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Saint Lucia Election Basics

Saint Lucia is a parliamentary democracy modelled on the Westminster system.  The head of state is Queen Elizabeth II, represented by a Governor-General, appointed by the Queen as her representative.  The Governor-General exercises ceremonial functions, but residual powers, under the constitution, can be used at the Governor-General's discretion.  The actual power in Saint Lucia lies with the Prime Minister and the cabinet, usually representing the majority party in parliament.

The bicameral parliament consists of a 17-member House of Assembly whose members are elected by universal adult suffrage for 5-year terms and an 11-member senate appointed by the Governor-General.  The parliament may be dissolved by the Governor-General at any point during its 5-year term, either at the request of the Prime Minister - in order to take the nation into early elections - or at the Governor-General's own discretion, if the house passes a vote of no-confidence in the government.

An election allows those eligible to vote (the electorate) to decide who should represent their views and interests.  Elections are held at regular intervals to enable the population to change their representative if they no longer feel that the current post-holder best represents those views and interests.  Fair and free elections are an essential part of a democracy, allowing citizens to determine how they want the country to be governed.
PURPOSE OF AN ELECTION

An election allows those eligible to vote (the electorate) to decide who should represent their views and interests. Elections are held at regular intervals to enable the population to change their representative if they no longer feel that the current post-holder best represents those views and interests. Fair and free elections are an essential part of a democracy, allowing citizens to determine how they want the country to be governed.

ELECTORAL LEGISLATION
Two legal instruments govern the election of candidates to the House of Assembly in Saint Lucia: The Saint Lucia Constitution (1978), and the Saint Lucia House of Assembly (Elections) Act (1979).
ELECTION AUTHORITY AND ELECTION OFFICIALS

The Electoral Commission, which supervises Elections in Saint Lucia, is responsible for running the island’s elections and employing/deploying electoral officials.  Each polling station is manned by a Presiding Officer and a Poll Clerk, who report to the Returning Officer for that constituency.  Returning Officers are in turn responsible for reporting to the Supervisor of Elections.

YOUR RIGHT TO VOTE
The important part of the election process is your right to vote.  You may not realize it, but there is more to that right than just putting an ‘X’ on a piece of paper.  The election process is one of the hallmarks of a democracy and determines how we choose who will make important decisions about our health, safety, and financial condition, just to name a few things.  The decision has an impact on you, everyone in your family and community, and perhaps people across the country.
STAGES OF THE ELECTORAL PROCESS
  • Each voter (also called an elector) receives a form shortly before an election in his or her constituency and this gives the location of their polling station.
  • Each elector presents his/her identification card to officials at the polling station, who checks off the name of the voter against the electoral register and issue them with a ballot paper.
  • Electors vote by putting a cross on the ballot form against the name of the candidate they want to represent them and then placing the ballot paper in a sealed box. (Any other mark or comment on the paper renders it invalid.)
  • When polling closes, the ballot boxes are collected from each polling station in the constituency and taken to a central point.  There the seals are checked before the boxes are opened and the votes for each candidate are counted.
  • When the counting finishes, the results of voting in that constituency are announced by the returning officer, who declares the winner of the election.
HOW GENERAL ELECTIONS WORK IN SAINT LUCIA

A general election is held when Parliament is dissolved by the Governor-General on the advice of the Prime Minister of the day.  General elections must be held every five years at least.

Saint Lucia is divided into 17 electoral districts or constituencies.  Voters in each constituency elect one Member of Parliament (MP) to send to the House of Assembly on the first past-the-post system.

The party that wins the most constituencies is asked by the Governor-General to form the government.  The leader of that party becomes the Prime Minister.  If the party wins in nine or more constituencies, it will have a majority government, which makes it much easier to get legislation passed in the House.  If the winning party has fewer than nine seats, it forms a minority government.  In order to get legislation through the House, a minority government usually has to adjust policies to get enough votes from MPs of other parties.

The party that has the second highest number of seats in the House of Assembly is called the Official Opposition.
Any citizen of Saint Lucia who is 21 years of age or older and resident in Saint Lucia is eligible for election to the House of Assembly.

CALLING ELECTIONS

In Saint Lucia, the Prime Minister may call general elections at any time, though no more than five years may lapse from one general election to the next.  All seats in the House of Assembly are vacant and the political party that wins the most seats in the subsequent general election form the government.  Aside from general elections, for which all seats are open, by-elections are held when a Member of Parliament dies or resigns.

