The International Election Observer Mission (EOM) has concluded that the Virgin Islands election process is vibrant and competitive and that the results reflected the will of voters.
Head of Mission for the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association British Islands and Mediterranean Region, Honourable Palmavon Webster, MHA presented the preliminary report of the team’s findings in the just concluded general elections at a press conference held on Wednesday, February 27.
Honourable Webster said, “The mission commends the Virgin Islands for taking positive steps to improve voting processes and to encourage a more positive campaign environment. Special commendation should go to the election officials who, in a short period of time, administered the election effectively.”
The Mission’s Head praised the Supervisor of Elections, Ms. Juliette Penn but stated that there are some deficiencies in the regulatory framework. She said, “However, there is distrust in the electoral system, and the Mission continues to express concern that the regulatory framework, particularly in relation to campaign financing, lacks transparency and undermines the equality and openness of the election process. The Mission also expresses concerns about the qualification to vote and stand as a candidate and verification practices which challenge the principle of universal suffrage.”
The mission noted that positive efforts were made to address some of the recommendations offered by the previous Mission in 2015. Changes include the use of electronic counting, and electronic identification of voters at polling stations, the introduction of a code of conduct by candidates, political parties and campaigners, the use of a single ballot, and to allow travellers to vote in advance.
Election Analyst Matthew Salik commended the supervisor and her team in proactively educating the public on the new processes, delivering an election at very short notice and implementing legislative amendments to the election law that were enacted less than a month prior to the election.
“The Elections Office, comprised of mainly new staff, should also be praised for its professionalism and capabilities in its voter registration drive, competently rolling out new voter technology and an attempt to issue voter identification cards,” he said.
The analyst spoke about the Territory’s legal framework. “Overall the legal framework provides an adequate basis for the conduct of the 2019 election in line with international standards and commitments extended to the Virgin Islands,” he said.
The members of the observer mission assessed the electoral process in accordance with international standards of elections and domestic legislation. They also met with election officials, political parties and candidates, media, civil society representatives, voters, the Governor and the former Premier.
Meetings were also held with the former Leader of the Opposition, the Deputy Governor, the Police Commissioner, the Complaints Commissioner, the Solicitor General, the Gender Affairs Coordinator and other election stakeholders.
They observed campaign rallies, manifesto launches and motorcades on Tortola and all nine polling stations at advance polling. On Election Day, Monday, February 25, the members of the mission also made repeated visits to 16 polling stations across all districts and observed district and at-large counting and the results of the tabulation process.
The Mission will continue to observe post-election developments and will publish a comprehensive final report outlining recommendations by the end of April 2019. Other members of the EOM team to the Virgin Islands were Election Observers Jamie Green MSP and Glenn Bedingfield MP; Election Analyst Merce Castells and Election Coordinator Felicity Herrmann