By Alexis R. Milan
The Organization of American States (OAS) Electoral Observer Mission (EOM), on Thursday afternoon, presented its preliminary findings of its mission to Belize, highlighting areas of concern and making several recommendations to improve electoral efficiency and transparency.
EOM Chief of Mission Jacinth Henry Martin, congratulated the country on a successful and peaceful electoral process. The OAS/EOM fielded 13 observers from 11 countries who observed the electoral processes in all six districts at various polling and counting stations.
The observers visited a total of 162 of the country’s 225 polling booths in 30 of the 31 constituencies on election day. The observations and recommendations presented in the preliminary report were directly based on the Mission’s first-hand observations and discussions with stakeholders prior to election day.
The OAS/EOM noted the significant preparations made by Belize’s Electoral Authorities ahead of the election, to develop procedures and systems that generated a generally inclusive and clean electoral process. The Mission further noted that this was the fourth electoral process held in Belize in 2015.
The OAS Mission was pleased to note the continued high levels of participation by women in most areas of the political process. However, despite an increase in the number of female candidates, there remained a significantly low ratio of female to male candidates contesting the election.
The Mission heard concerns regarding various elements of the voting process, including the size and integrity of the Voters List, and allegations regarding the high number of transfers, which appeared to some to leave insufficient time for adequate substantiation.
Concern was also expressed regarding the composition of the Proxy Registry and the timeframe for political parties to access the final version of the registry prior to the election, the Mission said.
The report of the 2012 EOM emphasized the need for the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) to update the country’s electoral boundaries in order to effect greater equity across electoral divisions. The 2015 EOM noted that the issue persists.
Several stakeholders mentioned the lack of campaign financing legislation in Belize, a recommendation emanating from the 2012 EOM report, and referenced the potential impact of campaign financing on the transparency of the electoral process.
The Mission also noted a perception of limited differentiation between the state and the governing party in terms of the use of resources during the campaign.
The Mission also noted that the OAS has offered technical assistance to implement and draft campaign financing legislation based on model legislation, but neither mass party in Belize expressed an interest to do so.
Members of the OAS/EOM also observed the persistence of an issue raised in the report of the 2012 EOM relative to campaigning taking place well within the established 100 yard limit from polling stations.
The Mission recommended that efforts be made by all political parties and the government to continue to promote the participation of women in electoral competition and to create avenues to encourage the participation of youth at all levels of the political process, providing training programs and mentorship for women and young political leaders.
It also recommended that a comprehensive re-registration of voters be undertaken in accordance with the Representation of the Peoples Act, as recommended by the OAS/EOM in 2012 and that there be established by the competent authorities a clear and feasible limit for electors to register as proxy voters in order to allow the Elections and Boundaries Department to have a finalized Proxy Register within a reasonable time prior to the day of election.
Among other things, the Mission also recommended that legislation governing campaign financing be enacted as recommended in the 2012 EOM report, and that the dormant Integrity Commission be revived or another similar mechanism established, to oversee and supervise financial inflows during the campaigns.
A verbal report on the observations and recommendations of the OAS/EOM will be presented by the Chief of Mission to the OAS Permanent Council in Washington D.C. within the next three months.