COMMENDABLE: COG lauds Bahamas for “defining features of a healthy democracy” in snap election

COMMENDABLE: COG lauds Bahamas for “defining features of a healthy democracy” in snap election
Members of the Commonwealth Observer Group that observed the 2021 General Election process.

COG suggests code of conduct needed for political parties, candidates and even the media

Claim of govt broadcast bias “troubling”

NASSAU, BAHAMAS — In its preliminary report on The Bahamas’ 2021 General Election, the Commonwealth Observer Group (COG) advised that the process was credible, inclusive and transparent and expressed confidence that concerns can be resolved.

In a statement on the findings, Bruce Golding, former prime minister of Jamaica and chair of the Commonwealth Observer Group, said the election is being assessed according to the national, regional, Commonwealth and international values and standards to which The Bahamas has committed itself.

Former Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding. (DILLON DE SHONG)

“Our overall conclusion is that the voting, closing and counting processes at polling stations were credible, inclusive and transparent,” Golding said.

“The commitment of all Bahamians to the exercise of their democratic franchise is to be commended, bearing in mind the considerable challenges confronting The Bahamas in the face of a snap election, as well as the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.”

He added: “We note that the previous incumbent prime minister conceded defeat on the evening of Election Day itself, before the results process had concluded formally but when the emerging result was already clear.

“The graciousness which he displayed, and equally the magnanimity and spirit of inclusivity evident in the speech of the incoming prime minister, are to be lauded.

“These are defining features of a healthy democracy.”

Golding said the group is of the view that any shortcomings identified can and should be addressed through open, transparent and inclusive dialogue with relevant stakeholders.

Among those concerns Golding raised was the state of the voter’s registration card, which he described as “deficient in many respects”.

He insisted that technology is readily available to enable authorities to produce a more secure and durable form of identification.


Code of conduct

The group recommended that the Parliamentary Registration Department (PRD) develop a robust communication strategy and mechanism to inform the public on critical issues.

Voters in the Bamboo Town and South Beach constituencies sit while waiting in line to vote in the advance poll at CV Bethel High School on Thursday, September 9, 2021. (BIS/PATRICK HANNA)

Golding indicated that while press freedom was observed and generally respected, there was significant concern for the state of the national broadcaster, ZNS, which allegedly did not provide balanced coverage of the activities of the contending political parties and candidates.

“This resulted in citizens being deprived of their right to receive balanced information about the election and candidates,” he said.

He said the group was advised by the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) that the government broadcaster refused to accept and air its adverts due to an alleged disputed debt from the last election, even though it offered to pay upfront and clear the debt.

“We were not able to determine the veracity of this allegation, but we found it troubling,” Golding added.

The group said though the campaign environment was observed to be orderly, and conducted in a generally positive spirit, the PRD should consider developing a code of conduct for political parties and candidates, and media houses should consider doing the same.

The group reiterated the key recommendation of the 2017 Commonwealth Observer Group that The Bahamas consider the establishment of an independent election management body, in order to strengthen adherence to international good practice.

It also urged electoral authorities to prepare a strong and robust voter education program that can be readily deployed in advance of future elections.

The mission’s final report will be submitted to the Commonwealth secretary general, and will afterward be made available to the government of The Bahamas, political parties, civil society organizations and the public.

About Sloan Smith

Sloan Smith is a senior digital reporter at Eyewitness News, covering a diverse range of beats, from politics and crime to environment and human interest. In 2018, Sloan received a nomination for the “Leslie Higgs Feature Writer of The Year Award” from The Bahamas Press Club for her work with Eyewitness News.