By Michael Jarvis, London UK
The team from the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) which remotely monitored Cayman’s recent general election has submitted a list of 15 recommendations for improving the overall process.
The CPA delegation which monitored the election remotely due to the COVID pandemic said “the report offers recommendations which it is hoped will be given due consideration by all the election stakeholders, most particularly the Parliament, for the continued improvement of future elections in the Cayman Islands.”
It also points to recommendations for its reports on the 2017 elections which it said have not yet been acted on.
The CPA's 2021 report followed an earlier review of the election by a Domestic Observer team which presented its report earlier in June.
There were a number of points on which their separate recommendations converge.
However, the CPA international mission made this observation about the local team.
“This group was created shortly before Election Day and did not necessarily conform to accepted international best practice,” it opined.
The two reports make common observations about this year’s election especially about campaign financing and the complaints procedures - or the lack thereof.
CAMPAIGN FINANCE TRANSPARENCY
In its 15 recommendations, the CPA dedicated five of them to address the right to participate either as a voter or a candidate, and four which deal with concerns over campaign financing largely dealing with transparency.
“The funding of election campaigns is opaque. Campaign finance is only regulated during the period from Nomination Day until Election Day, even though interlocutors shared that campaigning started months before Nomination Day. There are limited requirements for candidates to submit details of their campaign expenditure and of donations received.”
Concerns about campaign financing were also raised by the Domestic Observer team which concluded in its reports that: “It is clear that political financing is ready for comprehensive reform.” It had further stated that is up to the new parliament to decide in which direction, and how far it wishes to go to promote transparency and accountability and campaign financing, considering both income and expenditure.
Regarding making complaints about election irregularities, the CPA delegation recommends that “clear and coherent complaints and appeals procedures should be introduced, in line with international good practices.”
It particularly noted a lack of clarity on who is responsible for dealing with electoral complaints and appeals noting that the Supervisor of Elections has no legal jurisdiction to receive complaints regarding any aspect of the conduct of the electoral campaign, as the Elections Act (2021 Revision) is silent on that matter and only refers to petitions against elections to the Grand Court.
The matter of a complaints procedure was also a concern of the Domestic Observer team and for which it made one of its key recommendations, calling for the appointment of a special ombudsman.
“Regarding a political ombudsman, the Domestic Observer team said: “We recommend the creation of a body, capable of dealing with complaints, and disputes, as well as providing official guidelines on campaigning, the conduct of political organisations, and the role of the media, in a way that does not extend to criminal offences,” the local team posited.
VOTING AND RUNNING
The Commonwealth Parliamentary Association(CPA) delegation also felt the current provisions on the right to vote and stand as candidates does not meet international standards.
On the right to vote, it concluded that “residency in the Cayman Islands for at least two of the four years immediately preceding the date of registration seems to be overly restrictive and may exclude otherwise eligible Caymanians from exercising their right to vote.” It also suggested more prompt reinstatement of eligibility once a person who has not retained their residency returns to the jurisdiction.
Regarding running for political office, the CPA recommended that for “broader electoral participation on an equal basis, candidature rights should be reviewed in line with international standards and good practices. It said these could include abolishing any discrimination against persons with disabilities and reviewing the blanket ban on the right to stand for all prisoners sentenced to imprisonment exceeding 12 months.
The CPA also said residency requirements and dual citizenship legislation regarding the right to stand could be reviewed in line with international good practice.
It also that in order to promote equal participation of women and men in political life and processes, proactive measures should be considered also in line with international good practice.
The CPA also felt that Cayman should have “a more substantial Elections Office with a permanent Supervisor of Elections.”
It said: “The short-term nature of the Supervisor of Elections’ role, the lack of permanent senior staff in the Elections Office, and the lack of an independent Electoral Commission or equivalent raises some issues.”
An independent Elections Commission is also recommended.
An imbalance in the size of constituencies is another area that the CPA feels warrants early attention.
“Although the Constitution provides that there should be, as far as possible, an equality between the number of registered voters in each electoral district, there were severe differences. For the 2021 election, a registered voter in East End district had more than double the weight of a registered voter in Bodden Town East. It is arguable therefore that electoral boundaries have not been drawn in compliance with the Constitution and international standards,” it noted.
Both the CPA and the Domestic Observer team had concerns especially regarding social media.
CPA: “The Mission’s limited observation of media and online coverage showed that there were instances of disinformation and of claims and accusations that were presented without evidence and could be considered defamatory...Legislation is out of date when it comes to cybercrime…”
Domestic Observer team: “With the exception of radio, which is regulated by OfReg, the media industry in the Cayman Islands is unregulated. There exists no industry association or industry guidance, code of conduct or criteria. Although the major media organisations publish their policies and procedures for public inspection and their coverage reflected unbiased and impartial coverage, not all media organisations currently operating in the Cayman Islands make such efforts.”
According to the CPA delegation, several significant changes to the Elections Act proposed in 2017 failed to be adopted and remain pending. These include establishing improved party and campaign finance regulations, inclusion of gender equality measures, revision of the law for upholding the secrecy of the vote for assisted voters, removing the requirement of noting voter ID numbers on serial numbered ballot stubs, as well as establishing complaints procedures, among others.
In a statement on the release of the CPA report, Cayman’s Supervisor of Elections Wesley Howell says next on the agenda for the Elections Office is a careful review of the 15 recommendations by the international mission and 14 recommendations put forward by domestic observers.
This will be followed by the development and implementation of formal proposals for changes to the Constitution, Elections Act, internal policies and procedures.
"The Elections Office senior team would like to thank both election observer teams for their efforts. We are pleased that our General Elections have been recognised as having been executed to high standards, and we look forward to actioning the improvements included in the recommendations." Mr Howell said.
The CPA mission was composed of:
• Armin Rabitsch – Legal & Political Analyst (Austria);
• Alex Folkes – Election Administration/Campaign/Media Analyst (UK);
• Scherrie Griffin – Regional Election Expert (British Virgin Islands);
• Fleur ten Hacken – CPA BIMR Election Coordinator (The Netherlands);
• Diana Atungire-Ocaya – CPA BIMR Election Coordinator (Uganda);
• Axell Kaubo – CPA BIMR Election Administrator (UK).
This was the third time that CPA BIMR was invited to observe elections in the Cayman Islands.
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