Timor-Leste has held elections since independence in 1999. Throughout this period the incidence and severity of electoral violence has varied considerably. For example, between May and August 2007 violence escalated during parliamentary elections in spite of a code of conduct committing political parties to nonviolence. Group clashes and widespread destruction of property were accompanied by at least two deaths and more than 100 injuries as well as the uprooting of 7,000 families. These events stand in stark contrast to presidential elections held just two months earlier, when there were no reported deaths, injuries, or population displacement.
Across all elections, the campaigning period is closely linked with progressive increases in election-related violence. This includes heightened tension between various actors, especially political rivals. What is more, the end of a given campaign registers an even higher potential for the escalation of violence (as in 1999 and 2007). Election Day, however, has been relatively calm in all elections. This may reflect the intensified security presence and planning around voting and vested political party interest in election outcomes. Likewise, the announcement of results is typically—but not always—calm, as is the reallocation of political representation based on election results.
Common types of electoral violence have been reported since 1999. These include killings, physical assault, intimidation, threats, arson, and destruction of property. The use of arson to destroy private and public property in 1999 and again after the 2007 parliamentary election reflects the volatility of electoral violence in post-conflict states, where entrenched conflict dynamics can simmer and flare up. On the other hand, systematic physical violence such as sexual violence, torture, and strategic displacement were generally limited to 1999, and group clashes and assaults were more common during 2007.
Political party supporters, and to some extent their leaders, were frequently identified as the primary instigators of electoral violence, with the exception of 1999. Party supporters targeted their political rivals rather than the state or party leaders, especially during campaign events. Although there are no known reports of political leaders condoning or encouraging violence among their supporters, verbal attacks and inflammatory language used by political leaders against rival candidates are influential on supporters. The role of security actors and informal groups affecting security—such as martial arts groups and ‘gangs’—is also less documented, although they are equally relevant actors.
In 2012 Elections, while the approach of this year’s elections has heightened nervousness among many Timorese regarding prospects for security, there have been few incidents of major concern. Senior figures from the leading political parties have sent all the right signals, attending each other’s party conferences and publicly wishing each other well.6 A few incidents involving alleged burnings of Fretilin flags by CNRT supporters have been smoothed over after communication between party leaders. Separate codes of conduct for candidates in each election have been drafted by the electoral administration body (STAE) and will be signed in the coming months. As this briefing went to press, there were reports of an attack on the electoral administration offices that caused no damage or injuries.
Electoral violence in Timor-Leste: mapping incidents and responses, TLAVA, 2009,