Preliminary Statement – CARICOM Election Observation Mission to the Antigua and Barbuda General Elections, 18 January 2023
The seven (7) member CARICOM Election Observation Mission (CEOM) which was mounted by the Caribbean Community, at the invitation of the Government of Antigua and Barbuda, observed the General Election on 18 January 2023. The CEOM visited 184 of 188 polling stations across 16 constituencies in Antigua. Due to logistical challenges polling stations in Barbuda were not visited. The Mission monitored the Election Day activities by observing the opening of the poll, the voting process, the closing of the poll, the transporting of ballot boxes and the counting of ballots.
In all stations observed, indications are that polling stations opened on time and voting started promptly at 6:00 a.m. It was observed that all polling stations were fully staffed, and that the two (2) major political parties each had political agents present at all locations. Most polling stations were conveniently located and generally accessible to the electorate including the disabled.
The CEOM observed that all materials and supplies needed were present in the required quantities. Adequate security was in place at locations observed. The officers displayed professionalism in the maintenance of law and order which contributed to the level of calm that accompanied the day’s activities. The Mission observed that prior to the opening of polls, many voters were eagerly waiting to cast their vote. Throughout the day, the polling staff remained focused as they steadily carried out the required procedures, ensuring that eligible voters who turned out were able to cast their vote.
The CEOM also observed that transportation of ballot boxes from the polling stations to the counting stations was done with adequate security, in the presence of party agents. In all stations observed, the Returning Officers commenced counting of ballots promptly, upon arrival of the ballot boxes. The count of ballots was done transparently and professionally in the presence of party agents.
While the conduct of the election is highly commendable, all stakeholders, including the main opposition party, with whom the Mission met, raised concerns about the delay in the publication of the register of elections, therefore they had no opportunity to put forward claims and objections. The Electoral Commission informed the CEOM that the date for the publication of the register was calculated based on the advice of legal counsel and, in its view, the calculation is correct.
The CEOM was made aware that in 2021, persons were appointed to the Constituencies Boundaries Commission to address the disparity in the number of electors in the constituencies. While the Mission applauds the effort to address this disparity, there is urgent need to ensure that this exercise is not delayed any further, as completion is extremely necessary prior to the next general election.
Stakeholders raised concerns about the lack of accountability and transparency regarding campaign financing regulations. This is indicative of the need for a framework to be put in place to deal with the issue of campaign financing.
The Mission’s assessment of the Election Day’s activities is that the voters were able to cast their ballots without intimidation and that the General Election was free and fair, and the outcome reflects the will of the people of Antigua and Barbuda.
The Mission will prepare a detailed report for submission to Her Excellency, Dr. Carla Barnett, Secretary-General of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). This report will include recommendations and suggestions for strengthening the electoral process in Antigua and Barbuda.
The Mission wishes to congratulate the staff of the Electoral Commission, the Poll Workers, the Candidates and the Security Forces for the mature way in which the elections were conducted. The level of discipline displayed throughout the entire process is highly commendable.
The CARICOM Election Observation Mission wishes to thank the Leaders of the Political Parties, Independent Candidates, Civil Society Groups, Media and the wonderful people of Antigua and Barbuda for their warm hospitality and cooperation which no doubt contributed to the success of the Mission.
CHIEF OF MISSION
CARICOM ELECTION OBSERVATION MISSION
19 JANUARY 2023