By Caribbean News Now contributor
ST GEORGE’S, Grenada -- Electoral observation missions from the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) each issued preliminary reports on Wednesday on the general elections held in Grenada the previous day.
In response to an invitation from the government of Grenada to observe the general elections of February 19, the secretary general of the OAS, Jose Miguel Insulza, appointed Ambassador Joshua Sears, from The Bahamas, to lead a team of 18 international observers from 13 OAS member and observer states. The OAS international observers visited 100% of polling stations in the country’s 15 constituencies.
The OAS electoral observation mission (OAS/EOM) congratulated the people of Grenada for their active participation in this election, reflected in a high voter turnout, and the civil and peaceful manner in which this election was conducted. The OAS/EOM also recognizes the government of Grenada for all the steps taken in the preparation of this election, in particular, the efforts made by the Parliamentary Elections Office in promoting awareness on the new voter registry system and the electoral process.
In the spirit of constructive engagement, the OAS/EOM offered the following preliminary conclusions and recommendations. These are based on the direct observations of the OAS/EOM and meetings with various stakeholders including government authorities, the Supervisor of Elections, representatives of political parties, civil society organizations and representatives of various media outlets.
The OAS mission observed the preparations made by the Parliamentary Elections Office and saluted the efforts made by this office to raise awareness on the electoral process, the voting procedures and the new registration system. It is important to highlight that OAS/EOMs in Grenada had consistently pointed out the need for reforming and modernizing the voter registration system in Grenada. Following these OAS recommendations, a new voter registry was composed. Although it initially raised some concerns, the implementation of such a system in a period of 13 months, reflects the Grenadian authorities’ commitment to create a modern registration system with biometric elements that generate confidence and integrity.
The mission emphasized the efforts made by the Parliamentary Elections Office to issue and distribute the new voter ID cards. Government authorities, political party leaders and civil society organizations that met with members of the OAS/EOM recognized these efforts to inform on the alternative identification methods that would be used for those voters who had not received their voter ID card for the February 19 election.
During the pre-electoral period, the OAS/EOM heard concerns from different actors about four political parties (National United Front (NUF), Movement for Independent Candidates (MIC), People United Labor Party (PULP), and Good Old Democracy Party (GOD) not being able to register with the symbol of their preference. Some parties also expressed that the procedure to register the symbols was not clear and that the Parliamentary Elections Office had failed to clarify the procedure in a timely manner.
Another issue of concern brought to the attention of the OAS/EOM was the process of early voting by the police. Although the OAS/EOM recognizes that early voting for police officers is a good practice to ensure that they can exercise the right to vote, the distinguishable mark used to differentiate these ballots from regular ones makes it technically possible to identify how police officers voted. The mission noted the need to review the practice, taking into account that it could potentially undermine the secrecy of the vote and that the Constitution guarantees, under section 191 (b), the right to “vote by secret ballot at public elections which shall be universal and equal suffrage.”
The issue of campaign finance and related concerns surrounding the campaign process was discussed with the leaders of the two major political parties and civil society. The lack of regulations for campaign financing continues to be a concern of the OAS, as stated in the reports of previous missions. On the issue of equity, campaign finance regulations do not contemplate direct or indirect public financing nor do they stipulate limits on private sources of income to campaigns. On the issue of transparency, the Grenadian legal framework does not contemplate a mechanism or institution to monitor money coming in and out of the campaigns. Key actors in the country recognized the need to address equity and transparency in the financing of campaigns, including the adoption of campaign finance regulations.
Despite the fact that promoting women’s participation in the electoral process has been a consistent recommendation by OAS/EOMs in Grenada, the OAS/EOM noted with concern that female representation in political party lists in Grenada remained considerably low. Out of the 48 candidates running in this election, only nine, or 19% were women. Of the 15 members of parliament elected, only four were women or 26%.
Results from the observation during Election Day
The OAS/EOM acknowledged what preliminary results showed to be a high voter turnout (about 85%) and the dedication, professionalism and diligence with which poll workers and party agents conducted themselves to ensure the unfolding of a smooth and orderly process. Police officers were present in all polling stations.
All polling stations visited by OAS observers opened on time (on average at 6:00 am) and were equipped with the necessary electoral materials. It is also important to notice that many polling sites built ramps especially for Election Day to facilitate the exercise of the vote by people with disabilities. Pregnant women and elderly people were also given priority to vote.
In general, the observers noted that polling officials were well trained and diligent in the exercise of their duties. The active participation of party agents was also noticeable with representatives from the two major political parties (New National Party (NDC) and National Democratic Congress (NNP) present in 100% of the polling stations observed by the OAS. The mission emphasized the high participation of women as poll workers (61%) and party agents (85%) in the voting tables observed by the OAS.
