Solidarity Observer Mission for East Timor (SOMET) issues preliminary observations of Timor-Leste's presidential run-off

Observers from the Solidarity Observer Mission for East Timor (SOMET) monitored the second round of Timor-Leste's presidential election on May 9. The nonpartisan observers from seven countries included 10 international and 13 East Timorese observers. They were spread out across eight of Timor-Leste's 13 districts, monitoring 59 polling stations. Below are SOMET's preliminary observations; a more complete report will be available shortly.

SOMET congratulates the people of Timor-Leste for their second successful election this year and is encouraged that both candidates, in their post-election statements, were conciliatory and appealed for national unity. Such appeals were sorely lacking during the campaign period when the candidates attacked and accused one another of campaign violations. Most unfortunately, supporters occasionally resorted to violence.

SOMET team member Professor Roy Pateman expressed hope that the political parties contesting the 30 June parliamentary election will "focus on substantive issues and policies to move the country forward, rather than on accusations and recriminations against rivals."

The voting went smoothly and steps were taken after the first round in the presidential race to correct problems noted by SOMET and other observers, but some irregularities still need to be addressed. Inconsistencies in election regulations remain, such as what constitutes an invalid ballot.

Due to a printing error on the ballot, polling staff declared dozens of ballots cast invalid before recognizing the problem. This did not change the election outcome (due to the large difference between the two candidates). A similar error could affect the parliamentary election where 12 parties and 2 coalitions are competing for 65 seats.

SOMET unhappily observed that a large number of the polling staff once again neglected to check whether voters' fingers were marked with indelible ink before they were allowed to vote. While improved counting procedures and fewer candidates meant a smoother tallying of votes, few polling centers actually followed the procedures for this election. These problems need to be addressed before the 30 June parliamentary election.

Party and candidate agents were again present at the polling stations, though their interference with the voting process greatly reduced. While they were often present in greater numbers than officially permitted, they functioned primarily as verifiers for their candidate. SOMET still observed agents checking voter IDs and directing the voting process in some locations.

SOMET recommends the Technical Secretariat for Election Administration (STAE) issue only two party agent credentials per party for the parliamentary election to better regulate their number in any polling station, and that polling staff strictly enforce the rule of one agent per party per polling station. A second person with a credential would be allowed to spell a colleague. The parties must educate their party agents on their rights and responsibilities, including that they cannot interfere in the election process, but that they can officially contest breaches in the election laws and regulations.

Finally, SOMET repeats its recommendation that "future elections be administered by an independent agency which is not under the jurisdiction of any government ministry." Although STAE significantly improved its performance in the second presidential round, SOMET continues to believe that this is an important step toward insuring that future elections are free of partisan interference.

SOMET also regrets that STAE did not make provisions, as required by the Constitution of Timor-Leste, for all citizens 17 years and older to have the opportunity to vote. Those hospitalized and imprisoned could not vote in this election. Citizens living abroad, including those serving the government, are not yet able to exercise in this most basic right, one the Timorese fought for during 24 years of Indonesian occupation.

According to Timor-Leste's election officials, 81% of those registered (424,475) voted on 9 May. Current Prime Minister Dr. José Ramos-Horta was elected the nation's second president with just over 69% of the vote. The challenger, speaker of the parliament Francisco "Lu-Olo" Guterres, received nearly 31% of the valid votes cast.

SOMET was formed at the invitation of civil society organizations in Timor-Leste to support an election process which is transparent, free and fair. SOMET cooperates with nonpartisan Timor-Leste groups HAK Association, Timor-Leste NGO Forum, La'o Hamutuk, FOKUPERS, Bibi Bulak and Kadalak Sulimutuk Institute.

SOMET is a grassroots project the U.S.-based East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN), the Free East Timor Foundation (VOT) in the Netherlands, Initiative for International Dialogue (IID) in the Philippines, Asia Pacific Solidarity Coalition (APSOC), and World Forum for Democratization in Asia (WFDA).

SOMET monitored and reported on the first round of the Presidential Elections held April 9. SOMET's report on the first round of presidential voting and other information can be found online at http://etan.org/somet.htm.