OAS gives election a thumbs up

Calls for speedy enactment of campaign financing laws

Sunday, January 01, 2012

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THE conduct of the general election last Thursday has earned the approval of the Organisation of American States (OAS), even as two other observer groups, including the Caricom Observer Mission, rated the poll among the best the island has experienced.

According to the OAS, the way the polls were held was testament to the "maturity" of Jamaica's democracy, giving them a passing grade.

The third organisation to give the process the 'thumbs up' is the local Citizens' Action for Free and Fair Elections (CAFFE), whose only criticisms were that the slow casting of ballots where the Electronic Voter Identification and Ballot Issuing System (EVIBIS) was in use and that some polling stations were inaccessible to the elderly and the disabled.

Despite the low voter turnout, CAFFE director Dr Lloyd Barnett rated Thursday's proceedings "fairly highly".

"...In relation to the actual conduct, the absence of open voting, the absence of intimidation, the observance of the rules - I think this must be rated as probably one of the best, if not the best [election]," Barnett told the Sunday Observer on Friday.

Barnett, who is one of Jamaica's premier constitutional attorneys, also lauded the level of peace that accompanied the polls and said that the political parties should be congratulated for this.

During a press conference at the Courtleigh Hotel in Kingston on Friday, the OAS election observer mission and the Caricom team also praised the way in which the election was conducted.

"...I think it is a testament to the maturity of the democracy that the events of [Thursday] were carried out, for the most part, in a calm atmosphere, and that the transition of power has been orderly and calm," said Ambassador Lisa Shoman, chief of the OAS observer mission.

"What I can say to you now, even at this preliminary stage, we do see progress and we are going to be benchmarking that progress as we go along," added Shoman, who led a group of 28 observers from 16 countries across the Americas.

Shoman said that the work of the group, which was able to observe voting in all parishes except St Elizabeth, was not hindered in conducting its duties at the 852 polling stations visited.

The OAS mission also commended the Electoral Commission for the significant preparations made to generate voter confidence and to "ensure an inclusive and clean electoral process". The group also made note of the fact that election day workers, for the most part, seem to be well trained and knowledgeable about the procedures.

The timely opening of polls on Thursday morning and the speed with which the results were delivered also found favour with the OAS observer team.

However, it also made a number of recommendations, which it believes will further strengthen the electoral process in the future. These include:

*Making provision for the allocation of adequate space for polling stations and identifying, wherever possible, locations that have both an entrance and exit to facilitate the flow of electors;

*Clarifying the role, duties and responsibilities of the political liaison officer at the polling station;

*Providing adequate signage at the entrance to polling stations to indicate exactly which ones are located within that centre;

*Providing copies of the voter's list at each polling station in a place it can be easily accessed by voters.

Additionally, the OAS has called for the speedy passage of campaign financing legislation by the Jamaican Parliament.

"We are pleased that there is draft legislation. We certainly urge that that legislation be reviewed, go through the process and hopefully passed as quickly as possible," said Shoman.

"Campaign financing is one of the things that the OAS had been working on and has made recommendations. We feel justifiably proud of the fact that we have made model legislation available [to Jamaican authorities], we have had conversations with the stakeholders," said Shoman.

She also commended the five private sector companies that came out and disclosed what political party they have supported financially.

"That, we think, is a big step, and it is one that will redound to the democratic process in Jamaica."

According to a Sunday Gleaner report, Sagicor Life Jamaica Group, Scotia Group Jamaica Limited, ICD Group, GraceKennedy and the JMMB Group have donated a total of $69.5 million between People's National Party and the Jamaica Labour Party.

The nation has been moving slowly to enact campaign legislation which, it is hoped, would bring transparency to the process plus eliminate cronyism and corruption, among other things.

But businesses have, for the most part, expressed concern that there may be a backlash if they are required to declare to whom they have donated funds.

A more detailed verbal report on the observations and recommendations of the OAS EOM will be presented to the OAS Permanent Council in Washington, DC in early 2012. This report will be shared with all stakeholders in Jamaica and will be available through the OAS website at www.oas.org.

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