Searchlight’s editorial of November 11, 2022 focused on what it captioned “The Dominica Snap General Elections”. It was concerned about aspects of the weaknesses of our system of governance. Should the calling of general elections be the sole prerogative of the Prime Minister alone? It identifies this as one of several issues. What is happening in Dominica it considers “another clarion call for an overhaul of our electoral process and regulations.”
“While popping up now in Dominica . . .Electoral reform is not just a Dominica demand but a necessary ingredient of our democratic process.”
These have to do with fundamental issues about the Westminster system that we imported “lock, stock and barrel” but without the norms and values that evolved out of British history and culture. The editorial has identified broad questions that relate to what Selwyn Ryan had written about in his book WINNER TAKES ALL – THE WESTMINSTER EXPERIENCE IN THE CARIBBEAN.
But let us get to the issue in Dominica where the main opposition party, the United Workers Party, and the smaller Freedom Party have taken a decision to boycott the elections called for December 6. An opposition party called Team Unity which emerged from an earlier entity has decided to contest the elections, but more will be said about this later.
Some of us might remember Jamaica in 1983 when shortly after the execution of Maurice Bishop in Grenada and the US invasion from October 25, 1983, the Seaga government decided to call elections, two years before schedule. The Peoples National Party refused to participate over the issue of election reform, accusing the PM of not living up to a commitment not to call elections before the compilation of a new electoral register. Minor parties some of which had never participated before, along with independents contested six constituencies, allowing the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) of Seaga to win all 60 seats. At the next election in February 1989 the Peoples National Party won 45 of 60 seats.
The issue of electoral reform had been talked about widely in Dominica for several years by the United Workers Party and different groups and movements as they advocated for electoral reform. Among the issues were those of having identification cards and the voting of Dominicans living overseas.
Prime Minister Skerrit finally in August 2020 announced that the process of electoral reform was to begin and that Sir Dennis Byron, former president of the CCJ and former Justice of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court had been approved for the job of Sole Commissioner to undertake the provision of a draft electoral reform document. In his address then the PM said that “Electoral Reform for this government is important; it is important for the country…” He stated that once Sir Byron had submitted his report then they would be able to go to parliament to effect the changes recommended. Sir Dennis’ work was to begin from September 1, 2020, after funds were approved.
The sudden announcement on November 7, 2022, by the PM that elections were to be held on December 6, with three years still to go in office must have come as a total surprise to many including Sir Dennis Byron, who intended to present phase one of his report by the end of this month. He indicated that he had “recently circulated the draft legislation for review by the key political parties contesting elections and presented a timetable for completion of my assignment…”
In Searchlight’s November 11 editorial reference was made to the Opposition UWP’s reaction referring to a “fraudulent election” and “an abuse of power.”
Searchlight also stated that the UWP “referenced statements allegedly made by the Caribbean Court of Justice (2019) which expressed ‘grave concerns’ about the electoral process in Dominica and that “future elections are not to proceed” under the current regulations.
The position of Alex Bruno’s “Team Unity” is a strange, if not opportunistic one. He stated, “… I am not saying that what the Hon’ble PM has done is right. It can’t be right that you can just willy-nilly do this because you have the power to do what you want every time and think you can get away with it…” But his arrows were targeted at the main Opposition party, stating that they are retreating and surrendering.
“How the heck you can surrender, retreat and fight after that. It doesn’t make sense…” But it makes sense to him to surrender to he who acted willy-nilly because he has the power.
The Dominica Labour Party ( DLP) must be told about the fate of those parties that controlled all seats in the house at some point by looking at Keith Mitchell’s fate at the last election, the St. Vincent’s NDP narrow victory in 1984 after control of all seats in 1989 and the JLP in 1989 after total control in 1983. In our part of the World, we seem to welcome the comfort of Westminster’s “Winner Takes All”.
Skerrit’s move is baffling. His haranguing of 10 of his team whom he has replaced for allegedly not truly representing the people could not be it. He warns his team that should anyone continue to display a lackadaisical approach he/she will immediately be fired. If so, it appears that we can expect more instances of elections being called before they are constitutionally due.