At a press conference held on Wednesday, June 10, Honourable Stephen Rodan SHK, Head of Mission for the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association British Islands and Mediterranean Region, Virgin Islands presented the preliminary report of the team’s findings.
He said, “The Election Observer Mission believes that the Virgin Islands (UK) 2015 election was genuine, vibrant and competitive. The election met key international standards, providing the voters with an opportunity to cast their votes in secret and express their will in a transparent, peaceful and orderly manner. We especially commend the voters on their enthusiasm and commitment to the democratic process, evident in the high voter turnout.”
Mr. Rodan praised the Supervisor of Elections but stated that there are some deficiencies in the regulatory framework. “We praise the dedication of the Supervisor of Elections, as well as the Election Officials who were professional in carrying out their functions meticulously and impartially. However, further improvements are needed to streamline the cumbersome voting and counting procedures as well as to address the deficiencies in the regulatory framework, particularly in relation to the registration of political parties and campaign financing.”
The International Observer Mission noted that it was commendable that provisions are made for Advance Polling Day which they observed at all nine Advance Polling Day stations in the Territory. They noted however, that the closing process on Advance Polling Day with regards to placing and sealing ballots into envelopes was not performed in the majority of polling stations which is in breach of section 49(1) of the Elections Act.
The team stated that, “This resulted in reinforcing the perception by some parties of ballot-tampering by election officials. There was a clear failure by some Returning Officers to follow correct procedures. This was further compounded by most candidates and agents present failing to identify and raise the erroneous process in a timely manner; this is despite being given a Handbook as well as an advance briefing.”
The Mission however said that this breach was corrected and did not compromise the secrecy of the ballot. “The Mission notes that in spite of the initial error, the transfer of those said ballots was undertaken in the presence of the police and party representatives. The closing process provides for a number of other countermeasures including counting and tallying. As such, the Mission does not feel this compromised the secrecy of the ballot or the polling results as they relate to advance polling.”
The observers further stated that they were impressed with the peacefulness of the Elections as many persons waited in long lines and conducted themselves in an orderly manner. They were also impressed by the high voter turnout and the involvement of youth in the process.
The Mission met with election officials, political parties and candidates, media, civil society representatives, voters and other election stakeholders. They also observed campaign rallies and motorcades on Tortola and Virgin Gorda and all nine polling stations at advance polling day. On Election Day, June 8, the Mission made repeated visits to 21 of the 22 polling stations across all districts and observed district and territorial counting and the results tabulation process.
The Election Observer Mission is independent in its composition, findings and conclusions, adhering to the ‘Declaration of Principles for International Election Observation’, signed at the United Nations in 2005. Its duty is to observe, not interfere in the election process. It will continue to follow post-election developments and will publish a final report outlining recommendations by the end of August 2015.