CARICOM Receives Update On Electoral Reform

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Commonwealth Also Notified

Basseterre, St. Kitts – Nevis
December 06, 2009 (CUOPM)

Two of the regional and international organisations involved in the electoral reform process have been brought up to date on efforts to complete the exercise.

St. Kitts and Nevis Prime Minister Hon. Dr. Denzil L. Douglas used the opportunity of his attendance at the just concluded Commonwealth Heads of Government Conference in Trinidad and Tobago to meet with officials of the Georgetown-based CAREICOM Secretariat and the London-based Commonwealth Secretariat.

“I informed them that I have done everything that is humanely possible to ensure that the process is completed with the involvement of all stakeholders,” said Prime Minister Douglas in a brief interview with the CUOPM.

The process to date has resulted in several initiatives including a new Voters List and issuance of an identification card to registered voters. The final phase includes the report from the Constituency Boundaries Commission.

CARICOM and the Commonwealth were among several local political leaders and representatives of regional and international organisations that endorsed the Road Map for Electoral Reform that would lead to a formulated and legally reformed electoral system in the Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis during the official launch of the electoral reform process at the St. Kitts Marriott Ballroom in August 2006.

Speaking at the launching ceremony CARICOM’s Assistant Secretary General, Ambassador Colin Granderson said the process of reform is “highly commendable.”

“I am sure that every member state of the Caribbean Community will be able to learn from your experience as they also seek to modernize their electoral processes in response to the demands and expectations of the citizens for greater credulity, transparency, efficiency and accountability in ensuring that all eligible voters exercise their will in the selection of the government of their choice,” said Granderson.

The Commonwealth’s Special Adviser and Head of the Caribbean and Pacific Section of the 51-nation Commonwealth in London, Ms. Juliet Solomon said she is impressed with the level of consultation envisaged.

The Commonwealth official expressed “confidence that the consultations envisaged will be conducted in the same spirit in which Commonwealth Observer Missions and assistance is given with wide consultation among all stakeholders.”

Dr. Douglas said that electoral reform in the Federation was last pursued in 1983 and 1984, when “we were under less inspired management.”

“On that occasion, continuous voter registration was introduced, changes were made to the electoral boundaries, and the residency requirement for the eligibility to vote was removed. At that time, government brought these complex amendments to the attention of the National Assembly, without any advance notice in an environment where we were not in the position to defend the interest of the people of St. Kitts and Nevis that we are in now. We had little notice of what was happening and moreover there was no attempt made by the government of the day to involve the major, or indeed any stakeholders,” pointed Prime Minister Douglas.

He added: “Notwithstanding, we raised serious concerns about the changes they proposed and the manner in which these changes were being pursued, however, irrespective of the concerns raised the reforms were passed into law and had a negative impact on our electoral system.”

Dr. Douglas said the “reformed” electoral system was the one that is in place up to the present and the fact that the St. Kitts-Nevis Labour Party has been able to win the last three elections under that system, “should not lull us into a state where we believe that because the system is perfect.”

Prime Minister Douglas reiterated that the electoral system is not perfect and while it was not his Government that tinkered with it in 1983, it will be this government that reforms it now and “we will reform the system in the interest of all stakeholders and citizens in this country.”

He said his Government has taken all the necessary measures to ensure that all stakeholders participate and noted that the present electoral system, of which changes were made in 1983 and 1984 without any consultation was designed and imposed on an unsuspecting nation by the People’s Action Movement, and used in the elections of 1984, 1989, 1993, 1995, 2000, and 2004.

“The Commonwealth Observers were invited to observe those elections and after the 2004 election they stated that: “˜the [2004] election was credible and the result reflected the will of those who voted”¦[and] we found no evidence that on Polling Day itself there were actions by any election official or otherwise that prevented voters from exercising their franchise peacefully, freely and unhindered,” Dr. Douglas pointed out.

Dr. Douglas said that the matters referred to by the Commonwealth team are concerns also shared by his St. Kitts-Nevis Labour Government.

He said while the Government shares the Commonwealth Team’s concerns, as Prime Minister of this country, he has to abide by the Constitution which has established an Electoral Commission with a strict mandate to advise Parliament on matters such as this and a narrow political composition that reflects the official government and official opposition in Parliament.

“All of you seated before me are aware that at present the People’s Action Movement is not the official opposition in the Federation and as such would not be entitled to be part of the Electoral Commission. My government, however, believes that since this party managed to gain the support of more than 30% of the electoral, they should be part of the reform process. This was not their perspective in 1983, but this is our perspective today and as a result we have crafted a comprehensive committee system to facilitate the input of the People’s Action Movement and indeed all other stakeholders,” said Prime Minister Douglas.

He said that his Labour Government’s commitment to reform is not new, indeed it will be recalled that in 2000, the St. Kitts-Nevis Labour Party proposed to overhaul the voters’ list to eliminate any perception of fraud and to encourage the introduction of an I.D. card system. “It is also noteworthy that no other political organisation saw it fit to include this issue in its manifesto during that election year,” said Dr. Douglas.

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