Timor-Leste prepares for Covid-resilient election observation
Timor-Leste is deep into preparations for the upcoming presidential elections, anticipated in March 2022. Given the ongoing global Covid pandemic, the country’s two electoral management bodies (EMBs)—the Technical Secretariat for Electoral Administration (STAE) and the National Commission on Elections (CNE)—are working to revise internal regulations and procedures to support Covid-safe elections.
As part of their outreach efforts and to support the international community’s understanding of the electoral process and their observation of it, the EMBs have been engaged in a series of meeting with organizations such as the European Union and the diplomatic community. International IDEA, supporting Covid-resilient elections in Timor-Leste since June 2021, is embedded in STAE and supports EMBs’ efforts to inform the international community about Covid-related changes to the administration of elections in Timor-Leste and the country’s electoral process more widely.
The European Union conducts electoral observation missions to help support good practice and high standards across electoral processes. A typical precondition to their deployment is an exploratory mission which takes place after the official invitation from a host country and consists of a group of experts sent in order to advise whether deployment of an European Union Election Observation mission is useful, feasible and advisable. Key within this mission are meetings with government representatives, experts and the EMB(s) themselves.
Within this framework, on 12 October 2021, International IDEA was on hand to support the STAE’ s presentation of recent Covid-related changes to the regulatory framework of Timor-Leste’s upcoming elections in light of the global pandemic. Some important changes include an increase in the number of polling centers from 885 to 1200 and polling stations from 1160 to 1500 to accommodate and increase in registered voters and with Covid considerations in mind. The EMBs will also implement strict social distancing and sanitization measures within the polling stations, among others. Additional recommendations, as provided in International IDEA’s A Covid-Resilient Presidential Election for Timor-Leste in 2022: Baseline Assessment and Recommendations were also shared with the mission.
After an open question and answer session, Acilino Manuel Branco, Director-General of STAE, reiterated the EMBs’ commitment to election observation in his statement, “our door always opens widely to welcome all observer groups (national and international) to observe the coming presidential elections."
On 21 October 2021, STAE invited International IDEA to support a training session for the diplomatic community on the electoral process. Attendees included the Ambassador of the United States and representatives from embassies such as Australia, Brazil, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia and Portugal, among other. The STAE’s training gave members of the diplomatic community an in-depth insight into the current context, ongoing preparations, anticipated challenges and mitigation measures, and introduced participants to the recommendations outlined in International IDEA’s Baseline Assessment.
Given the audience of potential international election observers, the two meetings resulted in a commitment from STAE to facilitate observer registration via email as opposed to in person applications. As per International IDEA’s proposal, this change will greatly facilitate the application process and support Covid-resiliency.
International IDEA will continue to support Covid-resilient elections in Timor-Leste in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme, STAE and CNE with funds from the Governments of Japan and Timor-Leste in order to strengthen the capacity of Timor-Leste’s EMBs to deliver a series of elections that are Covid-resilient, thereby increasing their credibility and participation within them.