St. Vincent and the Grenadines is a parliamentary democracy that holds regular elections and has seen numerous transfers of power between parties. While civil liberties are generally upheld, journalists face the possibility of criminal defamation charges, and same-sex relations remain illegal. Violent crime is a concern.
- The governing Unity Labour Party (ULP) won the general elections held in November. Although they won fewer votes than the New Democratic Party (NDP), the ULP won 9 of the 15 seats in the parliament, up one seat from the previous elections. It was the ULP’s fifth consecutive victory, and the first time since 1998 that the party winning the most votes did not win the most seats. Voter turnout was 67 percent.
- The government took multiple steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19 during the general elections’ campaigning period and on election day in November. The Ministry of National Security’s Health Services Subcommittee directed campaign rallies and events to be held outdoors and socially distanced and advised all attendees to wear masks; similar guidelines were implemented on voting day. According to government statistics provided to the World Health Organization (WHO), 119 people had tested positive for coronavirus by year’s end.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?||4.004 4.004|
The prime minister, usually the leader of the majority party in the parliament, is appointed by the governor general, who represents the British monarch as the largely ceremonial head of state. Ralph Gonsalves retained his position as prime minister following the victory of his incumbent Unity Labour Party (ULP) in the 2020 legislative elections, which were considered free and fair.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?||4.004 4.004|
The constitution provides for the direct election of 15 representatives to the unicameral House of Assembly. In addition, the governor general appoints six senators to the chamber: four selected on the advice of the prime minister and two on the advice of the opposition leader. All serve five-year terms.
In October 2020, both the ULP and the opposition NDP signed the National Monitoring and Consultative Mechanism “Code of Ethical Political Conduct” to govern the campaign. The elections held in November were won by the ULP, which took 9 seats; its fifth consecutive victory. Although the party increased its majority by one seat, it won around 500 votes less than the NDP. It was the first time since 1998 that the party winning the most votes did not win the most seats. The additional seat gained by the ULP was won by just seven votes. Voter turnout was 67 percent.
The government took multiple steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19 during the campaigning period and on election day in November. The Ministry of National Security’s Health Services Subcommittee directed campaign rallies and events to be held outdoors and socially distanced and advised all attendees to wear masks. Similar guidelines were issued for the day of voting, and procedures were established for eligible voters who were under state-mandated quarantine after arriving in the country.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?||3.003 4.004|
Electoral laws are generally fair and impartially implemented. Efforts to update voter lists were initiated in 2013. Ahead of the 2015 elections the legislature passed, with bipartisan support, an amendment to the election law that removed almost 24,000 names from the lists. The 2015 Organization of American States (OAS) election monitoring mission welcomed the change but noted that authorities should implement continuous updating and verification processes; this has not yet been enacted. The mission also called for better standardization of voting procedures across polling sites. Prior to the 2020 elections, the opposition claimed that hundreds of dead people remained on the electoral list.
The 2020 elections were deemed free and fair by a Caribbean Community (CARICOM) observer mission and domestic election observers. Despite the closeness of the vote tallies, the NDP did not challenge the results in court.
|Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?||4.004 4.004|
Political parties can organize freely. While there are a number of smaller political parties in the country, since 1998 only the ULP and NDP have won seats in the parliament. The first-past-the-post electoral system has contributed to this pattern, but there are also concerns that unregulated private campaign financing puts smaller parties at a disadvantage. The limited state funding that is available goes only to parties represented in the previous parliament.
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?||4.004 4.004|
The country has experienced multiple peaceful transfers of power between rival parties after elections, including two since it gained full independence in 1979. The ULP has been in government since 2001, but it has had only a narrow majority over the opposition NDP since 2010.
|Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means?||4.004 4.004|
The political choices of candidates and voters are generally free from interference by extrapolitical forces. However, the OAS raised concerns in 2015 about the lack of transparency regarding party and campaign financing, which could enable undue influence by private actors. Little has been done since to address these concerns.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?||3.003 4.004|
All citizens are formally entitled to full political rights and electoral opportunities, but women remain significantly underrepresented in the legislature and in politics generally. In its report on the 2015 elections, the OAS noted that there was a “pervasive reluctance” on the part of potential women candidates to take part in harsh political campaigns. No women were elected to the House of Assembly in both the 2015 and 2020 elections. Two women were appointed deputy Speaker and Speaker of the House by ULP after the 2020 elections.
