MEDIAONETIMOR-The Presidential Election conducted on March 20 2017 was the first election organized by the Timorese people, with the previous elections in 2012, 2007, 2002 and 2001, organised and supported by the United Nations (UN) and other International organizations. It was also notable in that Timorese citizens living in Australia and Portugal were also able to vote remotely. However, Timorese citizens studying in Indonesia and working in Northern Ireland and South Korea were unable to participate in the election, something which should be remedied for the July Parliamentary elections.
That the election was conducted safely and securely was of great importance to Timorese society, especially when compared to security incidents that occurred during the 2007 and 2012 elections. Security authorities executed an extraordinary mobilisation of security forces, coordinating the operations of both the National Police (PNTL) and Defence Force (F-FDTL), who provided for a safe and secure 2017 Presidential election. The leaders of both institutions made it clear during press conferences preceding the election that any attempts to create instability during the electoral period would not be tolerated.
There were eight (8) candidates for the 2017 Presidential election, seven (7) men and one (1) woman; They were (1) Antonio Maher Lopes “Fatuk Mutin” (2) Francisco Guterres “Lú Olo” (3) Amorin Viera, (4) Jose Neves “Sama Larua” (5) Jose Luis Guterres “Lugu” (6) Maria Angela Freitas (7) Luis Alves Tilman “Mauhunu” no (8) Antonio da Conceição “Kalohan”. Six (6) candidates were independent and two (2) candidates were representing political parties. Fransisco Guterres Lu-Olo ran for the Revolutionary Front for an Independent Timor-Leste (FRETILIN) whilst Antonio da Conceição “Kalohan” ran for the Democratic Party (PD).
The campaign period for Presidential candidates ran from 3 March to 17 March 2017, with a final debate amongst candidates organized by the National Electoral Commission (CNE). During the presidential campaign, an incident occured on the first day between supporters of candidate’s number 2 and 8 in Rai-Kotu-Comoro, Dili. This incident resulted in the burning of several homes and vehicles, and a man being injured, but a rapid response by the PNTL defused the situation.
Fundasaun Mahein’s (FM) also oberserved another incident on the first day of the campaign in Oe-cusse district, where some militants affiliated with FRETILIN and CNRT used party flags in support of candidate number 8, Antonio da Conceição “Kalohan”s campaign activity. This was despite the official national party line of both FRETILIN and CNRT, which called on supporters to vote for Dr Lu Olo. This resulted in the brief arrest of the militants by PNTL, and the confiscation of their party flags.
FM also notes that other irregularities occured during the electoral period, including violations of the stipulated campaiging scheduele and designated campaiging locations, as well as the involvement of children in campaiging activities. Additionally, FM observed that during the electoral period, some party supporters were wearing uniforms and other attributes affiliated to Martial Art Groups (MAG’s), which were forbidden by Government decree in 2013. It also common knowledge that some MAG’s have strong relations with with some political parties, who draw their support base from MAG’s.
FM observed on the election day (20 March 2017) that the election was being conducted safely, and voter participation was high. PNTL visibility was high, and no serious incidents tool place during election day, despite a lack of available logistic support. The PNTL was able to execute their mission and provide for a safe and secure environment
in which people were able to exercise their democratic right to vote.
Some voters were also observed to be displaying politcal party identification and attributes when entering voting facilities. This was despite the wearing of such public affiliations of party loyalities being banned by party officials. Party officials present objected to this, and insisted that such party attributes be removed before voting. Another incident occured in which some voters wore the t-shirts of a proscribed MAG (Kera Sakti), and were not allowed to vote by party officials until they had changed their clothing.
Another incident took place in Hera-Dili, where members of the Naval Component of the Defence Force (F-FDTL) quaralled with some voters. This occured due to F-FDTL members wanting to vote first, which caused dissatisfaction amongst voters present, leading to a heated argument. However, following some debate between the conflicting parties, elections officials and secuirty providers, the incident was resolved and all present were able to vote safely.
Finally, FM has found that the 2017 Presidential election has proven somewhat different from the concerns and perceptions that were raised by civil society over safety and security preceding the election. It has proven that the Timorense people have developed more maturity around the democratic process, and are able to engage in safe and positive behavior during elections.(Nélson Belo, Executive Director of FM)