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Jamaicans Renew Confidence in Democratic Process

Helping to break the cycle of violence that has plagued previous elections in Jamaica, The Carter Center in October observed the island nation's second relatively peaceful election.

Jamaica's Electoral Advisory Committee invited The Carter Center to observe its parliamentary elections in 1997 and 2002, hoping to deter election-related violence. The outbreak of violence during the 1980 election killed more than 800 people. Yet, in 1997 and 2002, when Jamaica invited international observers, election-related violence in the "garrison" communities controlled by politically related armed gangs was reduced.

"While violence in the so-called garrison communities remains a concern, we found preparations for the elections to be exemplary," said Laura Neuman, who organized the mission for the Americas Program. "The institution of the Elections Centre allowed for the immediate resolution of disputes, and a lot of progress was made in the consultative process in verifying the voters list, determining the location of polling stations, and selecting poll workers, helped generate confidence in the process."

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and former Costa Rica President Miguel Angel Rodriguez led a 60-member international delegation, representing 16 countries. Both presidents are members of the Center's Council of Presidents and Prime Ministers of the Americas, a group of 35 leaders who have monitored elections throughout the Western Hemisphere since 1987. The Council, headquartered at the Center's Americas Program, seeks to reinforce democracy, resolve conflict, and advance cooperation in the Western Hemisphere. Jamaica Prime Minister P.J. Patterson and Leader of the Opposition the Hon. Edward Seaga, who served as prime minister 1980 - 1988, also are members.

Patterson's People's National Party won its fourth consecutive parliamentary election and appointed him to his third term as prime minister. Before election day, he and Seaga signed a political code of conduct to demonstrate their commitment to peaceful elections.

Domestic Observers Enhance System

Working with domestic observers is key to many of the Carter Center's effective election observations. Together, domestic and international observers can ensure coverage of most, if not all, of a country and can observe in highly political areas, helping to lower tensions in volatile regions.

In Jamaica, the Center's Americas Program coordinated its efforts with CAFFE, Citizen's Action for Free and Fair Elections, to observe the October 2002 parliamentary elections. CAFFE, established in 1997, is headed by Dr. Lloyd Barnett, a human rights lawyer and recipient of Order Jamaica, the country's highest civilian honor.

"Election observers add a great deal," Dr. Barnett said. "It is in itself a utilization of the democratic process. Observers also help to prevent the corruption of the system because their presence is a deterrent to irregularities. Political parties have now come to accept the value of having observer missions."

CAFFE's coverage was invaluable, especially under the difficult circumstances of not having an election date until close to the election, said Laura Neuman, senior program associate of the Americas Program.

"CAFFE briefed the Center's short and medium-term observers on election issues, particularly the fear of violence," she said. "In many of the constituencies, the first person our observers met was a CAFFE observer, who provided immeasurable help."

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