GEORGE TOWN, Cayman Islands -- The Commonwealth Parliamentary Association's elections observers mission leader Mario Galea, a member of parliament from Malta, has given the Cayman Islands nine out of ten for the elections and elections process.
The preliminary report as released by the mission on Friday appears below:
Cayman Islands General Elections 2013
Election results truly reflect the will of the people
In our view the 2013 General Elections in the Cayman Islands met the international standards for democratic, genuine and transparent elections and the results truly reflect the will of the people. We commend the people of the Cayman Islands for the way these elections were conducted. The peaceful election process allowed different opinions to be expressed freely. The high voters' turnout is also a very positive sign and it shows commitment of the Caymanian people to the principles of democracy.
The 2013 General Elections were the third elections since the introduction of political parties system in the Cayman Islands. The amendment of elections law in 2012 increased the number of elected members of the Legislative Assembly from fifteen to eighteen. Three political parties fielded together 32 candidates while another 24 candidates ran as independent.
The United Democratic Party (UDP) won the previous elections in May 2009, with McKeeva Bush assuming the post of Premier. The UDP lost majority in December 2012 after a vote of no-confidence in the government at the Legislative Assembly and five members of the UDP subsequently formed a new government headed by the former Deputy Premier, Juliana O`Connor-Connolly.
The political situation prior to elections was also significantly influenced by the unsuccessful July 2012 referendum aimed at changing the electoral system to single-member constituencies. The referendum was originally initiated by the peoples' petition, however it was eventually called by the resolution of the Legislative Assembly. Although majority of participating electors was in favour of change, the level of support did not reach the required 50 per cent plus one vote of all registered electors. The Cayman Islands is one of only a few jurisdictions in the world where voters have unequal number of votes in general elections.
The election legal framework consisting of the Cayman Islands Constitution Order 2009 and Elections Law (2009 Revision) in general provides for holding genuine democratic elections. The fundamental civil and political rights and freedoms, such as freedom of expression, assembly, association and movement, as well as principle of non-discrimination are guaranteed in the Bill of Rights, Freedoms and Responsibilities of the Constitution Order 2009.
Eighteen members of the Legislative Assembly are elected for four year term in four multi-member and two single-member electoral districts and the number of elected members in multi-member districts varies between two and six. This disproportion in the number of elected members per electoral district contradicts the equal suffrage principle of one person, one vote. The equality of vote is further undermined by the fact that the average number of electors represented by one elected member in the Legislative Assembly varies between 520 in case of Cayman Brac and Little Cayman electoral district and 1,240 in case of George Town electoral district.
The Elections Office is responsible for organising elections and referenda in the Cayman Islands. It is an executive election management body as it is part of the government portfolio of internal and external affairs. The Supervisor of Elections as well as his three Deputies are appointed by the Governor.
So far the Elections Office has acted in an impartial and transparent manner and has demonstrated a high level of professional competence. The contesting political parties, as well as independent candidates have expressed general satisfaction with the performance of the Elections Office and any points of concern will be addressed in the final report. All electoral preparations were completed on time and from the technical point of view the elections were very well prepared and administered.
The right to vote is guaranteed by the Constitution Order 2009 to all Caymanians who are registered electors. The required qualifications for registering as an elector are generally reasonable, however notable exception is the requirement to be a resident in the Cayman Islands for a period or periods amounting to not less than two years out of the four years immediately preceding the date of registration. Although any period of absence for certain specific purposes stipulated in the Constitution Order 2009 is disregarded, this requirement appears to be overly restrictive and might have prevented a number of otherwise eligible Caymanians from exercising their right to vote. It should be also noted that according to the 2010 Population and Housing Census only 56.3 per cent of the resident population are Caymanians who are, after meeting the other qualification requirements, eligible to register as electors.
The total number of registered electors for 2013 General Elections reached 18,492, which is a notable and commendable increase of 3,131 electors or 20.4 per cent compared to 2009 General Elections. This reflected the proactive action taken by the Elections Office to register more electors. However, the 2010 Population and Housing Census data indicate that still around 5,000 Caymanians in voting age have not registered as electors and are therefore left out of the election process.
In order to be elected as a member of the Legislative Assembly any person has to meet several qualification requirements. While to a large extent these requirements are reasonable, some of them, namely the required durations of residence in the Cayman Islands before the nomination appear to be unreasonably limiting the right to stand for elective office.