The Prime Minister's power of discretion adds an element of spontaneity to the electoral process that does not exist in systems where voting dates are fixed on the calendar.  Prime Ministers generally ask the head of state to dissolve Parliament when they think their party has the best chance of winning a general election.

Other factors may force an election on a Prime Minister.  It is a convention (established practice) that if a government is defeated in the House of Assembly on a vote of confidence, then a general election will follow.

On the Governor-General issuing a writ, the Chief Elections Officer gives notice of the day and place fixed for the nomination of candidates, by publication in the Gazette and one or more local newspapers at least seven days before the day fixed for such nomination.

NOMINATION DAY AND CANDIDATES

A person is qualified to be elected as a member of the House if, and shall not be so qualified unless, he or she:

  1. is a citizen of the age of 21 years or upwards;
  2. was born in Saint Lucia and is domiciled and resident there at the date of his or her nomination or, having been born elsewhere, has resided there for a period of 12 months immediately before that date; and
  3. is able to speak and, unless incapacitated by blindness or other physical cause, to read the English language with a degree of proficiency sufficient to enable him or her to take an active part in the proceedings of the House.

Anyone who wishes to stand for election must be nominated on an official nomination paper submitted on Nomination Day.  They must stand either for an established political party or as an independent.  All candidates must pay a deposit which is lost if they do not secure a specified number of votes. 

Candidates are chosen by political parties through centralized national organizations.  Decisions are partially based on the will of local/constituency branches of the respective parties.  Candidates are not required to live in the constituencies in which they run; the candidate with the most votes wins the constituency seat.

THE CAMPAIGN

Once the Prime Minister decides to call a general election then he or she will go to see the Governor-General to request that Parliament is dissolved.  If the Governor-General agrees (there would have to be very strong constitutional reasons why he/she would refuse) then a Proclamation is issued in accordance with the Constitution of Saint Lucia which officially allows the dissolution (bringing to an end) of the Parliament.  It is customary for the Prime Minister to make a statement announcing the date of the dissolution and usually the reason for calling a general election.

How long is an election campaign?

The formal campaign is a relatively short-lived affair: the Prime Minister must give a minimum of three weeks and a maximum of six weeks' notice for a general election.  In practice, informal campaigning tends to start much earlier.

What happens once Parliament has been dissolved?

Once Parliament has been formally dissolved, the Clerk of Parliament issues Writs of Election for each constituency and the election timetable commences.

During the election campaign, all the main political parties produce a wide range of publicity material.  Manifestos will be published setting out the party's policies on each major issue.  The headquarters of each party is responsible for preparing party election advertising material and broadcasts for television and radio.

WHO CAN VOTE IN A GENERAL ELECTION?

All Saint Lucian citizens who have reached the age of eighteen are entitled to vote, as are Commonwealth citizens who have resided in Saint Lucia at least seven years immediately preceding the qualifying date.  Electors must have resided continuously in the electoral district where they are to vote for at least two months preceding the qualifying date.  Members of the police force cast their ballots a few days before the general election, to allow them to work through Election Day to secure polling sites.

PREPARING FOR THE POLL

It is of paramount importance that the planning and preparation for the poll be done with the utmost care.  The political parties are kept up to date with the different stages in planning and preparation.

Fifteen days special registration is conducted immediately following the issuing of writs for election.  During this period Registering Officers attend daily at Registering Centres during which time transfer of electors from one constituency to another also takes place.

Returning Officers and their assistants are appointed and they assist in the selection of Presiding Officers and Poll Clerks who are appointed by the Supervisor of Elections.

Ballots are printed after the nomination of candidates who must deposit XCD 500 which they are refunded if they gain not less than one-eighth of the votes cast.

At this stage, all election officials are trained by senior staff at the Electoral Office.  They are trained in the use of the different forms and in particular how the poll is to be conducted.

A final list of electors must be available at least four days before polling day.

Polling Stations are carefully selected and equipped to ensure their smooth functioning and the secrecy-of the poll.

POLLING DAY

On Election Day, Saint Lucians vote not for a Prime Minister, but for candidates running in each of the 15 single-seat constituencies throughout Saint Lucia.  A party needs to win 8 constituencies to command a majority in the House of Assembly, which allows it to choose a Prime Minister, formally appointed by the Governor-General.  Once selected, the Prime Minister begins the task of forming a government. 

Each constituency is divided into a number of polling districts, each of which has a polling station.  Most polling stations are in public buildings such as schools and churches, but other buildings can be used on request.  Polls open at 6:30 am and close at 6:00 pm.