LGBT+ people are marginalized, and this affects their ability to engage fully in political processes. There are no openly LGBT+ politicians in the House of Assembly. The St. Vincent population is largely Afro-Caribbean and of mixed African-European decent, with the major religions being Protestantism and Catholicism. These segments of the population and others can engage in the political process. The small Rastafarian community do not engage fully with politics, although politicians canvas for their votes.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?||4.004 4.004|
The elected prime minister, cabinet, and House of Assembly members determine the policies of the government without improper interference from unelected entities.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?||3.003 4.004|
The independent judiciary and media provide checks on government corruption. However, there is no specialized national anticorruption agency, and claims of petty corruption continue to be reported.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?||3.003 4.004|
The government generally operates with openness and transparency. Nevertheless, freedom of information legislation that was passed in 2003 has yet to be implemented, and there is no active legislation requiring government officials to disclose assets, income, or gifts. Further, government accounts have not been audited for five years, and it has not released the 2018 poverty assessment report, which allegedly shows that poverty increased from 30 percent to 36 percent in the preceding decade.
|Are there free and independent media?||3.003 4.004|
The constitution guarantees the freedoms of expression and communication, and these rights are usually upheld in practice. The state owns the main local broadcaster, and concerns have been raised, most recently by the NDP in August 2020, about the level of access to the broadcaster given to the political opposition. However, several private newspapers operate consistently, and news consumers also have access to foreign media and online outlets.
Journalists remain subject to criminal and civil defamation laws, and the 2016 Cybercrime Act broadened the definition and scope of defamation to include online publications; violation of its often vaguely worded provisions can carry a fine of as much as EC$500,000 ($185,000) and up to seven years’ imprisonment.
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?||4.004 4.004|
Freedom of religion is constitutionally protected and respected in practice.
|Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?||4.004 4.004|
Academic freedom is generally upheld.
|Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?||4.004 4.004|
There are no significant restrictions on individuals’ ability to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics. However, the threat of defamation is used by politicians. In March 2020, Prime Minister Gonsalves claimed that he could sue speakers at NDP meetings for defamation, though he did not clarify which comments made at those meetings were defamatory.
|Is there freedom of assembly?||4.004 4.004|
Freedom of assembly is constitutionally protected and generally upheld in practice. There were reports of police using excessive force to disperse peaceful protests during the 2015 election period, but no similar such events have taken place in recent years.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?||4.004 4.004|
Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) operate freely. However, reported security threats, including a physical attack on a volunteer, apparently prompted the US Peace Corps to withdraw 23 people from the country in August 2018.
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?||4.004 4.004|
The constitution protects the right to form or join trade unions and other such associations. Unions are permitted to strike and engage in collective bargaining. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and dismissal for engaging in union activities. The right to collective bargaining is generally upheld, though public sector unions have in the past criticized the government for failing to respect the bargaining process.
|Is there an independent judiciary?||4.004 4.004|
The judiciary generally operates independently. Judges are appointed through an impartial Judicial and Legal Services Commission and cannot be dismissed arbitrarily. The country is subject to the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court and recognizes the original jurisdiction of the Caribbean Court of Justice, though the Privy Council in London remains the final court of appeal.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?||3.003 4.004|
There is due process in civil and criminal matters. Detainees and defendants are guaranteed a range of legal rights, which are mostly respected in practice. However, there is a significant case backlog, which leads to prolonged pretrial detention.
|Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?||4.004 4.004|
The population is free from war and other acute threats to physical security. From January to November 2020, there were 27 reported homicides, a slight increase over 2019, but a significant decline from higher rates seen over the past decade.
Prison conditions have improved since a new correctional facility was opened in 2012, but the old prison in Kingstown is still in use and features substandard conditions. Key problems with prison facilities include understaffing, overcrowding, and limited space to segregate noncompliant and juvenile prisoners.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?||3.003 4.004|
The constitution prohibits discrimination based on race, sex, religion, and other such categories, but sexual orientation and gender identity are not similarly protected. Same-sex relations is illegal and carries penalties of up to 10 years in prison. While the law is rarely enforced, societal discrimination against LGBT+ people persists. In July 2019, two gay Vincentian men filed a legal challenge to the law; the government said it would oppose the challenge and received the backing of several Christian groups.
Women reportedly face sexual harassment in the workplace, which is not specifically addressed by law.
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?||4.004 4.004|
There are no significant restrictions on freedom of movement, and individuals can freely change their place of residence, employment, and education.
|Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors?||4.004 4.004|
Individuals are free to own property and to establish and operate businesses. The government has actively encouraged both domestic and foreign investors to do business in the country, though the World Bank has reported some regulatory difficulties with respect to registering property, obtaining credit, and resolving insolvency.
|Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance?||3.003 4.004|
Individual rights with respect to personal status matters like marriage and divorce are generally protected by law, though same-sex marriage is not recognized. The Domestic Violence Act of 2015, which went into effect in 2016 and provides for protective orders, offers some tools and resources to victims of domestic violence. However, such violence remains a serious and widespread problem, as does sexual assault.
|Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?||3.003 4.004|
The law provides safety and other basic protections against labor exploitation, and these are typically upheld, though there are some reports of inadequate enforcement. The Prevention of Trafficking in Persons Act of 2011 criminalizes forced labor and sex trafficking, and the government has increased its efforts to investigate violations and improve prevention and victim protection, but it has yet to secure any trafficking convictions, the US State Department reported in 2020.
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