INCREASINGLY in recent times, general elections in many countries have been coming under the scrutiny of “observers” whose role it is to oversee the process, comment, and in most cases, make recommendations. It’s all part of the attempt to ensure that elections are conducted freely and fairly, although on many occasions, the dirty work by parties and their supporters that taint the process, actually takes place long before the observers arrive.
Nevertheless, having elections supervised or observed is a good thing. It provides countries with a third party view, sort of, by a truly “independent” source as to how the process unfolded and allows that source to determine the fairness or otherwise of the process.
In our region we have been fortunate to have the Organization of American States, among other agencies, sending observers to elections throughout the hemisphere, as recently as last Monday in Dominica. But for some strange reason, the attempt to produce elections that are truly “fair” is meeting resistance from the islands themselves. We say so because of statements made in Dominica by the head of the OAS election mission that observed this week’s poll..
This official said he had received claims about the potential use of state resources for electoral campaigns, which suggested an ‘uneven playing field’ among political contenders. So, just as the OAS had done in other countries in the past, including St Lucia, he reiterated the need for consideration to be given to legislation on political campaign financing, arguing that this would represent “a significant step to ensuring equity and transparency in the electoral process.”
But hear this: the official went on to say that the OAS had advocated for campaign financing regulation in all member states including those in the Caribbean and that just four years ago his organization actually presented a model law, which could be used as a starting point for this process.
But, he said, “insufficient action” had been taken to address this and other concerns despite the OAS’ recommendations following the general election in Dominica five years ago. We suggest the OAS would encounter similar cases of “insufficient action” in St Vincent and the Grenadines and St Kitts-Nevis which go to the polls next year, St Lucia where elections are due in about two years’ time and in other islands in the region as well.
It is well known that parties in opposition—especially in our Caribbean—make the most noise about election campaign financing. We have seen it here in St Lucia, that once parties make the transition from opposition to government, their concerns about a level playing field, simply vanish into thin air. We cannot say we have ever heard any ruling party either harping about it, and the reason is obvious: parties in power have greater access to sources of funding for election purposes than their opponents and want to keep those in tact at all cost. So ruling parties invariably have the upper hand.
An election in which one party outspends the other(s) by leaps and bounds cannot be deemed to be “fair” in the real sense of the world. Interestingly, the OAS official in Dominica disclosed that his organization had offered and was still offering technical assistance to ensure that the recommendations it had been making are brought to fruition.
The question is: which Caribbean nation will take the lead and take up the OAS offer and so move to ensure that elections are truly “fair”. Most likely this is one of the recommendations in our own Constitution Commission report; but where is this report anyway?