The pursuit for constitutional reform in St Lucia

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In the light of Saint Lucia’s elections ‘peaceful and transparent’, Commonwealth report, the executive summary and conclusions make for interesting reading.

Moreover, with a two-thirds majority in the parliament of Saint Lucia, and the outcry for constitutional reform, (inclusive of constituency boundaries commission), much is now expected in the interest of good governance.

In the interest of inspiring conversations and affirmative action, the executive summary and conclusions are republished (as written).

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Executive summary

The Commonwealth Observer Group for the 26 July 2021 General Elections was present in Saint Lucia from 22 to 30 July 2021.

In carrying out its Terms of Reference, the Group assessed the various aspects of the electoral process against the national, regional, Commonwealth and international standards for democratic elections that Saint Lucia has committed itself to. The Group met with a broad range of stakeholders including the Electoral Commission, the main political parties, independent candidates, representatives of civil society, including women and youth groups, media, the Police and other international observers.

The Group deployed across the country on Election Day, covering all 17 Electoral Districts.

The Group’s consultations as well as its observations ahead of and on Election Day, informed its assessment of the electoral process. Saint Lucia’s legal framework provides an adequate basis for the conduct of democratic elections, with guarantees of fundamental freedoms, however some gaps remain, these include the regulation of political finance and the provision to allow people in quarantine and those on remand to vote.

To inspire confidence in the electoral process, a reliable voters register is vital in providing for a transparent and credible election. The number of voters on the voters’ list far exceeds the number of eligible voters rendering the list inaccurate. This has implications for the accuracy of the voter turnout as well as the actual number of voters who vote in polling stations. There is a need for the voters register to reflect more accurately the size of the total population in Saint Lucia.

This election was conducted in the midst of a global pandemic. However, the polling staff and voters diligently followed COVID-19 protocols on Election Day.

The voting process was generally well-managed and transparent. Polling officials demonstrated professionalism and dedication in delivering these elections. Candidates’ agents and observers were present and able to perform their duties unhindered. The voters have demonstrated patience, resilience and commitment to their country’s democratic processes.

The Group’s overall conclusion is that the voting, closing and counting process at polling stations observed was peaceful, transparent, and offered eligible voters the opportunity to express their will and cast their vote. However, like all electoral processes it can be further strengthened. In accordance with our mandate, this Report therefore offers a number of recommendations for consideration by the stakeholders in Saint Lucia. These recommendations are offered in a positive spirit of contributing to the deepening of democracy and strengthening of the electoral processes.

We hope they will be helpful to the Electoral Commission and other stakeholders. The specific recommendations are highlighted below:

Recommendations

Electoral framework and election administration

  • There is a need for a review of voter registration so that it reflects more accurately the size of the total population in Saint Lucia.
  • A new Constituency delimitation exercise should be conducted as soon as possible to ensure a more even distribution of voters.

Participation and inclusion

  • Noting the important role that political parties in particular can play in addressing gender imbalance in political leadership, we urge political parties to consider adopting and implementing special measures, such as voluntary quotas, to achieve gender balance within their own decision- making structures.
  • We urge the country to enable the formal registration of political parties by an Act of Parliament.
  • Ensuring an accurate register would also provide the true number of young people between 18-30 years of age who are eligible to vote and provide a realistic barometer to understand youth political participation in the electoral process.
  • The Group encourages the Electoral Commission to engage with CSOs during the electoral process and provide them with access to information to adequately support voter education functions. These partnerships are crucial to reaching and educating marginalised and vulnerable groups about the electoral process.
  • Deepen the collaboration between the Electoral Commission and youth organisations such as the National Youth Council to enhance its voter education efforts.
  • Review of the Elections Act and relevant training to provide for the prioritisation of elderly and disabled persons. The Group also strongly urges the Electoral Commission and relevant Officers to ensure reasonable access for the elderly and the disabled.

Election campaign and the media election campaign

  • Campaign financing legislation should be introduced to strengthen accountability and transparency.

Media

  • An independent and adequately financed media regulatory body should be established.
  • A code of conduct for the media should be put in place to improve professionalism and the media’s ability to report fairly and responsibly.
  • A functional public service broadcaster with the statutory duty to provide equal airtime to all political parties and independent candidates during elections should be established.

Voting, counting and results

  • An exercise to remove the ineligible names from the voters’ register needs to be undertaken urgently.
  • Provisions are to be made for the list to be publicly disaggregated by gender and age.
  • The boundaries of constituencies need to be revised urgently to ensure more equality in the number of electors in each.
  • More consistent application of the rules by presiding officers in relation to cellular phones and ensuring the privacy of electors being assisted to vote.
  • Increased training of presiding officers to ensure electors are not unnecessarily disenfranchised when their intention is clear and there is not evidence that the ballot can be traced back to the elector.
  • A copy of the signed statement of poll in each polling station should be given to the agent of each candidate and a copy placed on the outside of the polling station for public viewing. 

Conclusions

The COG commends the people of Saint Lucia for the enthusiastic, peaceful and transparent manner in which the elections were conducted and notes that the results conclusively reflect the will of the people.

The COG hopes that the final report and its recommendations will be helpful to the people of Saint Lucia in strengthening the country’s democracy.

Issued on 28 July 2021

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