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Falkland Islands: General Election 2017

The elections to the Falkland Islands Legislative Assembly on 9 November have resulted in a healthy mix of experience and relative youth. Four members of long service stood down. Three old hands were returned and five newcomers elected. The previous decision to make the positions full-time and properly remunerated has paid dividends as these younger candidates in mid-career have taken the plunge into full-time politics (in the 2013 elections, only one such candidate was successful). With a new Governor and Chief Executive, there is every opportunity for the Falkland Islands Government to coalesce into a solid, effective working machine. Democracy is alive and well in the Falklands – and the future bright.

Falkland Islanders went to the polls on Thursday, 9 November 2017 to elect a new Legislative Assembly. The 2008 Constitution provides for the election of eight Members of Legislative Assembly (MLAs) in two constituencies with five members representing Stanley and 3 representing Camp.1 Elections are normally held every 4 years, though they can be held sooner.

Four members of the previous Legislative Assembly – Jan Cheek, Michael Poole, Phyl Rendell and Mike Summers – had decided to stand down; the others – Roger Edwards, Barry Elsby, Ian Hansen and Gavin Short – stood again; the first three were re-elected but Gavin Short lost his seat. Overall, 17 people stood for election; they did so on the basis of individual manifestos since there are no political parties in the Falklands.

The results were:

a) Camp: Elected: Ian Hansen (149 votes); Teslyn Barkman (139); Roger Edwards (130).

Not elected: Ben Cockwell (128 votes).

b) Stanley: Elected: Roger Spink (651 votes); Leona Roberts (559); Mark Pollard (534); Stacy Bragger (476); Barry Elsby (404).

Not elected: Gavin Short (382); David Peck (376); Corina Ashbridge (259); Louise Ellis (232); John Birmingham (221); Jason Lewis (97); Marvin Clarke (90); Lynda Buckland (65 votes).

The turnout was 80% in Stanley and 86% in Camp, higher than in the previous election in 2013. The results in Camp were very close with only 21 votes between all the candidates and 2 votes separating the last two. There was a much wider spread amongst the candidates in Stanley. The decision to make MLA positions full-time and salaried posts seems to have attracted younger candidates. This was only the second Legislative Assembly elected on this basis (previously MLAs had worked part-time and were reimbursed with expenses only).

The new MLAs were sworn in by the Governor at a Government House reception on Friday, 10 November. They will sit as the Legislative Assembly on Monday, 13 November.They will appoint the Speaker and Deputy Speaker3 and elect the 3 members who will sit on the Executive Council4. They will then attend an intensive induction course to familiarise themselves with the machinery of government in the Islands. A delegation from the British Parliamentary Association will also lead a training programme on parliamentary procedure. The first meeting of Executive Council, initiating the formal resumption of routine government business, is planned for Wednesday, 13 December.

Common themes in the various manifestos were:

  • to maintain the principle of self-determination and the status of the Falkland Islands as a UK Overseas Territory, since, although the UK is responsible for international matters as they relate to the Falkland Islands, FIG has for some time played an increasing role in explaining its position on the international stage;
  • to increase expenditure on essential infrastructure projects, such as upgrading the road network, improving the terminal building at the Mount Pleasant Airport (MPA), and building a new port; and
  • to give more policy weight to environmental conservation, given the importance of the tourism and fishing industries to the Islands’ economy.

Some candidates also resurrected the issue of changing to a single constituency. This has been a matter of long debate given the decline in the number of residents in Camp and the corresponding shift in population to Stanley. There is a widespread understanding that Camp is over-represented but Falkland Islanders hold strongly to the importance of the traditions of Camp as an essential element of their way of life and culture. Two referendums – in 2001 and 2011 – therefore rejected the proposal (nor has there been significant support for changing the voting system to some form of multiple list voting e.g. the single transferable vote system).

The 2001 referendum asked “Shall there be a single constituency?” The results were:

  • Stanley: votes cast 820 (68.4%); votes in favour 395 (48.2%); votes against 409 (49.9%)
  • Camp: votes cast 248 (81.6%); votes in favour 61 (24.4%); votes against 185 (74.8%)

The 2011 referendum asked “Do you want a single constituency for the whole of the Islands?” The results, with a turnout of just 39% in Stanley but 70% in Camp, were:

  • Stanley: votes in favour 255 (50.2%); votes against 253 (49.8%)
  • Camp: votes in favour 29 (16%); votes against 152 (84%)

The 2008 Constitution embeds protection for the interests of Camp by requiring a two-thirds majority in each constituency in favour of any change in a referendum.

1 Camp, coming from the Spanish word ‘campo’ meaning countryside, is anywhere outside Stanley. The 1985 Constitution increased the number of Legislative Councillors from 6 to 8 members, with 4 members representing Camp and 4 members representing Stanley. The numbers resident in Camp were then roughly the same as those living in Stanley. The 1991 census, however, revealed a major shift in population from Camp to Stanley with 493 residents in Camp and 1,557 in Stanley. The 1997 Constitution therefore changed the level of representation to 5 members for Stanley against 3 for Camp. This was maintained in the 2008 Constitution, although the issue of a single constituency was discussed (see below)

2 The Legislative Assembly, which sits in public session, comprises the 8 elected Assembly Members (MLAs) and two ex-officio members (the Chief Executive and the Director of Finance) and the Speaker. The ex-officio members may not vote. The Commander British Forces (CBF), who is not a member as such, has the right to take part but not to vote. The Attorney General, who is also not a member as such, may also take part in the proceedings with the permission of the Presiding Officer but may not vote.

3 The Governor used to chair the Legislative Council but, based partly on the advice of a Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) delegation in the year 2000, provision was made by amendment to Standing Orders for the Legislative Council to elect its own Speaker: Mr Tim Blake was the first to be so elected in 2002. The 2008 Constitution, which also changed the name of the legislature to Legislative Assembly, made constitutional provision both for the election of a Speaker and a Deputy Speaker.

4 Since the 1985 Constitution, which replaced the concept of nominated members to Executive Council, the Legislative Assembly elects the 3 MLAs to Executive Council (ExCo) every year. This allows the possibility of rotation, although ExCo members may be re-elected. The Governor presides over ExCo but is not a member. The Chief Executive and Director of Finance are ex-officio members but may not vote. The CBF and Attorney General have the right to attend all meetings and take part but may not vote.

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