OAS election observers in attendance at a polling station in Antigua. OAS photo
ST JOHN’S, Antigua -- On Friday, the Organization of American States (OAS) electoral observation mission issued the following preliminary statement on the general elections In Antigua and Barbuda:
The Electoral Observation Mission (EOM) of the Organization of American States (OAS) in Antigua and Barbuda congratulates the people of Antigua and Barbuda for their extraordinary commitment to the electoral process, reflected in a high voter turnout and a peaceful exercise of their franchise during the Election Day.
The Secretary General of the OAS, José Miguel Insulza, spoke with Prime Minister-elect Gaston Brown to extend his congratulations and to offer the support of the Organization to his government.
The OAS/EOM, led by Rosina Wiltshire, designated by Secretary General Insulza, recognizes the efforts made by both the Antigua and Barbuda Electoral Commission and the Supervisor of Elections in the preparation of this election, enabling them to overcome several of the problems experienced in 2009. These efforts resulted in the conduct of an organized and outstanding electoral process.
The OAS/EOM fielded a team of 16 members from 12 countries to observe the June 12th, 2014 General Election on invitation of the Antigua and Barbuda Government. On Election Day, observers were present in all 17 constituencies, visiting 100% of the polling centers. Voting started on time at 6:00 am in all of the polling stations observed. All stations had the required material for the conduct of the election and in 100% of observed cases police or security were present, collaborating to ensure a peaceful voting process.
The Mission was pleased to observe the extraordinary commitment of women in the political process, reflected in their strong presence at the polling stations as presiding officers, poll workers and party agents. In general, the observers noted that polling officials were well trained and diligent in the exercise of their duties. The Mission was also pleased that senior citizens and persons with disabilities had priority in casting their vote.
With the purpose of strengthening the electoral system in Antigua and Barbuda, and based on the observations and information gathered by direct observations of the OAS team, as well as in meetings with electoral authorities, government officials, political parties, representatives of civil society organizations and the media, the Electoral Observation Mission would like to offer the following preliminary findings:
During the pre-electoral period, the Mission met with a wide range of stakeholders who shared their perspectives and concerns. There is a widespread perception that the campaign spending has increased in this election; this is noticeable in billboards and political paraphernalia across the country. Most actors have voiced the need to establish a cap on campaign spending, as well as to fully disclose the source of funding in electoral campaigns, guaranteeing higher levels of accountability and transparency.
Regarding the participation of women in politics, there was a consensus that there has been some advancement since the 2009 General Elections. This has been reflected in the increase of women appointed to key positions of government, such as the Senate, recognizing the invaluable contribution of women in leadership roles in the country. Nevertheless, there is a general consensus about the pressing need to address the prevalent underrepresentation of women, especially in the fielding of female candidates in the ticket.
The OAS/EOM noticed that after the 2009 General Elections, the Opposition questioned the report produced by the Constituencies Boundaries Commission, which reviewed the numbers and boundaries of constituencies. The Mission has also noted that the current constituencies present some imbalances regarding the number of voters that could lead to an unequal representation of the electorate. The Mission found that there is consensus amongst all parties to address this matter.
In regard to the registration process, concerns were expressed regarding the absence of continuous registration established by the law. After the re-registration process that was conducted from September to November 2013, continuous registration should have been restored to ensure the inclusion of all eligible voters in the final voting list.
The Mission took note of the political composition of the Electoral Commission and heard the concerns expressed by several actors regarding the need to appoint the seventh member of the body considered in the legislation to guarantee the balance of power. Considering the challenges ahead and the crucial role of the Electoral Commission in addressing these matters, the Mission encourages all political actors to reach an agreement regarding the composition of this institution.
While recognizing the orderly, effective and peaceful manner in which the Election Day was conducted, the Mission considers there are some concerns that should be addressed by the Electoral Commission. During the voting process OAS Observers noticed long lines in several polling stations across the country. The Mission considers that some measures could be taken to speed up the process. Additionally, the OAS/EOM observed that, due to the lack of the publication of voter lists outside polling stations, some citizens encountered difficulties when trying to identify where they should cast their vote.
The Mission acknowledges the presence of security officials in all polling centers and recognizes their important role in maintaining a peaceful atmosphere for the electorate. Nevertheless, the OAS learned that Police officers are not given an opportunity to vote in advance. They are therefore required to vote at the same time as the general public, reducing their capacity to ensure the safety and security of the voting process.
After the close of polls, ballot boxes are transported to a central counting center for each constituency instead of being counted at the polling stations. The Mission considers this presents potential implications for a lack of transparency and efficiency in the counting process.
In order to support the continuous efforts of Antigua and Barbuda to strengthen their democracy, the OAS/EOM would like to propose the following recommendations:
• The Mission would welcome the restitution of the continuous registration process by the Antigua and Barbuda Electoral Commission, following the rules instructed by the Representation of the People Act. The OAS suggests the electoral authority to ensure that the registration process is not interrupted in the event of future re-registration processes.
• In order to guarantee the balance of power within the Commission, established by the reform made after the 2009 Election, the Mission would welcome stakeholders agreement on which candidate should occupy the seventh seat as soon as possible.
• Once the electoral process is finalized, the Mission recommends all political actors to guarantee the independence of the Boundaries Commission in the upcoming debate regarding the constituencies’ boundaries established in the law, to ensure that the future constituencies are more balanced in terms of number of voters.
• The Mission invites political parties and candidates to engage in the promotion of specific reforms to directly tackle the existing situation of the underrepresentation of women running for seats in the House of Representatives. In this regard, the Mission recommends that political parties work on the inclusion of affirmative action measures in their Constitutions to guarantee the full exercise of political rights for men and women and the promotion of gender equality in the electoral competition
• The Electoral Commission must be empowered with authority and resources for effective oversight of political spending, and must ensure the enforcement of more effective sanctions in case of misconduct. Based on the conclusions adopted during the Regional Forum Strengthening Regulation of Political Parties and Political Financing System in the Caribbean, in 2013 in Barbados, the Mission advises consideration of the adoption of the model law on regulation of political parties and political financing system debated in this forum.
• In terms of electoral organization, the Mission recommends taking a number of actions to speed up the electoral process, including the publishing of voter lists outside each polling station and enabling the verification process of at least one or two additional voters while one voter is casting his/her ballot.
• The Mission suggests considering counting the votes at the polling station under the supervision of the Presiding Officer and the scrutiny of Electoral Officers, Political Agents and Security Forces, as well as citizens of Antigua and Barbuda.
A more detailed verbal report on the observations and recommendations of the OAS Electoral Observation Mission will be presented by the Chief of Mission, Rosina Wiltshire, shortly to the OAS Permanent Council in Washington, D.C. This report will be shared with all stakeholders in Antigua and Barbuda and will be available through the OAS website at www.oas.org
The OAS Mission wishes to thank the Government of Antigua and Barbuda for the invitation to observe this process and to the Antiguans and Barbudans for their warm welcome. In addition, the Mission thanks the governments of Argentina, Bolivia, Spain, Chile, France, Serbia, Turkey, United Kingdom and South Korea for their contributions that made this mission possible.