A person can also be disqualified if s/he is by virtue of his/her own act under any acknowledgement of allegiance, obedience or adherence to a foreign power or state. The lack of clarity in the Constitution Order 2009 on what constitutes "his or her own act" led the Elections Office which has the authority to initially decide on eligibility of candidates to make different decisions in similar cases. It should be noted that many Caymanians were born outside the Cayman Islands or to parent(s) with other citizenship and therefore either possess or have right to some other citizenship.
In total 56 candidates were contesting 18 seats in the Legislative Assembly and competitive elections were held in each of the six electoral districts.
Election Campaign and Media
A lengthy election campaign period started, in line with the elections law, immediately after the nomination of candidates on 27 March. The election campaign was conducted in a peaceful atmosphere, candidates were able to campaign freely and present their political platforms and qualifications and voters were able to receive sufficient information to make an informed choice. As confirmed by numerous candidates across the political spectrum as well as other election stakeholders, fundamental rights and freedoms, such as freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and movement were respected at all times.
Both public and private media played an important role in the election campaign. According to various stakeholders the public media provided balanced reporting and contributed to fair conduct of the election campaign. The private media reportedly provided air time and space to all candidates on an equal basis, however the UDP accused some private media outlets of being openly biased against the party. The Mission did not conduct any systematic qualitative and quantitative media monitoring and therefore can neither confirm nor refute these accusations. Furthermore there is no legislation or code of conduct regulating the conduct of media during the election campaign.
The Mission received numerous allegations of widespread vote buying during the campaign by different candidates and political parties. However, according to the Police, no official report has been filed in this regard. Unlike during the previous elections, the Caymanian authorities, namely the Police Service, Anti-Corruption Commission and Elections Office took active approach and launched a media awareness campaign including a confidential reporting line to prevent and fight against any illegal practices of distribution of money, goods or other benefits in exchange for potential votes.
The Elections Law sets the limits for candidates' election expenses. Several candidates expressed the views that the limits of CI$30,000 and CI$35,000 for different categories of candidates are unrealistically low given the duration of campaign period and existing price level in the Cayman Islands and alleged that many candidates across the political spectrum will exceed these limits. While after elections all candidates are obliged to submit to the Supervisor of Elections a true election expenses return containing statement of all payments made or received by or on behalf of the candidate, there is no obligation for any state institution to actually verify the completeness and accuracy of declared expenses and contributions.
On election day the Election Observer Mission (EOM) observers visited all 46 polling stations in six electoral districts. The overall conduct of opening, voting and closing operations was assessed by the EOM observers as very good or good in all polling stations. The procedures were followed, polling staff was generally well trained and polling agents representing different candidates were present in all polling stations. The mission would like to commend the fact that women were well represented among the polling staff as well as among the polling agents.
The counting of votes took place in the counting stations and the EOM observers observed the process in ten out of nineteen counting stations in four electoral districts. The counting procedures were followed, votes were counted in a transparent manner in the presence of counting agents representing different candidates and no recount was requested. The total number of invalid ballots was only around one per cent.
As a transparency enhancing measure, the two-hourly voters' turnout reports as well as progressive results of the count were continuously published on the Elections Office website. The full preliminary results for all six electoral districts with polling division and polling station breakdown were available online in the morning of 23 May.
The turnout was high and reached 79.94 per cent. Almost identical, though slightly higher percentage of registered electors (80.54 per cent) participated also in the 2009 General Elections.
The Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, British Islands and Mediterranean Region, Election Observer Mission (EOM) has been present in the Cayman Islands since 16 May 2013 following an invitation from the Governor of the Cayman Islands. The Mission is led by Hon. Mario Galea, Member of Parliament in Malta. In total the EOM deployed six observers from Bermuda, Guyana, Jersey, Malta, Scotland and Trinidad and Tobago, two election analysts and one administrator to assess the electoral process in accordance with international commitments for elections as well as the laws of the Cayman Islands. The EOM is independent in its findings and conclusions and adheres to the Declaration of Principles for International Election Observation signed at the United Nations in October 2005. The EOM will remain in country until 27 May 2013 to observe post-election developments and will publish a final report, containing recommendations, within two months of the conclusion of the electoral process. The EOM wishes to express its appreciation to the authorities of the Cayman Islands, election officials, candidates, political parties as well as the people of the Cayman Islands for their cooperation and assistance in the course of the observation.