Voting is by secret ballot, and the only people allowed in the polling station are the presiding officer (who is in charge), the polling clerks, the duty police officers, the candidates, their election agents and polling agents and the voters.  Just before the poll opens, the presiding officer shows the ballot boxes to those at the polling station to prove that they are empty.  The boxes are then locked and sealed. 

Each polling station is managed by a Presiding Officer and a Poll Clerk.  These election officials report to a Returning Officer, who is responsible for the electoral district.  No more than two agents for each candidate are permitted in the polling station to witness the conduct of the poll11.  A member of the police is present to secure each polling station.  Mobile telephones belonging to election officials and agents must be switched off and electors are obliged to switch off and surrender theirs while voting.  Electoral materials such as ballots, prescribed documents and supplies, and the lists of eligible voters are delivered to each Returning Officer, who in turn distributes the materials to each polling station.  According to the electoral law, the Presiding Officer, Poll Clerk(s) and the party agents make a declaration of secrecy prior to the opening of the polls.  The Presiding Officer and Poll Clerk are the first to vote in the polling station they are registered in; if not, voting can still take place by using the Transfer Certificate form.

Polls open at 6:30 a.m.  and close at 6:00 p.m.  The Presiding Officer and Poll Clerk display the empty ballot box to all present, and then lock it.  Each elector, upon entering the polling station, declares his or her name, which the Poll Clerk checks against the official list of electors for that station.  If the name appears on the list, the Poll Clerk calls out the name, address, occupation and number of the elector as stated in the official list.  The Presiding Officer then examines the elector’s identity card or other acceptable form of identification, such as a passport or driver’s license.

If the elector produces satisfactory identification, the Poll Clerk enters his or her name, address, and occupation in the poll book.  The Presiding Officer checks the elector’s hand and, if satisfied that he or she has not already voted, requires him or her to immerse the right index finger in the electoral ink.  The Presiding Officer then issues a ballot, instructing the elector how to vote and how to fold the ballot paper properly such that their vote remains secret and the Presiding Officer’s initials can be seen.  Having made his or her mark in the voting booth against the name of a candidate, the elector shows the Presiding Officer the initials on the folded ballot paper and casts it into the ballot box.  The Poll Clerk records ‘voted’ against the name of each elector who has done so.  If any oath is administered before voting, the Presiding Officer should enter “swear” or “affirm” next to elector’s name and if the elector refuses to take the appropriate oath the Presiding Officer should advise the Poll Clerk to enter “Refused to Swear,” “Refused to Affirm,” or “Refused to Answer” in the poll book.  Finally, if any objection is raised by an agent, the Presiding Officer should record it in the Poll Book, who made the nature of the objection and what was the objection.

If at 6:00 pm there are any qualified electors inside the polling station, the poll is kept open sufficient time to enable them to vote.  However, no one who arrives after 6:00 pm is permitted to vote.  Controls are exercised by the police officer on duty at the polling station to ensure an orderly closing process.  When the last voter in line has voted, the Presiding Officer closes the door of the polling station to begin the count. 

COUNTING THE BALLOTS

At the close of the poll, in the presence and in full view of the Poll Clerk and the candidates or their agents, the Presiding Officer counts the number of voters whose names appear in the poll book as having voted, counts the spoiled ballot papers (if any) and the unused ballot papers and checks this total against the number of ballots supplied by the Returning Officer, to ascertain that all ballot papers are accounted for.  He or she then opens the ballot box and counts the votes for each candidate, giving full opportunity to those present to examine each ballot paper, and finally displaying the empty box.  The Poll Clerk and no less than two witnesses are supplied with tally sheets on which to keep their own tabulation.  The Presiding Officer rejects any ballots that have not been supplied by him/her, that have not been marked for a candidate or are marked for more than one candidate; or are marked such that the voter can be identified.  The Presiding Officer records on a form in the poll book any objections made by the candidates or their agents to a ballot paper and decides on any question arising from such an objection; this decision is subject to possible reversal by the Returning Officer.

The Presiding Officer lists the votes given to each candidate and the rejected ballots, putting each into different envelopes, which are signed and sealed.  Immediately after the completion of the count, the Presiding Officer and Poll Clerk take an oath that the poll book contains a true and exact record of the vote at the polling station and that they have faithfully performed their duties under the law.  They then make several copies of the statement of poll: one is attached to the poll book, one is retained by the Presiding Officer, and one is given to the Returning Officer in a sealed envelope.  The Presiding Officer then locks and seals the ballot box.  The ballot box key is placed in another envelope.  The Presiding Officer, Poll Clerk and Party Agents sign the seals.  The remaining materials are placed in a separate envelope and kept separate from the ballot boxes.

