Elections held in Timor-Leste after months of political gridlock

Association

Timor-Leste held parliamentary elections on 12th May 2018, after months of political gridlock. On 28th May 2018, the Supreme Court confirmed that the Alliance for Change and Progress (AMP) as the winning party with 49.6 percent of the national vote. As reported by regional NGO, FORUM-ASIA and national groups Judicial System Monitoring Program (JSMP) and the Association for Law, Human Rights and Development (HAK Association), the elections were held peacefully, with minor clashes between supporters during the campaign period.

The AMP, a coalition of Xanana Gusmao's National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT) and two other parties, secured 34 of the 65 seats in Parliament. A 2017 parliamentary election produced no clear winner, with the Fretilin party winning just 0.2 per cent more votes than CNRT, and forming a minority government. However, Fretilin found itself blocked at every turn by CNRT and its allies. The government finally collapsed in December 2017, forcing new elections.

On 9th May 2018, the JSMP sent its observers to several municipalities, including Aileu, Dili, Ermera, Liquica and Covalima to ensure that the electoral process was conducted in a transparent, fair and accountable manner, in accordance with constitutional and legal requirements. According to JSMP, the election was “carried out well, despite some technical issues relating to voting preparations and some small irregularities that occurred in some of the voting centers and stations”.

Regional NGO, FORUM-ASIA visited the country from 30th April to 3rd May 2018, and its mission report highlighted that national civil society groups had documented incidences of electoral violations and violence during the campaign period. These include: smear campaigns against political figures; online intimidation targeting supporters of rival political parties; physical damage to political parties’ vehicles during campaign events; and clashes between supporters of rival parties.

Peaceful Assembly

LGBT activists march for inclusion

On 20th July 2018, Timorese LGBTQ activists organised its second Pride march and celebration calling for the inclusion of LGBTQ people in the country’s development. This year, youth group Hatutan joins forces with Fundasaun CODIVA, Arco Iris and other partners to hold the event.

On paper, Timor-Leste’s LGBTQ community appears already well-protected from discrimination. The country’s constitution enshrines human rights for all, and its representative to the United Nations has enthusiastically signed a suite of recommendations and resolutions confirming the rights of the LGBT community. In March 2017, Timor-Leste informed the Human Rights Council it was accepting two recommendations made on sexual orientation and gender identity.

However efforts to explicitly guarantee equal rights for LGBTQ people in the constitution’s has yet to materialise. There was a clause against discrimination based on sexual orientation included in the original draft of the Timorese Constitution but it was voted out by 52 out of 88 MPs before the Constitution took effect in 2002. Opponents of the clause variously said its inclusion would create conflict with the Catholic Church and that the country isn’t ready to deal with the issue.

Expression

In the 2018 World Press Freedom Index, Timor Leste gained three ranking positions. Nevertheless Reporters Without Borders (RSF) points out that "various forms of pressure are used to prevent journalists from working freely, including intimidatory legal proceedings, police violence and public denigration of media outlets by government officials or parliamentarians". The media law adopted in 2014 continues to be an element of concern, with provisions not in line with international human rights law and standards.

In an article published by the Southeast Asia Press Alliance (SEAPA) on 4th May 2018, the Timor-Leste Journalist Association (AJTL) highlighted how the two cases recorded so far in 2018 were mostly about the authorities impeding the work of journalists in the field. In the first case, on 8th January 2018, GMN TV reporters covering stories were shouted at by police officers at a checkpoint near the Palace of the Government. In the second case, on 24th February 2018, the president of the Authority for the Special Region of Oecusse-Ambeno Arsenio Paixao Bano threatened and banned STL (Suara Timor Lorosa’e) daily newspaper journalists from covering stories relating to a land dispute between the local authority and the local residents.