It’s hard to miss the comments being made by stalwart supporters of both dominant political parties on social media. But the fact is that we are heading into a fifth year without an election being called. As such, we at WAVES Magazine feel it is necessary that voters (especially first-timers) be knowledgeable about elections and how to vote before the announced date.
Every four years, the Turks and Caicos Islands holds a general election where we, the people of the nation, decide who will make up our legislature in the House of Assembly. The House of Assembly has 19 members with 15 members elected directly representing the 10 constituencies and 5 all island candidates. For the other 4 members, one is nominated by the Government, one by the Opposition and two appointed by the Governor.
In the Turks and Caicos, we have inherited the monarchy with a Governor appointed by the British Monarch. The Governor is the representative of the British monarch in the TCI as a United Kingdom’s overseas territory. The role of the Governor is to act as the head of state. He or she is responsible for officially appointing the Premier and 5 members of the House of Assembly.
The current Governor is Nigel Dakin and the official structure of Parliament is a Unicameral House of Assembly. This means that our House of Assembly has only one chamber (group of people who form Parliament). Our Electoral Law is according to the Constitution of Turks and Caicos Islands.
Voting is your sacred right as a Turks and Caicos Islander. It allows you to have a say in who represents you and the entire country on a national level. So let’s address the voter requirements first and foremost.
For you to qualify to register as a voter, you must be:
- 18 years or older;
- a resident in the islands (i.e. have been residing in the islands for at least 12 months in the 2 years preceding an application for voter registration); and
- have Turks and Caicos Islander (‘Belonger’) status.
Where do you vote?
In order to vote at the polling station, your details must appear on the official list for that polling station. You’ll then have to vote at the polling station that you have been allocated to within your electoral district. If you try to vote at another polling station, you will not be allowed to. Instead, you would be referred to the polling station to which you have been allocated.
Once votes are cast and counted, the party or coalition of parties winning the most electoral districts is asked by the Governor to form the government. The leader of that party or coalition becomes the Premier.
How to vote?
Voting, while exciting, can be a bit daunting if it’s your first time. So here is a run down of what happens at the polls on voting day.
- Each voter will receive two ballot papers- a white one for that specific electoral district (for e.g. Five Cays or Grand Turk South) and a green one for the All-Islands District (the at large candidates).
- All candidates’ names are listed alphabetically on both papers. Their party symbols will be beside their names and any independent candidate without a party symbol will have the letters ‘IND’ shown next to their name.
- The Presiding Officer (a.k.a. the person in charge) will mark all ballot papers to show that they are genuine. They will also show you how to make your vote on the paper and how to fold it to ensure it remains unseen.
There are two ballot boxes – one for the white papers for the Electoral District candidates and one for the green papers for the All Island candidates. On the white Electoral District ballot paper, choose ONE candidate. Using the pencil provided, mark an ‘X’ in the box next to the name of the candidate of your choice. You must be sure to not vote for more than one candidate on the electoral district ballot because, if you do, your vote will not be counted!
On the green All Islands ballot paper, choose up to but not more than FIVE candidates. You don’t have to use all five votes. Using the pencil provided, mark the paper by placing a mark (X) in the box next to the names of the candidates of your choice. You can allocate your votes to more than one party. Again, do not vote for more than five people on the all island ballot or else your vote will not be counted.
You can vote for candidates in both parties and also the independent candidates – it is entirely your choice as part of the secret ballot process in use at the election.
Both Head of Government and Opposition play very important roles in a Caribbean country. It is vital that we hold both sides accountable to their legal job descriptions because it directly impacts how our country progresses.
The Premier of the Turks and Caicos Islands is the political leader and Head of Government. The post of Premier is the equivalent to Chief Minister or Prime Minister in other British Overseas Territories. It is the highest political level that can be attained within the British colonial system. The current Premier since 19 December 2016 is the Honourable Sharlene Cartwright-Robinson of the People’s Democratic Movement (PDM).
Prior to 2006, the position of the Premier was known as the Chief Minister of the Turks and Caicos Islands.
The Opposition on the other hand, refers to the largest political party in the House of Assembly that is not in government. The leader of this party takes the title Leader of the Opposition. The role of the Opposition is to question and scrutinise the work of the Government. The current leader of the Opposition is Honorable Charles Washington Misick.
How are elections called?
The Governor may dissolve the House of Assembly at any time after consultation with the Premier.
This would happen exactly four years after the House of Assembly first meets (after elections), or sooner. Once the House of Assembly is dissolved, a general election must be held within two months. The dissolution of the House of Assembly does not affect the day-to-day business of the Government. Cabinet members remain in charge of their portfolios. Following the dissolution of the House of Assembly, Ministers are, however, expected to refrain from initiating any action of a continuing or long-term character.
The Premier’s power of discretion adds an element of spontaneity to the electoral process that does not exist in systems where voting dates are fixed on the calendar. Premiers generally ask the Governor, the formal head of state, to dissolve Parliament when they think their party has the best chance of winning a general election. However, other factors may force an election on a Premier.
As a convention (established practice), if a government is defeated in the House of Assembly on a vote of no confidence, then a general election will follow.
Are you interested in running in future elections?
Have you ever wondered what it really takes to put yourself forward to run in a general election? Here are the requirements as stipulated by our constitution:
In order to be eligible to nominate yourself as a candidate to run in a general election, you must be:
- at least 21 years old;
- resident in the Islands (i.e. have been residing in the islands for at least 12 months in the 2 years before applying to nominate yourself); and
- be a Turks and Caicos Islander.
It is very important to know the facts and be abreast of the issues before heading to the polls. Your vote is your voice, your right and your power.
Both Government and Opposition play the ultimate role in making this country – our country, a better place for Turks and Caicos Islanders. We deserve to be represented by those who care about progressing not only economically, but on a wide spectrum. We at WAVES Magazine urge you to get involved, know the facts, and use your voters right to make the change that you want to see.
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