challenging, he cautioned, noting that they would involve 16 political parties represented by 14 lists, because four parties had decided to form two coalitions. However, UNMIT was working hard with the Timorese authorities to ensure they were as successful, peaceful and orderly as the presidential polls.

He said the latest developments gave some reason for hope as the parties were starting to interact more frequently and constructively. A code of conduct and a political party accord had been concluded on 25 May. The code was a continuation of a similar agreement signed ahead of the presidential elections dealing with conduct during the campaign. The political accord, on the other hand, was an innovation focusing on a post-electoral commitment to good governance whereby parties committed themselves to a meaningful role for the opposition should they form the future Government, and to making construction contributions to policy development and legislation should they find themselves in the opposition. That accord boded well for the development of a genuine multiparty, liberal democracy.

Several challenges would remain after the elections, he said. They would include the strengthening and comprehensive review of the security sector, including the future role of the Army and police; review and strengthening of the justice sector; strengthening the rule of law; and ensuring good governance and development in a democratic climate. Hopefully, the new leadership would address those challenges, with the support of the United Nations.

A correspondent asked about the biggest obstacles to development in Timor-Leste.

Mr. Khare cited the process of Government formation, noting that the possibility of forming a governing coalition would have to be examined very carefully as it was statistically unlikely that any single party would gain a clear majority. As a post-conflict country, Timor-Leste had not yet dealt with the challenges of forming a coalition Government. "People are starting to talk about it, at least, and I hope that whatever the results, they will be both acceptable and indeed accepted by the population at large so that the country can move forward and avoid the experience which it had in April/May 2006," he added.

Asked about reports of violence, including one involving a person killed by a grenade, he attributed some such incidents to "criminal martial arts gangs". The police had two suspects and were seeking arrest warrants. A few other incidents could be attributed to political rivalries, but leaders across the political spectrum were condemning such incidents and the current Prime Minister had said they were unacceptable.

In response to a question about sexual abuse, the use of brothels and bad driving by United Nation peacekeepers, the Special Representative said he had implemented a zero-tolerance policy towards any form of misconduct. One person had already been repatriated for losing a weapon and another for driving while under the influence of "a very high intake of alcohol".

Regarding children born out of liaisons between Timorese women and United Nations personnel, he said most such cases related to had happened in the past, but they were being examined. Four allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse had been reported to UNMIT, two of which had been found not to be substantiated. Investigations into the other two were continuing.

He said two dedicated telephone lines had been established for people to report such incidents to the Mission, which was proactively seeking such cases in cooperation with non-governmental organizations and local communities. UNMIT had also established a mechanism by which local people and United Nations staff could report incidents directly to the Special Representative through electronic and physical suggestion boxes.

Asked what happened to women who gave birth in the absence of a child support system, Mr. Khare said that, in some cases, even where paternity had been accepted, "I try to move beyond the legal confines and insist on the father providing support."

A correspondent asked whether Timor-Leste's electoral system entailed proportional representation.

The Special Representative said Timor-Leste's unicameral parliament had 65 seats and a proportional representation system with a few "interesting" requirements, the first of which was that, on every party's list every fourth candidate must be a woman, to ensure at least a 25 per cent participation by women, both as candidates and subsequently in the national parliament.

Asked whether the presidency was merely a ceremonial position, he said it was more than ceremonial, but the premiership had more power. Mr. Gusmão was not seeking the premiership, but running for a parliamentary seat as the leader of the new National Council for the Reconstruction of Timor-Leste.

Mr. Khare drew attention to the establishment of a new Committee on High-Level Coordination, which had been formed on the basis of a recommendation by the Security Council. It brought together the President, Prime Minister, the first Deputy Prime Minister, the President of the National Parliament and top UNMIT representatives, including the Special Representative and his two deputies. It provided for collegial and consensual decision-making.