The OAS observers did not register practices that impeded the exercise of the vote. Long lines were reported in 14% of the polling sites observed by the OAS, in particular, during the early morning hours. At closing time, all voters waiting in line were able to cast their ballot. Observers also noted that all legal procedures for the vote counting process were followed.
One of the OAS electoral observation mission’s main objectives was to produce recommendations in order to contribute to the improvement of electoral systems in the countries observed. In order to enhance future electoral processes in Grenada, the OAS/EOM proposed the following recommendations:
• Undertake a comprehensive review of the Representation of the Peoples Act: This review should address omissions such as: (a) the mechanisms to ensure that electors who are duly registered are entitled to exercise their franchise, (b) the use of symbols by political parties, (c) advance polling for election workers, and d) the legal personality of political parties.
• The enactment of campaign finance regulations: the OAS/EOM reiterated the recommendation made by the previous OAS electoral observation missions to enact political party and campaign finance regulations in order to promote transparency and more equitable conditions for the participants in the electoral process.
• Eliminate the distinguishing mark on the police ballot: the mission proposes that Grenadian authorities consider eliminating the distinguishing mark on the police ballot and bringing it in compliance with the Constitution regarding the secrecy of the ballot.
• The promotion of women’s political participation: the OAS/EOM recommended that efforts be made by political parties and the government to promote the participation of women in electoral competition. In particular, the mission recommended the adoption of positive measures to ensure women are incorporated on the ballot and the promotion of training programs for female political leaders.
Last year, the OAS celebrated 50 years of conducting election observation and cooperation in the Americas. Electoral observation missions are a key instrument of cooperation with member countries to strengthen their democratic systems. In this regard, with the now concluded electoral process in Grenada, the mission reiterated its commitment to hold a post-electoral visit, in order to follow up on the recommendations with the relevant authorities, and offer the support of the OAS in the entire electoral cycle.
In the coming weeks, the chief of mission, Joshua Sears, will be presenting a report to the OAS Permanent Council on the activities of the OAS/EOM in Grenada.
Finally, the OAS/EOM acknowledged the generous financial contributions from the governments of Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Mexico, Chile, Argentina, Bolivia and France, which made possible the work of this mission.
Meanwhile, a seven-member CARICOM electoral observer mission arrived in Grenada for the parliamentary elections held on Tuesday. The mission was led by Dr Van Dijk-Silos of Suriname and comprised observers from Antigua and Barbuda, Belize, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago.
The chief of mission and the CARICOM Secretariat representative spent one week prior to the poll, monitoring the preparations for the elections and meeting with various stakeholders. The other five members of the delegation arrived on 15 February 2013.
On polling day, three teams were deployed to observe the elections in all constituencies of Grenada except for Carriacou and Petite Martinique. The team visited a total of fourteen constituencies. The team was out on polling day well before the polling stations were opened to witness the opening of the polls, the voting process, the closing of the polls and the counting. All stakeholders and observers -- local, regional and international -- were given approval to witness the count. The mission recorded that all counting was conducted in a transparent manner.
The mission took note of and generally observed the following:
1. The poll was conducted in a peaceful atmosphere, without any incidence of intimidation observed or being reported. The people of Grenada exercised their democratic right in a civil and responsible manner demonstrating respect for the electoral process.
2. Polling stations opened on time and it was observed that all the polling officials were present. The police provided adequate security at all polling stations observed.
3. Polling stations were suitable in terms of location and capacity to accommodate electors. The stations were adequately supplied with the necessary material and the staff were knowledgeable about polling procedures. Most of the presiding officers and other electoral officials appeared confident and operated within the framework of the law.
The mission stated that, in assessing the conduct of the poll, it was found that voters in Grenada were able to cast their ballots without intimidation or harassment, which augured well for the conduct of an orderly and peaceful election.
The CARICOM electoral observer mission was of the view that the preparations for the conduct of the poll were exceptional and the workers were properly trained which allowed them to execute their duties in a professional, confident and impartial manner.
The mission congratulated the Supervisor of Elections, the Parliamentary Election Office, the poll workers, the political parties and the people of Grenada for the decent way in which the elections were conducted, without any reported incidents of violence and a display of great patience by voters while waiting in the long queues.
The CARICOM Electoral Observer Mission is of the view that the results of the parliamentary elections reinforced the commitment of the people of Grenada to the democratic process.
The findings and recommendations of the mission, including any suggestions for strengthening the electoral process of Grenada, will be included in the report to the secretary-general of the Caribbean Community.
Finally, the CARICOM electoral observer mission expressed its gratitude to the political leaders, the Supervisor of Elections, civil society and the people of Grenada for their warm welcome and cooperation that contributed to the success of the mission.