By anguillian June 26, 2017 12:45




As Anguilla is a small island, with a still developing electoral system, it has been a learning experience for the Leader of the Opposition, Ms. Palmavon Webster, to have had the privilege to serve as an observer at the recent UK general election.
Ms. Webster told The Anguillian that she was among a group of observers positioned in Hendon, a London suburb in the Burrow of Barnet, former home of the late Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, and that she travelled to many polling stations there. Ms. Webster and her fellow observers were given observer status at the election by the UK Branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA).

“The CPA works to strengthen parliamentary democracy and to enhance good governance through international parliamentary outreach,” she explained. “Over the last five years, or so, the Association has organised short-term election observation missions, including missions in Anguilla. I was nominated to be part of the international mission focused on the recent British election, and the mission lasted from June 3 to 9.
“In Hendon, we were interested in a lot of the systems that attended the impact of the postal vote, and how to implement the different processes for registration of votes and the practices and procedures around the election date. The mission started with quite an intensive training in relation to what the best practice would be – and the tools that would be used to evaluate to what extent the ideals would be achieved. It was extremely interesting. The Commonwealth Caribbean was very well represented as well as the British Overseas Territories.”
The Anguilla Opposition Leader was asked to comment on some of the factors that appealed to her. She responded: “What was significant generally is that while the UK is regarded as a model in terms of free and fair elections (and of course our system mirrors that ideal system), the reality is that unlike the United States, for instance, there isn’t a lot of focus on technology. It is really has to do with each voter going to exercise his or her right to vote in a comfortable environment and in a relaxed way. To a large extent, the UK tradition surrounding democracy was evident: non-interference with voters and other things.
“What I took away perhaps, and made the most impression on me personally, was the relevance and the full engagement of the first-time voter. In this particular UK election, the effort to engage the first-time voter was very evident with young people exercising their vote – and the way they were received and respected by all the Election Officers. That was incredibly impactful on me.

“Another significant thing, I observed, was the increased reliance on the postal vote. I believe it was the last CPA mission to the UK that recommended the kind of queues which they had then, and which we see in Anguilla now, was undemocratic. Prior to that recommendation, during the queues there were cut off points and many people wouldn’t have the opportunity to vote. The recommendation was that once voters were in the line up to ten o’clock, or whatever was the cut off time, those persons in the queues would still be allowed to vote. I came away with the fact that every single vote is valued.”

Ms. Webster said that her observation team had full and open access to observe the election in a way that was in line with the standards the CPA advocates. “We didn’t interrupt the process in any way. It wasn’t our role really to challenge anything but just to observe and measure what we saw in line with best practice standards,” she stressed.
“Having observed those standards in the UK election, what would you like to see in Anguilla,” the island’s Opposition Leader was asked. “I would like for there to be a more reasoned process in terms of the inclusion of all voters,” she replied. “If you are going to have voters for instance from the United States, instead of one party being at liberty to bring in voters, I think that it is more democratic to allow for a postal vote. That would be something to consider depending on how we are doing it.

“In our jurisdiction, many voters generally ask for assistance in voting and I think it is very important that that process becomes a transparent process so that a lot of challenge is not directed to a person giving that assistance – but that such a person is doing it in a regulated way…I think the way the British Election Officers acted to make it comfortable for everybody at the polling stations, is something that Anguilla can benefit from and lessen tensions.
“One of the things we observed was that there were queries by several persons who had registered but, for some reason, the register did not include their names when they turned up. But they had evidence they were told that they were registered. In a situation like that in Anguilla, I don’t think there would have been any indulgence in terms of such persons being allowed to vote. However, in the UK there was a resource provided so that Election Officers could, in a situation like that, ultimately have a referee in relation to whether or not those votes should be taken. More times, than not, the persons, even though their names were not on the register, were actually allowed to vote once there was confirmation that they were not at fault. It is that focus on the vote, and making the vote count and easy for the democratic standards to be achieved and be representative, that I think stood out.”
Given all you observed and said, would you then say that the UK election was free and fair?” Ms. Webster was asked.
“Absolutely,” she replied. “I think that overwhelmingly it came across that that was the case in the constituencies that we re-monitored. If there are any petitions before we get to the final report, I believe that overwhelmingly we found that people felt free to vote for the most part – and that the election was orchestrated in an environment which, on the face of it, was fair and entirely free.”

By anguillian June 26, 2017 12:45


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