International observers raise questions about Westminter poll

By Ecumenical News International
May 15, 2010

While British politicians were negotiating after parliamentary elections gave no party an absolute majority, a team of international observers expressed surprise at the way the poll was held - writes Trevor Grundy.

The 11-member team from the Commonwealth - a group of 54 nations, mostly former British colonies - included members of Roman Catholic justice and peace groups.

"Kenya may not be a paragon of democracy yet, but we can offer Britain some perspectives that may be of value," Kenyan lawmaker Ababu Namwamba was quoted by The Times newspaper as saying after the 6 May general election.

Namwamba's comments came after voters in many parts of the country were turned away from polling stations because voting closed at 10 p.m. and more people had turned out than election officials could handle.

"We go out of our way to rally the people to vote but then we hire sufficient officials to ensure everyone who turns up can cast their ballot," he said.

Wilson Masilingi, a lawmaker from Tanzania, said, "This would never have happened in my country."

The Commonwealth routinely sends teams to member countries to observe elections, but it was the first time it had sent such a group to Britain.

"This visit really strengthens the whole Commonwealth family of nations," said Gino Persaud from Guyana, a lawyer and member of his country's Catholic Commission for Peace and Justice, in advance of the election.

Team members visited polling stations before, during and after the election.

"In Malawi, we have much to learn from the way the British are conducting this election," Aloisious Nthenda, a Malawian jurist and a member of the Catholic Commission for Peace and Justice there, told Ecumenical News International before the controversy over people not being able to cast a vote.

An observer from Nigeria, Innocent Chukwuma, said that the British voting system was vulnerable and too open to "abuse and malpractice", while more staff were needed at polling stations.

The UK Electoral Commission has announced an official investigation into how many voters were unable to cast their ballots.

Its chairperson, Jenny Watson, said: "Everyone involved in running elections must make sure that it never happens again."

[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]


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