Data from the Secretariat of Technical and Electoral Administration (STAE) showed lower rates of voter participation in this year’s presidential election, with 214,337 of 743,150 registered voters not taking part.

STAE showed lower rates of voter participation in this year’s presidential election.

Former Timor-Leste President Jose Ramos-Horta said he was concerned that many voters had decided not to take part.

He said part of the reason was the lack of information about the laws and the process of changing residency details.

“I see that the percentage of [voter] participation has declined sharply, this is not good,” he said.

He called on STAE and the political parties to provide civic education to communities so that they knew about the voting process and could plan ahead.

Dili resident Francisco Gusmão said he had no knowledge about the electoral laws and that he was required to change his residency details because in previous elections people could vote anywhere.

“Our rights have been denied by the law to participate in this democracy,” he said.

He urged the competent bodies to consider the reality of people’s lives when establishing laws and ensure communities were aware of their rights and had proper information, especially in regards to the documents needed in order to update their residency.

However, Minister for the Coordination of Administrative Affairs and Minister of State Administration Dionisio Babo said the low participation rates was not due to poor turnout at the polls in the sukus (villages), but because many people lived overseas or had died and were still registered on the list.

“Our election is not obligatory. Some people have individual reasons not to take part, [so] we should respect that [because] we cannot force everyone,” he said.

However, in general he said the process had been run very well, particularly the counting of votes in the municipalities despite a number of challenges faced by teams on the ground, including poor road conditions and difficulties accessing voting centers in more remote areas.

He also thanked the Timorese people and authorities, especially the National Police of Timor-Leste and the country’s defense force (F-FDTL), for ensuring security was maintained and the election went ahead successfully. 

Eight candidates contested this year’s election on March 20 and the final results will be announced by the Court of Appeal later this week.