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Election Petitions! Wow! – Observers call for independent electoral management body!

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Regardless of where one sits or stands politically, it will be difficult not to conclude, based on evidence presented in court that the 2015 elections was nothing but a total mess. It really baffles one’s mind. It is also the height of absurdity that four years after an election, the battle over results is still being played out. I guess there are many reasons why that is so, but there must be some way of speeding up that process, or otherwise it makes little sense.

There are many questions arising and people will find their own answers or perhaps jump to their own conclusions regardless of what the court says. Was that total mess a result of incompetence, indifference, lack of training, or a conspiracy? People will find their own answers, but it is difficult to convince me that it has to do with lack of training, since many of the persons had worked in previous elections.  I am certainly not suggesting here that attention should not be paid to training. Someone admitted to mistakes but said that after all, he was human. This is serious business! Could you imagine a patient dying during an operation and the surgeon admitting to mistakes, saying that after all he was human?

We are going into our 40th year of the recovery of our independence and what has been revealed becomes a nasty stain on the image of the country. Moreover, some of the persons involved hold responsible positions and are obviously highly trained. We have to be committed regardless of the court’s decision to ensure that nothing of this magnitude happens again. To shrug all of this off by simply saying that mistakes were made is to move to the height of absurdity. Essential to our democracy is our right to vote and to have free and fair elections. Let us not dismiss the evidence that has surfaced. When persons screw up on tasks given to them and the responsibilities that they entail, they have to be held responsible. Lessons must be taught, and the mess-up cannot be dismissed simply as mere irregularities. 

The matter of election observers is one to which we need to pay more attention. Their focus is on what happens on election day. Were there any irregularities? Were people prevented from voting as they please?  Based on these they give a plus to the elections. They commended Vincentians “for the positive and peaceful manner in which they engaged the democratic process.”  But they are aware of issues in the run up to the elections and simply list these in their recommendations as though they mattered little but might be important later.   In their 2015 report the Commonwealth Observers stated that “the time has come for St Vincent and the Grenadines to deepen its democracy by establishing an independent election management body, in order to increase voter confidence.”

The OAS Observers identified some challenges in Central Leeward. They noted disquieting issues “mainly… the incorrect application of seals, the absence of the Presiding Officer’s stamp and initials on some ballots and the possible partiality of the returning officer who conducted this recount. In that regard, the Mission’s recommendation is to ensure better training and stricter guidelines and procedures for poll workers in conducting the Final Count at polling stations.” They did not discern any fraudulent or other activities at the final count “which could have materially affected the outcome of the vote.”

What happens next? How seriously are they taken? Who has the responsibility for taking matters further; for addressing the issues and looking at the recommendations? One thing is sure, major changes are needed, starting with an “independent electoral management body”. This is urgent!

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian

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