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Pre-Election Statement on Jamacia Elections, May 31, 2002

The Carter Center and its Council of Presidents and Prime Ministers in the Americas are pleased to accept the invitation from the Electoral Advisory Committee to observe the upcoming parliamentary elections. The Carter Center was privileged to observe the 1997 elections and to continue working in Jamaica on transparency and democracy-building initiatives. The forthcoming Jamaican elections are a priority for The Carter Center, and President Carter hopes to lead a 40-50 member election observation delegation.

As international observers, the Center observes the electoral process in its entirety, including the preliminary phases, polling day, the count and after the official results are announced. On this occasion, The Carter Center organized a pre-election delegation to visit Jamaica from May 26 - May 31, 2002 in order to assess the political climate and electoral preparations. The delegation met with election officials, political party leaders, the Jamaican security forces, church leaders, and representatives of the private sector, media and civil society. We wish to thank all persons with whom we met for their time and attention. We are particularly grateful to the Electoral Office of Jamaica for offering us full access to all relevant information.

A credible election process should include an accepted and enforceable legal framework; an accurate and complete register of voters; candidates' freedom to inform voters of their messages in a climate of tolerance and respect for diversity of opinion; the ability of voters to cast their ballot in secret and free from intimidation or fear; an honest vote count; and a swift and fair resolution of disputes after the election. Our remarks today, taking the above considerations into account, are based on our initial observations and are offered in a spirit of support for the democratic process in Jamaica.

Our preliminary observations include the following:

  1. Election Administration: We are favorably impressed with the EAC and EOJ. The collegial working relationship among the independent members of the EAC and the political party representatives and the method of jointly consulting and effectively resolving many difficult electoral issues has resulted in an effective decision-making body, which appears to have built great credibility for the electoral process and laid the groundwork for a mature, professionally-run, and peaceful electoral campaign.

    There is widespread confidence in the efforts and achievements to date of the electoral authorities. The EOJ has developed well-designed transparent and effective registration and voting day systems. The introduction of photographs to enhance the integrity of the voters' list appears to have decreased the level of concern related to election day fraud. The EAC, EOJ and political parties have already reached agreement on the location of all polling locations and polling stations. The EOJ also is to be commended for its recruitment of nearly 20,000 non-partisan polling officials.

    The Elections Center proposes to bring together representatives from the EOJ, EAC, political parties, security, domestic and international observers to facilitate the exchange of information and the constructive resolution of disputes. While the Election Center is designed to operate at the national level, we also would encourage all relevant participants to explore ways to reproduce this approach at the constituency level to enhance transparency in those places where misunderstandings, rumors and conflicts often start.
  2. We hope that this climate of consensus continues throughout the entire election period. We therefore encourage all parties and their supporters to work together to develop a Code of Conduct, with appropriate monitoring and enforcement mechanisms, which would apply throughout the entire electoral period under the authority of the political ombudsman. We are disturbed that the parties have been unable to reach agreement on a suitable candidate to fill this position and to specify the duties and powers of this office.
  3. Security Forces: The commissioner of police has expressed his commitment to peaceful elections and he is confident that the force will be ready for election day. The Jamaica Constabulary Force has prepared training and deployment plans and will revise these as appropriate. Perhaps most importantly, the Commissioner feels that the present political climate is conducive to a non-violent election. As in 1997, members of the JCF will be issued with special vests for election day to insure that all legitimate members of the JCF on duty may be easily identified.
  4. The Jamaica Defence Force will be fully mobilized in support of the elections. As is the case with the police commissioner, the commander of the JDF has committed his forces to ensuring that the elections are peaceful. Plans for a joint operations center for the JCF and the JDF have been established to coordinate all security forces efforts.
  5. However, representatives from all parts of Jamaican society have voiced their worries about the activities of the JCF during Jamaica's previous elections. We trust that the current cooperative preparations and shared communications, reinforced by strong and effective leadership, will reduce such concerns.
  6. Legal Framework: The People's Representation Act
    sets out the legal framework, which shall govern the elections. Reforms, such as the Constituted Authority, which allows for the more immediate voiding of elections, aids in strengthening this law. However, as with any legislation, it is the implementation and enforcement of the Act that will determine its effectiveness. Timely resolution of complaints will be critical. It is unclear to us who has fully accepted the responsibility for application of the electoral law. It will be incumbent upon the EOJ and the JCF to ensure that the electoral law is applied in a consistent and vigorous manner, particularly in the area of election offenses.
  7. Domestic Observation: CAFFE, Jamaica's leading domestic electoral observation group, has once again committed itself to a wide scale observation of the elections. Center representatives have had the opportunity to meet with their board and we are pleased to see that they have begun organizing their recruitment of 3,000-4,000 volunteers, to be deployed throughout the country on election day. We hope that domestic observers will monitor the entire election period. The Carter Center looks forward to collaborating with CAFFE to this effect.
  8. Issue Oriented Campaign: We encourage the political parties and their candidates to focus on the issues deeply affecting Jamaica at this time. The plans of the media houses, the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce and the Media Association of Jamaica to hold debates among the candidates based on leadership and issue-oriented platforms are critical to informing the electorate of their choices. We urge all candidates to adopt a respectful tone and engage in constructive discussions about campaign issues.
  9. Political Climate: At present, the political situation is calm, and many Jamaicans believe these elections will build on this trend towards more peaceful elections. However, others fear that the political intimidation and violence of past elections may re-occur, as the two major political parties position themselves for election day. Political parties must be held accountable to their present commitments to the peaceful conduct of their election campaigns. Effective enforcement of a Code of Conduct and the activities of the Political Ombudsman will support the achievement of this goal. Our observers will be monitoring activities in this respect.

    Moreover, incumbent candidates should strive to separate their campaign expenditures from state resources and take care to avoid using their official duties as a campaign tool. We have heard concerns related the financing of politics, and we urge the parties and their candidates to commit themselves to increased transparency and integrity in campaign finance.
  10. Voters: We are concerned by indications that the upcoming elections may have a low turnout. High voter participation is essential to guarantee acceptance of Jamaica's democratic institutions and institutional framework. The Carter Center hopes that all Jamaicans will use this opportunity to elect their legislators and that no obstacles are created that may impede turnout.

Conclusion

There have been many positive achievements in preparation for Jamaica's elections but the true test of these efforts will be in their effective implementation. While The Carter Center and other international observers will add their voices to this process, it is the party agents, domestic observers and most importantly, the voters themselves who will be the most effective guardians of their democracy.

The Carter Center delegation was comprised of Ron Gould, former assistant chief electoral officer of Canada; Laura Neuman, senior program associate of the Carter Center's Americas Program; Tom Haney, director of the Police Leadership Program at Dalhousie University, Canada; David Pottie, senior program associate of the Democracy Program at The Carter Center; and Amy Sterner, project assistant in the Americas Program at The Carter Center.

The Carter Center is an independent, nonpartisan and neutral organization based in Atlanta in the United States. Founded in 1982 by Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter, The Carter Center has observed more than 30 elections in 20 countries.

We wish to thank the United States Agency for International Development and the Canadian International Development Agency for their support to the Center's election observation mission in Jamaica.

Read more about the work of The Carter Center in Jamaica.

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