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The NMCM and that 15-day registration period

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The National Monitoring and Consultative Mechanism (NMCM) is meeting this afternoon to decide their role in the period leading up to the December 13, 2010 elections.{{more}}

Although their delayed appearance on the scene had some wondering if they would function this election season, we welcome their presence, late though it is.

During the 2001 and 2005 general elections, the NMCM drew up and monitored the three political parties’ adherence to an agreed upon code of conduct.

Recent developments have underscored the need to have the NMCM functioning, as many things which have happened over the last few weeks go contrary to the Code, and an independent monitoring body may be able to add a sober and calming voice to the situation.

The Code speaks generally to the conduct of candidates during the election campaign, reminding them, among other things, to stick to the truth, not to make grandiose promises or insulting remarks; and not to do anything to encourage hatred or violence, but rather to act in a manner to promote peace.

Leader of the Opposition Arnhim Eustace called on Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves yesterday to have a joint press conference with him, so that together, they can make a call for peace. We hope that the Prime Minister agrees to the call, so that a strong message is sent to the people. The occasion of the signing of the Code of Conduct for the 2010 elections might be as good a time as any for the joint call to be made.

In today’s paper, we carry a story in which the NDP is crying foul about the removal of campaign posters which had been placed on the exterior walls of the Victoria Park.

The 2005 code includes a clause which says “Political parties shall avoid defacing public buildings and structures. The rights of private property owners shall be respected.” The Code also advises that “posters may go on lamp-posts and other appropriate structures.” Had the code been signed earlier, reminding us of what is and is not acceptable conduct, this situation, which has resulted in accusations that democracy is being threatened, may not have arisen.

Another issue covered in today’s paper has to do with charges that have been made by the NDP of illegal registration of voters during the fifteen-day special registration period, which comes to an end today, November 30.

During the special registration period, only first time voters or persons wishing to be transferred from one constituency to another are accommodated.

Since the special registration period started on November 16, the atmosphere around the registration centres has been tense, with the NDP alleging that attempts are being made to register persons not eligible to vote in particular constituencies and the ULP countercharging that persons are being intimidated by supporters of the NDP when they try to register. As a matter of fact, one of reported incidents of election-related violence took place outside one of the registration centres in East Kingstown.

When the NMCM presented its report after the December 7, 2005 elections, it made eleven recommendations, one of which was that the 15-day special registration period be abolished. According to the report, the recommendation was made because this period “has serious implications for the conduct of free and fair elections. It does not provide any safeguards for checks and balances, as to who is registered in this period.”

The NMCM was of the opinion then that registration of voters should be continuous, and that “concerted efforts need to be made for persons to become registered on attainment of the age of 18.” This process, they feel, “should form an integral part of the programme of the Supervisor of Elections.”

We doubt that the NMCM is of a different view today, taking into consideration all that has happened in the last two weeks. Searchlight supports their call to abolish the 15-day special registration period. As a nation, we have more to lose than to gain from keeping it as part of our law.