There has been much discussion about the electoral process in St. Vincent and the Grenadines following the 2015 general elections. Numerous calls have been made by the New Democratic Party (NDP) and local commentators for electoral reform. With general elections fast approaching, it would appear that the government is reluctant to make any changes to the electoral laws. As a responsible opposition party, the NDP has tabled a motion on Electoral reform in parliament which is to be debated on Friday 17th May, 2019.
The following is the motion: WHEREAS public confidence in the electoral system to deliver free and fair elections is vital to democracy;
AND WHEREAS the electoral system in our country has revealed serious problems over the years and most recently in the 2015 general elections that have shaken public confidence in it;
AND WHEREAS the Special Voter Registration Period and the lack of impartiality among election officials have been highlighted as being among such problems;
AND WHEREAS election observers, including those from the OAS and the Commonwealth Secretariat, have noted some of the problems and recommended changes to improve the elections process;
AND WHEREAS in 2017 the Leader of the Opposition wrote to the Prime Minister to seek to address these serious problems in a bipartisan manner;
AND WHEREAS general elections in this country are approaching;
AND WHEREAS it is necessary and desirable that the serious problems in the electoral system including those specifically noted herein be addressed before the next general elections by, among other things, amending The Representation of the People Act;
BE IT RESOLVED that this Honourable House supports a motion to bring about necessary and desirable changes to the elections process in our country by amending The Representation of the People Act in like or similar terms to those set out in the draft Bill outlined below and by adopting other practical and effective measures to ensure free and fair elections and restore public confidence in our electoral system.
One of the major concerns is the 15 day registration period after the general elections are announced. Successive supervisors of elections since 2001have advised the government that this special period of registration should be abolished. Also, in 2015, the following organizations which monitored the general elections: The OAS Electoral Observation Mission, The commonwealth Election Observer Team, Caricom Election Observation Mission and the National Monitoring and Consultative Mechanism (NMCH) recommended that the 15 day registration period be abolished.
The OAS Electoral Observation Mission claimed that the special 15 day period to register (just prior to an election) overloads the work of the Electoral Department. It is therefore suggested that the admission of new registrants to the voters list be closed in advance of the elections, perhaps on the date on which the general elections are announced. This will give more certainty to the elections and will reduce the workload of the Election Department which will be able to devote more time to the organization and logistics of the Election Day and thus improve the system and results.
The observers also recommended that an independent elections commission be established. Further, the OAS Electoral Observation Mission recommends that consideration be given to the establishment of an Independent Electoral Management Body, whose membership should be comprised of independent actors with a strong technical focus. In keeping with best practices across parts of the OECS and the wider CARICOM area, such a body ought to be endowed with a structure and a range of powers that will speak to its autonomy and independence.
Campaign Financing is another issue that observers felt needed attention. The commonwealth Election Observer Team recommends that a regulatory framework governing campaign financing is developed prior to the next election, in order to promote fairness, transparency and accountability.
The NDP for years have been complaining about the size of the Voters List and held several meetings with the former supervisor of elections discussing the issue. An attempt was made prior to the 2015 general elections to cleanse the voters list but there were problems. However, the OAS Electoral Observation Mission has encouraged the Electoral Authorities to continue updating and cleansing the Voters List and further recommends that the voters list also include the photograph of each citizen, so that the identification process is easy and immediate. Such a move will also have a positive impact on issues of civil registration and citizenship.
Other recommendations from the observers include: the voter registration process be reviewed and appropriate changes made well before the next general election; the recruitment of Returning and Presiding Officers is made more transparent, by the development of recruitment guidelines and the advertisement of the positions; standardized procedures and training for poll workers; the NMCM should endeavour to have monitors present at the final count following the elections; the law should be reviewed and amended to provide clear guidelines for the formal announcement of election results to the voting public by the Election Supervisor before a new government can be officially formed; the NMCH should make a concerted effort to have continuous dialogue with the political parties and the police during the campaign process. And reduce the number of electors to a polling station from approximately 600 to a more manageable figure of approximately 300 electors per polling station.
The recommendations that were made by the organizations which observed the 2015 general elections if implemented will enhance the electoral process and inspire confidence in the electorate of this country. Will the government amend the electoral laws or adopt the Bill that the NDP presented to parliament? Undoubtedly, there is need for electoral reform in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The NMCM also agreed that there is need for electoral reform and stated that reform will ensure transparency and confidence at all levels.