With the May 24 general election just around the corner, the national focus is not only on political parties, the candidates and the rhetoric on the campaign trail but also on the conduct of the Electoral and Boundaries Commission (EBC) overseeing this vital national exercise.
This is expected especially since general elections are the means by which the people choose a Government to preside over their affairs for five years.
Considering the sensitivity of elections and the massive logistics involved, it is imperative that the Commission’s handling of the poll remains above reproach, given Barbados’ reputation as a beacon of democracy in the Caribbean and the wider Commonwealth.
Just yesterday, Chairman of the EBC John Haynes gave the assurance that the country could expect nothing less than a poll of the usual high standards.
“We intend to maintain our integrity throughout the world because this commission and this country has never had to ask for any observer missions to come in and see how we conduct our elections.
“So we have to make sure that we maintain that and we cannot have any agency or any person pull down the good name of, process or anything that is happening in this country,” Haynes insisted.
The EBC boss was speaking against the backdrop of charges laid by the Barbados Labour Party that the preliminary list released by the Commission on May 2 was missing the names of hundreds of people who registered this year.
Then yesterday, the Democratic Labour Party’s first-time candidate George Connolly charged that there was voter-padding in his St James Central constituency, citing that there were over 300 “transient voters”, some of whom were not resident in the constituency for nearly a decade, on the register.
The EBC has denied the allegations and also indicated after meeting with political parties that Mr Connolly has made no official written complaint in relation to his accusation.
It is par for course for political parties to scrutinize the process and raise concern about perceived difficulties that could hinder their chances of victory.
However, any allegations that could bring the process into disrepute merit thorough investigation.
Political parties must however be aware that raising red flags for the sake of points is not only absurd but should be punished by the electorate.
The sanctity of Barbados’ ballot and its election record must be protected.
Issues like these however bring to the fore the need for electoral reform which all governing parties, at one time or another when they occupied high office, failed to address.
It’s only at general elections that calls are made for laws governing the conduct of polls to be improved or suggestions made for the resources of the EBC to be strengthened to allow the independent body to perform its critical role.
The fact is any real changes to the island’s electoral system are determined by Parliament.
During the last term, to the best of our recollection, there has not been any move by the Minister under whose portfolio the EBC falls, to update archaic laws and introduce new ones to strengthen the Commission’s capacity to carry out its business and better respond to the changing nature of politics, including issues relating to voter padding and the like.
A glaring example – is the issue of vote buying.
Allegations of vote buying surfaced in the 2013 general election, though long a taboo issue on the domestic political scene.
Despite the charges and the countercharges, nothing officially has been done about the alleged shameful practice.
Back in 2015, three prominent citizens, businessman Andrew Bynoe, former president of the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry Andy Armstrong and former general secretary of the Congress of Trade Unions and Staff Association of Barbados Patrick Frost penned a document setting out their concerns on vote buying and allegations of bribery for parliamentarians.
One wonders whether the document was even read and in whose drawer it is now buried?
This lack of action is an indictment on politicians who have done nothing but grandstand on the issue for their own political expediency.
It would therefore do all candidates well this campaign to put up or shut on the issue.
And then there is this whole business of campaign financing.
Legislation governing the donations of corporations and wealthy individuals should have long been established to guard against any impropriety.
Clearly we can’t leave it up to the politicians to get it right.
That is why voters should heed well the caution from the EBC boss who reminded all and sundry yesterday that their vote is indeed sacred.
Barbadians should accept nothing less than free and fair elections. Every qualified adult should be freely able to exercise their franchise for a candidate of their choice to ensure that the true verdict of the people emerges from the ballot on May 24.