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St. Vincent and the Grenadines Election Basics

St Vincent and the Grenadines is a parliamentary democracy within the Commonwealth of Nations.  Control of government rests with the Prime Minister and the cabinet.  The Parliament is a unicameral body (House of Assembly with 21 seats, out of which 15 are elected representatives and six are appointed senators).  The Governor-General appoints Senators, four on the advice of the Prime Minister and two on the advice of the leader of the opposition.  The parliamentary term of office is five years, although the Prime Minister may call elections at any time.  As in other English-speaking Caribbean countries, the judiciary in St Vincent is rooted in British common law.  There are 11 courts in three magisterial districts.  The Lower Judiciary includes the Magistracy and the Family Court with the High Judiciary comprising of the High Court and the Court of Appeal. Appeals can be made through the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court.  The court of last resort is the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London.

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 LAWS

The Representation of the People Act Cap. 6 (1982) divides St. Vincent and the Grenadines into 15 electoral districts for the purpose of general elections.  Each electoral district constitutes one constituency and each constituency elects only one member to the Assembly. Learn more about Electoral Laws in St. Vincent and the Grenadines »

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 ST. VINCENT AND THE GRENADINES

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.

St. Vincent and the Grenadines is divided into 15 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.

A political party is a group of people who seek to influence or form the government according to their agreed views and principles.  There are a number of political parties in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.  Each party nominates one candidate for each constituency. Independent candidates may also stand for elections. Learn more about Political Parties in St. Vincent and the Grenadines »

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 more than eight 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 eight 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 St. Vincent and the Grenadines who is 21 years of age or older and resident in St. Vincent and the Grenadines is eligible for election to the House of Assembly.

CALLING ELECTIONS

In St. Vincent and the Grenadines, 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.  Established practice is 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 Supervisor of Elections gives notice of the day and place fixed for the nomination of candidates, by publication in the Gazette and on television or radio and in one or more local newspapers at least 10 clear days before the day fixed for such nominations.  The returning officer gives further notice of the issue of such writ and of the time and place fixed for the nomination of candidates by causing notices to be posted at such places in the district as he may deem necessary.

NOMINATION DAY

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.
Subject to the provisions of section 26 of this Constitution, a person shall be qualified to be elected as a representative if, and shall not be so qualified unless, he:

  • is a Commonwealth citizen of the age of twenty-one years or upwards
  • has resided in St. Vincent for a period of twelve months immediately before the date of his nominations for election or is domiciled and resident in St. Vincent at that date: and
  • is able to speak and, unless incapacitated by blindness or the physical cause, to read the English language with a degree of proficiency sufficient to enable him to take an active part in the proceedings of the House.
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 St. Vincent and the Grenadines 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?

To be eligible for registration a voter must:

  • attain the age of 18 years;
  • be a citizen of St Vincent and the Grenadines;
  • be a Commonwealth citizen who has resided in St Vincent and the Grenadines for at least twelve months prior to his registration.

No elector is allowed to vote:

  • in more than one Constituency;
  • more than once in the same Constituency;
  • Without first producing an ID card.

If an elector loses his ID card, he can still be identified at the Polling Station because the Polling Station card with photograph and other details of the elector is supplied to the Polling Station on polling day.

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 $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 Polling Day (Election Day), Vincentians vote not for a Prime Minister, but for candidates running in each of the 15 single-seat constituencies throughout St. Vincent and the Grenadines.  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. Voting takes place on Election Day from 7:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

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.

Every ballot paper is stamped on its counterfoil with an official stamp to ensure that the ballot marked by the elector is the same one delivered to him by the Presiding Officer.  The ballot paper lists the names of the candidates in alphabetical order.  Voting takes place in a booth, which is screened to maintain secrecy.  The voter marks the ballot paper with a cross in the box opposite the name of the candidate of his or her choice, and folds the paper to conceal the vote before placing it in the ballot box.  After marking the ballot, the elector returns it folded (so that the mark or X cannot be seen) to the Presiding Officer who inspects it for the official stamp.

The elector then immerses his right forefinger in the indelible ink after which the Presiding Officer removes the counterfoil from the ballot and deposits the latter in the box.  The Presiding Officer may vote for a blind or incapacitated voter if he is unaccompanied.

A paper that is spoiled by mistake must be returned to the presiding officer.  If the Presiding Officer is satisfied that the soiling was accidental, another paper is provided and the first is cancelled.  At the end of the voting, the Presiding Officer delivers those spoilt papers to the Returning Officer.  The ballot boxes are then sealed and delivered to the central point - the Counting Station, where the count is to take place.

Much emphasis is placed on secrecy at the polls.  Every Officer, Clerk, and Agent at the Polling Station must maintain and aid in maintaining the secrecy of the voting and they may not disclose before the poll is closed to anyone outside the Station what has transpired during polling.

All unauthorized persons are prohibited from entering the precincts of the Polling Station and they may not congregate within one hundred feet.  A special feature of the day is the banning of sale of all intoxicating liquors.

COUNTING THE BALLOTS

All ballot boxes are taken to a central place in each constituency where counting takes place.  Each ballot box is emptied, the papers mixed up and the votes counted by teams of helpers.  At the close of the polls, the ballots are counted using tally sheets, the Presiding Officer ensuring that each ballot is seen by all present and that its authenticity is verified.  This is done in the presence of the candidates.  When all the votes have been counted, the results are announced by the Returning Officer.  Depending on the time, it takes to bring all of the ballot boxes to the count and the result of the count, the result may be announced before midnight.

After the count, a preliminary result is transmitted to the Supervisor of Elections who declares the results.  A final count of the votes is done on the following day.

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.

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
CARICOM Election Observers
Members Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Election Observation Mission for the St. Vincent and the Grenadines 2015 General Elections

St. Vincent and the Grenadines first invited observers for the 2001 election.  The Organisation of American States (OAS) has observed General Elections in 2001, 2005, and 2010, and the Referendum on Constitutional Reform of 2009.  In addition to the OAS Electoral Observation Mission, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) has mounted observer missions for the 2001, 2005, and 2010 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
DRP= Democratic Republican Party; NDP = New Democratic Party; SVGP = St. Vincent and the Grenadines Green Party; ULP = Unity Labour Party; IND = Independent; * Incumbent; ** Political Leader
Sources

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

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