Tensions Rise In St Vincent Following OAS Election Report

It has been six months since general elections were held on the island of St Vincent and the Grenadines,however the nation has not returned to a sense of normalcy.

And as the OAS released its full report on the outcome of their vist,tensions and tempers have began to flare,with even more venom than following the days after the elections.

Added to the report is the vexatious situation with the petitions brought before the court by the NDP Opposition party.

In those pettitions the Opposition claims numerous discrepancies before and on election day.

One of the main contention in those petitions being that of the Central Leeward constituency where the Opposition claims that numerous persons where disenfranchised,and that their candidate Benjamin Exeter won.

Lawyers for the Government has ask for the petitions to be thrown out,they have stated the proper procedure was not followed in the fileing of those documents.

May 27th has been set as the date for hearing of those petitions.

The OAS observers noted the following issues  in this particular constituency.

a.Incorrect application of seals: On several ballot boxes, while tie-locks had been placed inthe required locations around the perimeter of the box and through the flap covering theslot, the seal was not placed across the slot itself.

In some cases the seal was placed on theflat part of the box cover, in a fashion similar to a sticker.

In one case (CL-D) the seal wasnot on the box at all, but was wrapped around one of the locks.

The NDP agents noted that in these cases they could not be certain that tampering had not taken place, and requestedthat the Returning Officer note their concerns.

b.Absence of Presiding Officer stamp and initials on some ballots: In two ballot boxes,which were both incorrectly sealed, a number of ballots had neither the stamp nor initial ofthe Presiding Officer.

As this applied to the ballots for both the ULP and the NDP, and as therelevant ballots had been cut in such a way (on the slant) so that a small portion of theballot had been removed along with the counterfoil, it appeared that the Presiding Officerhad simply removed the counterfoil in such a way that his/her stamp and initial remainedon the counterfoil itself.

The NDP agents requested permission to view the counterfoils toconfirm that the stamp and initials were present. This request was refused by theReturning Officer.

Repeated appeals and objections by the NDP agents were ignored by theReturning Officer

c.Partiality of the Returning Officer: The bias of the Returning Officer towards the ULPcandidate and agents was clear.

During the period witnessed by the OAS Observers, the ROroutinely ignored attempts by the NDP agents to gain his attention, responded to theirconcerns or objections in a dismissive or exasperated fashion, or complained that they werewasting his time.

On the other hand, concerns voiced by ULP agents were immediatelyaddressed and in one particular instance converted by the Returning Officer into a new instruction for the counting process.

It was notable that the instruction was revoked only after a lead ULP agent agreed that it should be.

These points and other parts of the recent report has propelled the Opposition into fourth gear.

By way of the media the NDP has started its campaign as to the validity of their petitions now before the courts.

On the flip side of the coin the OAS stated “The process observed took place as follows: The Returning Officer opened the ballot box (he was assisted in this regard by a uniformed police officer) and removed the envelopes containing the candidates’ ballots.

The Returning Officer counted the ballots for the first candidate into stacks and passed the stacks to the Election Clerk who counted them again.

The Election Clerk then passed the stacks to the first NDP agent who handed them over to the second NDP agent for close review and counting.

The process was then repeated for the second candidate.

The number totals were compared and agreed.

The OAS also noted not withstanding the concerns raised, the Observers did not discern any fraudulent or other activities at the Final Count which could have materially affected the outcome of the vote in which the ULP candidate won by 313 votes.

The aforementioned issues however strongly indicate a need for further training in rules and procedures for staff at all levels of the electoral machinery in order to reduce or eliminate the variations observed in the treatment of the ballots and ballot boxes.

A greater awareness of the need for professionalism and impartiality in the conduct of the electoral process, and closer screening of senior electoral officers to ensure that they comply with this indispensable requirement, will help to ensure citizens have greater faith in the electoral process and its stewards.

Small protest by a group of individuals continues on the island following the elections of 2015.

The leads spokesperson for the group is Activist Luzettte King.

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