Finally, the Presiding Officer, Poll Clerk, and no more than one agent for each candidate accompany the preliminary statement of poll, the sealed ballot box and other election materials to the Returning Officer.  As soon as the Returning Officer has ascertained the result of the poll, he or she phones the Supervisor of Elections with the preliminary results.  These results are regarded as preliminary until the morning of the day succeeding the election, when Returning Officers perform a final count and publicly declare the results.  At that point, an announcement is made about the candidates to whom most votes have been given, to be elected as the member for the Electoral District.

Recounts

If the result is close then either candidate can demand a recount.  The Returning Officer will advise the candidates of the figures and sanction a recount.  Recounts can continue until both candidates and the Returning Officer are satisfied with the result. 

Following the recount, the Retuning Officer prepares the official writ to be issued by the Governor-General.  The electoral process officially ends when the Returning Officer signs a writ with the names of the winning candidates in each constituency and returns it to the Supervisor of Elections; the Supervisor of Elections transmits the writs to the Governor-General who administers the oath of office to the elected member of the House of Assembly.

Contesting Results

An election petition may be filed with the High Court by:

  • a person who voted or had a right to vote at the election to which the petition relates;
  • a person claiming to have had a right to be returned at such election;
  • a person alleging himself to have been a candidate at such election.

The petition shall be presented within 21 days after the return made by the Returning Officer.

At the time of the presentation of the petition or within three days afterwards, security for the payment of all costs, charges and expenses that may become payable is made.

At the conclusion of the trial, the judge shall determine if the candidate declared the winner is confirmed or it may order that a new election be held.

AFTER THE RESULTS

When all of the results are known, the Governor-General will usually invite the leader of the party winning the most seats in the House of Assembly to be Prime Minister and to form a Government.

The Prime Minister will appoint several members of his party for both Houses to become members of the Cabinet.

The Cabinet

The Cabinet consists of the Prime Minister and not fewer than five other Ministers.  Ministers are appointed by the Governor-General, acting in accordance with the advice of the Prime Minister, from among the members of the two Houses. The Governor-General, with the advice of the Prime Minister, may also appoint Parliamentary Secretaries to assist Ministers in the discharge or their functions.

The Opposition

The party that wins the second-largest number of seats in Parliament comprises the opposition, which forms a "shadow" cabinet poised to assume power at any time during the ruling government's five-year term.

The Governor-General appoints as Leader of the Opposition the person who, in his/her judgment, is best able to command the support of a majority of those members of the House who do not support the Government.

The New Parliament

A few days after the general election, the House of Assembly assembles in preparation for the new Parliament to begin.  All MPs must be sworn in by taking an oath of allegiance or making an affirmation, and must sign the official register.  The Speaker and Deputy Speaker are customarily selected by a vote of the sitting members of parliament.

BY-ELECTIONS

A by-election takes place when a seat in the House of Assembly becomes vacant between general elections.  If there are several vacant seats then a number of by-elections can take place on the same day.

Reasons for by-elections

A seat becomes vacant during the lifetime of a Parliament either when an MP resigns from Parliament, for example to take up a job which by law cannot be done by an MP, or because an MP has died.  The law also allows a seat to be declared vacant because of a Member's bankruptcy, mental illness, or conviction for a serious criminal offence.

A by-election does not automatically take place if an MP changes political party.

ELECTION OBSERVERS

Saint Lucia first invited observers for the 2006 election.  The Organisation of American States (OAS) has observed General Elections in 2006 and 2011. The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) has mounted an observer mission for the 2011 elections.

Members of the observer team undertake a range of activities, including monitoring the media and election campaigns, reviewing the election law, the constitution and commitments the country is signed on to, in detail.  They also examine the election machinery from polling clerks to the administrator as well as observe training.  The team generally attempts to meet all the key stakeholders and party political activists.  They attend party rallies, meet candidates, civil society organisations, academics, etc..  The observer team usually holds press conferences at the start and end of their visits, and at the end of the mission, the team prepares a report that is available to the public.

Key

SLP = Saint Lucia Labour Party; UWP = United Workers Party; IND = Independent; *Incumbent; **Political Leader

Sources

https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/2010/st-vincent-and-grenadines#.VcCKWTZRGUk

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