Elections were free and fair--OAS report re-affirms

Stabroek News
April 13, 1998

The observer mission from the Organisation of American States (OAS), has re-affirmed its preliminary assessment that the December 15, general elections were free and fair.

But a release from the OAS on its final report said that "significant weaknesses in organisation, management and administration of the collection, transmittal, verification and announcement of the results" caused some persons to question "the electoral process and the results."

The report also made a number of recommendations to strengthen the capacity of the Elections Commission to manage future elections.

The 112-page report which was presented to the OAS Permanent Council on Wednesday observed that "votes were cast for the most part in a climate of calm and freedom" and that while election day concerns had arisen "no widespread hindrance to balloting was noted."

The report concluded, according to the OAS release, that "while some parties had alleged a pattern of fraud, its mission "wishes to note that it observed no fraudulent or intentionally improper behaviour by electoral officials while it was in the country."

It said too that despite allegations of fraud "no substantiated claims had been brought before the OAS."

Among the recommendations made in the report to help improve democratic and electoral processes, the OAS (observer mission) underscored the need:

* for the Elections Commission to be a permanent body, and with a full-time chairman;
* for the modernisation of and professionalisation of the National Registration Centre;
* for a modernised and computerised civil registry and data base
which could be updated annually.

The 28-man observer team was led by OAS Assistant Secretary General, Christopher Thomas and the Chief of the Mission was St Lucia's former permanent representative to the OAS, Dr Joseph Edmunds. The mission monitored election day proceedings at 457 of the 1,837 polling stations across the country.

The report was presented to the Permanent Council by Elizabeth Spehar, executive co-ordinator of the OAS Unit for the Promotion of Democracy through which the mission was conducted.