Overcoming the Obstacles of Overseas Elections: A Lesson from Timor Leste

Timor Leste’s 2023 general election has brought two senior independence figures to the helm of the country, which is the candidate of the 11th ASEAN member. Jose Ramos-Horta became the President of Timor Leste by pocketing 62 percent in the voting that took place on April 19, 2023. Meanwhile, Xanana Gusmao was appointed Prime Minister after his party, the National Congress for the Reconstruction of Timor Leste (CNRT), won the majority of parliamentary seats.

According to Odette Maria Belo, Commissioner of Timor Leste’s Electoral Commission (Comissão Nacional de Eleições, CNE), the success of Timor Leste in holding elections was significantly contributed by government policies that made it easier for voters to cast their ballots. Voters living in Timor Leste or abroad only need to show an identity card, passport, and birth certificate to participate.

For overseas voters, the CNE also provides mobile cars to take voters to polling stations in the country’s embassies. CNE also decided to  hold elections on holidays in order to attract as many voters as possible. Odette claimed that there was no fraud in Timor Leste’s election, because CNE allowed and facilitated international supervisors, as well as independent observers, to conduct monitoring.

What can be the lesson learned from Timor Leste’s success in organizing elections abroad? Jaring.id interviewed Odette by telephone on Wednesday, September 6, 2023. Below are the excerpts of the interview.

Can you explain how the Timor Leste election process was organized abroad?

One month before the election, we held a registration for voters and verification of the electoral cards used in the election. The countries where the overseas elections took place were Portugal, the United Kingdom, South Korea, Iceland. The location of the election was at the Embassy of Timor Leste in the respective country.

How enthusiastic were overseas voters?

They were very enthusiastic because the election was held on Saturday and Sunday. If it was held on weekdays, the participation rate would be lower. When the first round of the presidential election was held on Saturday, the participation rate was high. Then, the second round took place on a weekday, so the voter turnout decreased. So the time of the event really determines how high or low someone wants to participate in the election.

How can you get voters to participate?

They must show their passports, ID cards, and birth certificates from the government, not from the Church. That is the only requirement to register as a voter. It is enough to complete the administration.

What are the obstacles in organizing this election?

One of the obstacles is the time difference. When it’s night here, it’s morning abroad. The second obstacle is related to documents, in some cases. There were people who were enthusiastic about registering, especially first-time voters who wanted to get a voter card, but then the documents were not complete, so they were not allowed to cast their votes.

What should voters do if their names are not on the Permanent Voter List?

All they have to do is show their ID card or passport to vote. Another thing to reach voters is that the embassy must go around to places where there are many Timor Leste people. The system used is still a voting system, not online.

How long does it take for voters to get their results once they have voted?

After voting, at 3 pm the system is closed, and the results are counted. Then, the results are delivered from the embassy to Timor Leste. So, within one or two days, the results of voters from abroad will be available.

Was there any fraud during the overseas election process?

There was no fraud, because it was directly supervised. The CNE or the Election Supervisory Body, as well as international observers and supervisors, tightly monitored the elections. There was no fraud in Timor Leste because of the strict supervision.

Overseas Voters’ Turnout Shrink

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