Mon | Nov 20, 2017

Ombudsman to visit SE St Mary today amid tension

Published:Tuesday | October 24, 2017 | 12:00 AMEdmond Campbell
Donna Parchment Brown, Political Ombudsman.

With allegations of ongoing political violence and tension running high in St Mary South East ahead of the October 30 by-elections, Political Ombudsman Donna Parchment-Brown, along with the Peace Management Initiative and the police, will today make a crucial visit to the constituency to survey campaigning and other activities on the ground.

The visit comes amid a bruising battle between the Jamaica Labour Party's Dr Norman Dunn and the People's National Party's (PNP) Dr Shane Alexis to secure a seat in Gordon House, which became vacant following the sudden passing of the constituency's Member of Parliament Dr Winston Green.

Parchment-Brown said today's trip to the constituency would determine whether she meets with stakeholders at the election centre to discuss any developments that should be communicated to the commissioner of police in relation to campaigning.

However, she made it clear that no decision has been made at this point regarding any considerations for campaigns to be halted.

She said there have been allegations of political violence in the Belfield and Annotto Bay divisions of St Mary South East.

The PNP has reported that two of its supporters were shot and injured in the constituency - an incident for which the police are yet to determine a motive.

Parchment-Brown said that freedom to campaign was very important and that there were thousands of persons who have been campaigning appropriately.

"The fact that we are concerned about the minority is not a statement about not valuing or disrespecting the majority," she said.

 

CONCERNED ABOUT REPORTS

 

The election centre, which was established on nomination day - October 9, is co-chaired by the Director of Elections Orrette Fisher and the political ombudsman.

The director has responsibility for electoral matters, while the political ombudsman presides over issues impacting the political process.

Fisher told The Gleaner yesterday that he was always concerned about any reports of politically motivated violence. He, however, made it clear that he had no basis to pronounce on whether the violence in St Mary South East was politically motivated.

"Violence in any constituency poses a threat to the people who are going to be working there and affects people's willingness to volunteer," he said.

He said it is generally difficult to get persons to work in any constituency where there is a high level of violence.

At the same time, the Constituted Authority, chaired by retired Justice Algernon Smith, was activated on nomination day to monitor election-day activities in accordance with Section 44 of the Representation of the People Act.

Fisher pointed out that the Constituted Authority could ask the courts to void an election if there are electoral malpractices or the occurrence of violence in areas that prevent electors from casting their ballots.

How can an election be voided?

An election can be voided if activities occur in a polling station that could influence the results. The Constituted Authority may apply to the Election Court for the voiding of the election results on one or more of the following grounds:

- The total number of votes cast in a constituency or electoral division exceeds the number of electors on the official list for that constituency or electoral division.

- That ballot boxes have been stolen or destroyed or have in any way/manner been tampered with, and the number of electors on the list of electors for the polling stations is more than the difference in the number of votes cast for the candidate declared the winner and the candidate who is not declared the winner.

- That a presiding officer has, under threat/pressure, signed ballots and that the number of ballots so signed is sufficient to cast doubt on the majority of votes counted for the candidate declared elected.

- That votes have been polled by persons who are not bona fide electors, thereby casting doubt on the integrity of the votes counted for the candidate declared elected.

- That there is an upsurge in violence or any irregularity during election day in more polling station or polling divisions or in any electoral division or subversion of the process of free and fair elections.

edmond.campbell@gleanerjm.com