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President Carter's Jamaica Trip Report

By Jimmy Carter

Trip report, Jamaica, Oct. 14-18, 2002

The Carter Center has monitored more than three-dozen elections in nations around the world, including those in Latin America, North America, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. We accept this responsibility only when the elections are apparently too controversial to generate full confidence among the citizens. Sometimes, as in the case of Indonesia, it is the first move from an authoritarian government to a democracy. In Nigeria, an oppressive dictator died, and we were asked to help guarantee the integrity of a series of elections: for local, state, and parliamentary offices, and then for president. The election of a Palestinian national assembly and president in the West Bank and Gaza was an exceptional challenge. At times we have had to negotiate for several days to induce the winners and losers to accept the results graciously, and on a few occasions,we have condemned the results as fraudulent. In every case, we assess in advance whether the laws and rules need to be modified to make possible an honest and fair election.

Jamaica has been an admirable democracy for 40 years, but prone to excessive electoral violence. During the 1980 election, for instance, more than 500 people were killed because of partisan disagreements. In 1997, the two opposition parties refused to participate in the election unless the ruling party joined in inviting The Carter Center to monitor the process, and laws were changed by the parliament to make this possible. It was an orderly and safe election, and all parties accepted the final results.

Control of the parliament has shifted back and forth between two major parties in Jamaica, each of which has had an opportunity to rule for about 20 years. The People's National Party (PNP) is now led by Prime Minister P.J. Patterson, and former Prime Minister Edward Seaga is head of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP). Minor parties have not gained seats in the parliament. The present division is 49 seats for PNP and 11 for JLP.

Jamaica is afflicted with "garrison" communities, a troubling and embarrassing political feature. Within these communities, a single political party controls all aspects of life, including the electoral process, so that anyone expressing support for the other party is subject to intimidation and actual violence. They are impervious to penetration even by regular police forces. Both major parties have organized such communities, but more of them favor the present ruling party (PNP). Examples of this control are in constituencies where, in the past, the winner received 100 percent of the votes in 90 percent of the voting places.

It is our custom to work with governments both before and after the actual election period. At the invitation of the government, The Carter Center has worked with the Jamaican parliament and civic groups during the last five years to evolve legislation to prevent corruption and to insure freedom of information. Both these laws have been adopted, and full implementation, for which we have offered expert assistance, is now expected.

For the 2002 election, the Carter Center delegation comprised 60 observers from 16 countries. Former Costa Rica President Miguel Rodriguez joined me as co-chairman, along with Dr. John Hardman, the Center's executive director; and Dr. Jennifer McCoy, director of the Americas Program, and Senior Program Associate Laura Neuman directed our monitoring effort. Our good friend Scott Livengood, head of Krispy Kreme Doughnut Corporation, flew us to Jamaica on his plane, and he and his wife, Michelle, joined the observer delegation. After arriving in Kingston our delegation leaders had a press conference to explain our purposes and met with leaders of the Electoral Advisory Committee, the organization of domestic observers, police commissioner, national ombudsman, Prime Minister Patterson, former Prime Minister Edward Seaga, and minor party leaders. Prior to election day, our two-person teams deployed to 29 of the 60 constituencies, where they became familiar with the areas in order to make our monitoring more effective. These teams drew on the relationships that had been developed in the most controversial areas by a group of medium-term observers resident in the country for the entire three-week campaign period. On election day, we were able to visit 864 voting places and found that in every case our well-identified delegations were welcomed as guarantors of the safety and integrity of the electoral process. Our general conclusion was that the election provided an adequate opportunity for the will of the people to be expressed, there was a gratifying absence of electoral violence, and an overwhelming portion of the polling officials were adequately trained and supplied. Torrential rains reduced overall turnout to about 56 percent, but the people accommodated this inconvenience in good spirits.

After polls closed, we observed the counting of votes, the transfer of ballot boxes to central stations, and the final consolidation of returns. The apparent result of the preliminary count was that PNP won an unprecedented fourth consecutive term as leaders with 35 parliamentary seats, and the JLP increased their seats from 11 to 25. The margin of victory was less than 500 votes in nine constituencies, (five for PNP and four for JLP) and some of these will be contested. Both party leaders assured us that their challenges will be resolved peacefully and through established legal procedures.

Although several violent deaths occurred on election day, none of them have been attributed either by the police or our security experts to partisan disputes.

Under the direction of Dr. Jennifer McCoy and Laura Neuman, who served as our field office director, a more definitive assessment of the election will be published, including our delegation's recommendations for future improvements in the process.

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