Observers say Jamaica elections free and fair; low voter turnout a concern

caricom mission

FREE AND FAIR: Chief of Mission for the CARICOM Electoral Observation Mission to Jamaica, Josephine Tamai (right), goes over her notes with observers Roslyn Springer of Barbados (centre) and Sherlyn Hall of Bahamas.

 

KINGSTON, Jamaica, Monday February 29, 2016 – The two groups of observers who kept an eye on last Thursday’s elections in Jamaica say the process was free and fair.

Both the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the Organization of American States (OAS) Electoral Observation Missions (EOMs) to Jamaica said the poll was conducted in a transparent manner.

Chief of Mission for the CARICOM mission, Josephine Tamai, said the election was “credible”.

“The mission’s general assessment of the day’s activities is that the voters were able to cast their ballots without intimidation or harassment,” she said at a press conference held to give the assessment of the polls.

Tamai noted that the voting commenced promptly at the polling stations visited by the five teams of the CARICOM EOM, and the centres were fully staffed, with adequate supplies of required materials and supplies.

“Representatives of the two major political parties were present in all areas observed. For the most part, polling stations were conveniently located and accessible to the public,” she said.

The mission chief noted that adequate security was in place at all locations and the officers displayed “a very professional approach, which contributed to the level of calm that accompanied the day’s activities.”

She further commended the “hard working and dedicated” staff of the Electoral Commission of Jamaica, poll workers, the political parties, candidates, and the people of Jamaica.

However, Tamai recommended that the Government look into strengthening the Office of the Political Ombudsman, and consider placing polling stations further apart.

She said that more recommendations will be made in a fulsome report to be prepared and submitted to the Secretary General of CARICOM, Ambassador, Irwin LaRocque.

Meantime, Chief of Mission of the OAS EOM, Janet Bostwick, said several “good practices” were observed during the electoral process, which can be beneficial to other countries in the region.

oas mission

Chief of Mission, Electoral Observation Mission of the OAS, Janet Bostwick (left), engages in light conversation with Political Analyst with the EOM, Paul Spencer and Ambassador of the Republic of Nicaragua to Jamaica, David McField.

 

The OAS mission comprised 23 international observers from 15 OAS member states and two observer states, and included specialists in electoral organization, electoral technology, political financing, gender and political analysis.

“The EOM noted that the polling stations opened on time and were equipped with the materials required for the elections,” Bostwick said, commending electoral authorities for the timely and efficient tabulation, transmission and release of the preliminary results, which she said, “enhances the credibility of the process and is a significant tool for stability.”

While noting that most voters had the necessary information as to where to cast their votes, and were assisted in this regard by the electoral authorities as well as party agents, the EOM team suggested that posting the voters’ list outside of each polling station would enhance the delivery and transparency of the voting process.

The OAS mission, however, raised concern about the low voter turnout, which was recorded at 47.7 per cent. This was a reduction from the 52.6 per cent of voters who participated in the electoral process in 2011.

Bostwick, in lamenting the apathy observed in the general population, particularly among young people, noted that robust participation in a country’s electoral process is essential to maintain and strengthen the democratic system of government and to identify, encourage and develop the next cadre of political leaders.

“The EOM recommends that the Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ), the Electoral Office of Jamaica (EOJ), the Political Ombudsman and other stakeholders, re-double their voter education and public awareness campaigns to inform and energize new voters, while encouraging the participation of the general electorate in the national electoral process,” the Mission Chief said.

The EOM has also recommended that the electoral authorities consider provisions to facilitate voting by qualified voters, whose names appear on the voters’ list, but who are unable to be present at their designated polling centre on Election Day.

These include persons in hospitals or nursing homes, citizens on remand or serving terms of imprisonment and Jamaicans posted or residing overseas.

A detailed report of the observations and recommendations of the OAS Mission will be presented to the OAS Permanent Council in Washington, D.C.

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