In The News

ASEAN Regional Forum Deploys First Election Observation Mission to Timor-Leste

July 25, 2012

Nearly 19 years after the establishment of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) at the 26th ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in Singapore in July 1993, the ARF just embarked on its first concrete elections mission, to observe the July 7 parliamentary elections in Timor-Leste.

Timor elections

Voters cast their ballot in during Timor-Leste's 2012 Parliamentary Elections. Photo: Sandra Magno UNDP TL

The Asia Foundation in Dili was approached early on by the embassies and ministries of foreign affairs of a number of interested member countries to provide critical logistical and other support to a potential ARF mission. Original plans envisioned 10 delegates from four or five countries, but quickly expanded to include 20 high-level officials from eight countries. The ARF mission eventually included four ARF Expert and Eminent Persons (EEPs), three sitting MPs, a former minister, a number of former ambassadors, and other high-level delegates. Of particular note, the Cambodian delegation, representing the current chair of the ASEAN, included the director for International Relations of the Cambodian Assembly and four other distinguished colleagues.

Given the diversity of the group, as well as the logistical challenges of hosting a high-level delegation in Dili, we mobilized a team of staff and consultants to ensure a smooth operation. While there was a delegation from the Korean National Elections Commission, not all delegates were election experts, and only about half had participated in prior elections observation missions. As such, great care was taken to ensure adequate preparation and briefings from distinguished speakers and experts from the UN elections body, political affairs, doctoral students, and other international organizations working on election projects in Timor-Leste.

In the week leading up to the elections, delegates were introduced to key counterparts in the Timor-Leste government and ARF members including a representative from the Office of the President, the secretary general from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the director general of the secretary for the Technical Administration of Elections (STAE), the director for the National Elections Commission (CNE), members of other elections monitoring missions, as well as members of the diplomatic community including almost all of the ASEAN ambassadors to Dili.

At last, the mission team met at 5 a.m on election day in the lobby of the newly-constructed Hotel Ramelau in Comoro, Dili – where they set off in teams with their local coordinators to witness the opening of the polls one hour later. The ARF Election Observation Mission visited over 80 polling stations in Dili and four surrounding districts and met with polling station officials, voters, and other observers. The Cambodian delegation observed as the prime minister and president cast their votes in Dili.

Cambodian delegation

The Cambodian delegation meets DG Tomas Cabral from STAE where he provided them with an in-depth overview of the voting and counting procedures. Photo: Tony Ku

Following the elections, the ARF delegation issued a joint statement that “the voting process was well handled, in a fully transparent manner, and the ARF/EOM members were uniformly impressed by the dedication of the domestic polling and observation staffs and the commitment of international observers, many of whom deployed months in advance of the elections and will stay to assess the follow through.”

Given Timor-Leste’s eagerness to join ASEAN, this is certainly an important first step not only for the ARF, but also for the country’s ambitions.

Susan Marx is The Asia Foundation’s deputy country representative in Timor-Leste. She can be reached at smarx@asiafound.org. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the individual author and not those of The Asia Foundation.

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