Without banners, rowdiness or the chanting of political slogans, a good number of Falkland Islanders sat patiently in Stanley Town Hall on Thursday night to await the announcement of the 2013 General Election.
In the end the eight successful candidates out of sixteen contenders were: Michael Poole, Barry Elsby, Gavin Short, Mike Summers and Jan Cheek, in the Stanley constituency and in the Camp constituency (everywhere outside Stanley): Phyl Rendell, Roger Edwards and Ian Hansen. (In both constituencies the new Members of Legislative Assembly are listed in order of voter popularity.)
The counting of votes began at 6pm on Thursday evening in Stanley Town Hall, before an interested audience of the general public, government officials and the candidates themselves. It was the final stage of two days of great activity which had seen a number of mobile polling stations touring remoter locations on Wednesday November 6th and static polling stations open in three locations: Stanley and Goose Green on East Falkland, and Fox Bay on West Falkland, on the following day. On that day also, further mobile polling stations visited the hospital and sheltered housing for the elderly in Stanley. The aim was to ensure that every one of the 1,671 people on the electoral roll could vote, whether bed-ridden or busy shearing sheep. Proxy and postal voting arrangements were also in place for those electors not currently on the Islands.
Given the need to get ballot boxes into Stanley from the static polling stations, the count always takes longer than might be expected for such a small electorate and it was not until nearly 10 pm, after a brief delay for a recount of the Camp votes, that the final results were announced by the Falkland Islands Government’s Chief Executive, Mr Keith Padgett.
A total of 1,046 votes were counted for the Stanley constituency and 242 in Camp, representing voter turn-out of 75.4% and 85.5% respectively.
Usually, except in the General Election eight years ago when the whole of what was then called the Legislative Council was thrown out by the voters, it is the experienced standing members who have the advantage at the polls. In this important election with the Islands on the brink of having to deal with the social and economic impact of the development of an off-shore oil industry, the results were not so clear cut and it was two of the first-time candidates in both constituencies who polled most votes.
These two first-time high-flyers: Michael Poole (Stanley) and Phyl Rendell (Camp) were also the only new faces to be elected, as all the former Members of Legislative Council (MLAs) retained their seats, with the exception of Sharon Halford (Camp).
Still in his thirties, Michael Poole represents the generation that the decision to make MLAs both full-time and salaried was designed to attract.
A product of the local school system before heading to Britain for sixth form and university, Mr Poole was manager of the Falkland Islands hospital before joining the Islands’ private sector as representative of a fishing industry association. In his manifesto Mr Poole stressed the need to structure a vision for the Islands which would “ensure, retain and develop what is so great about living in these Islands and being an Islander.”Since her retirement from a long career in public service, including being at various times director of three important government departments: Education, Agriculture and Mineral Resources, Mrs Rendell has become director of a shipping company and with husband Mike, himself a former councillor, has been involved in both agriculture and tourism on the couple’s Bleaker Island farm.
Tipped by many to win a place in the Stanley constituency, first-time candidate 26 year-old Teslyn Barkman came sixth with a creditable 292 votes, just 41short of success in the final count. Despite her relative lack of experience, her campaign which relied heavily on the use of social media like Facebook pioneered a new approach to political involvement in the Falklands. She will be one to watch in the future.
Veteran former member of Legislative Council, Eric Goss said afterwards that he was disappointed with the result as he “would like to have seen more new faces.” It would seem that with the exception of Mr Poole and Mrs Rendell, the Falklands electorate decided differently.
By John Fowler - Stanley