Arrived. After an 18 hour flight and some 8000 miles. It is very wet and windy but the 50 minute journey from Mount Pleasant Airbase to Stanley passes straight forwardly and we arrive at the Malvina House Hotel, which has changed beyond recognition when we were last here some ten years ago. The hotel has grown in size and clearly now caters for an ever larger market of business travellers, contractors and tourists. Within an hour we were contacted by Darren Christie, the public relations and media manager attached to the Falkland Islands Government (FIG). He has very kindly agreed to meet with us and another visiting academic from City University.
Darren and his team presented us each with a thick folder detailing the labour that the FIG has invested into the organisation of this referendum. Open the carefully organised folder and one is immediately struck by the scale of the task that the FIG has faced. Our eyes wander over Executive Council papers, formal legislative instruments, arrangements and rules, public notices and official documentation such as the official information leaflet. Darren informs us that there will be 1649 registered voters and that some 60 media organizations will be in and around Stanley by Saturday.
We have been given accredited observer status (and have the dated letter to prove it) and this means that we will be allowed to watch the voting process as it unfolds in a series of fixed and mobile polling stations located across East Falkland and the wider ‘Camp’ (countryside), including West Falkland and the outlying islands. Voters—permanent residents who have been in the Islands for a minimum for seven years—are allowed to register their vote by post or by proxy if they cannot vote on the 10th or 11th March.
Later we are introduced to some of the members of the official international observation mission. They include a multi-national group involving two Americans, a Canadian and the former Deputy Prime Minister of New Zealand. They will be joined by another 6 or 7 colleagues on Saturday, including several official observers from Latin America. And so Darren expects there to be around 15 accredited observers including us as academics. The international observation mission will submit a formal report to the FIG in the aftermath of the referendum and it will be interesting to see how the referendum experience acts as a catalyst for further internal political debate.
On Sunday 10th March we will be following the mobile ballots as they criss-cross East Falkand and on Monday 11th March we will be in Stanley. Our aim is to not only observe the referendum process itself but also talk with Islanders about the wider geo-political context and what the referendum might mean in terms of the longer term development of the Falkland Islands. In this mission, we should acknowledge the support given to us by the Shackleton Scholarship Fund and Royal Holloway’s Strategy Fund.
All being well we expect the result of the referendum to be announced on Monday night anytime between 2130-2230.