The Organisation of American States (OAS) team that observed the December 2015 general election in St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) did not say that there was no election fraud.
This one of the points that Leader of the Opposition and President of the New Democratic Party (NDP), Arnhim Eustace attempted to drive home in an address to the nation on radio on Wednesday.
The NDP is challenging the results of the elections and has filed petitions asking the court to overturn the results in Central Leeward and North Windward by declaring the NDP’s candidates winners or order fresh elections in those districts.
Electoral officials have declared the Unity Labour Party winners of those seats and the general election by a one-seat majority in the 15-member Parliament.
Eustace said that the OAS observers who attended the final count in Central Leeward on Dec. 10 constituted a neutral third party.
In its final report released on Friday, the OAS said that in Central Leeward, its team observed incorrect application of seals on several ballot boxes, the absence of presiding officer’s stamp and initials on some ballots, and said the presiding officer, Winston Gaymes, had a clear bias towards the ULP.
The OAS, however, said that notwithstanding these “the OAS Observers did not discern any fraudulent or other activities at the Final Count which could have materially affected the outcome of the vote in which the ULP candidate won by 313 votes.”
Some supporters of the government’s position that nothing untoward took place in the election, have taken this to mean that the NDP is making much of nothing.
But Eustace rebutted that point in his address yesterday, and asked listeners to consider the language used by the OA.
“The fact that the OAS did not “discern” fraudulent activities means just that. It does not mean there was no fraud. The OAS has spoken to what it did in fact observe, and correctly so,” Eustace said.
“Do the disquieting activities observed by them affect the numerical result, and is that relevant? That is strictly a matter for the court to interpret on a qualitative and/or quantitative basis, using applicable legal principles. The OAS has, without doubt, pronounced sufficiently upon the illegal issues that plagued the conduct of the Central Leeward election.”
Eustace said that the case Gunn v Sharpe is among the authorities by which the court, on hearing the petitions, will be guided.
“It makes clear that dismissing the disenfranchisement of 321 voters, in other words, voters effectively losing their say in the election, is no small matter. In that case far less voters (98) in a larger constituency were disenfranchised. The court held that the election was void.
“How the election is conducted is as important as the outcome. It necessarily impacts the outcome,” Eustace said.
He said the the OAS report corroborates and therefore vindicates the affidavit evidence of the NDP’s Central Leeward candidate, Ben Exeter. and his representative with respect to the improper sealing of ballot boxes, the objections to mutilated ballots, and “the demonstrated impartiality” of Gaymes in the exercise of his duties.
“The point is to be made here that the OAS was made aware by us through our contact with them about testifying, what our contentions were in the petition. And they treated specifically with precisely those concerns as raised by us. Our contact with the OAS was made a part of the public record in the affidavit of Senator Shirlan “Zita” Barnwell. While they are protected from participating in proceedings by certain immunities granted them by the Government, they have sufficiently addressed our concerns in their final report,” Eustace said.
Eustace also announced that lawyers for the NDP will ask the Director of Public Prosecutions for fiats to file private criminal complaints against certain electoral official, but did not name them.