It came like a bolt from the blue; the announcement by a five-term Prime Minister with a comfortable parliamentary majority, a leaderless Opposition and still three years to go in office, that he had asked the President (Dominica is a republic) to dissolve Parliament in order for elections to be called on December 6.
That was the situation following the announcement by 50-year-old Dominican Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit on Monday of this week. All around you could hear, and read, the surprise reactions. Why? What is happening in Dominica?
Why is Skerrit, an apparently successful and still young Prime Minister, choosing to call elections prematurely and announcing that he will give up the leadership by April 2025? Is there something that we have missed?
The Prime Minister gave as his reason for the snap election the need for rejuvenation of the political leadership of the country and promised a substantial number of new candidates on his party’s slate when it was presented on November 8. That did in fact occur with 10 new candidates presented to the public as promised.
But in the meantime, the opposition United Workers Party (UWP) in a press statement that same day, announced that it would not contest what it termed as a “fraudulent election” and “an abuse of power”. It referred to a one-man Commission (eminent jurist Sir Dennis Byron) established to examine Dominica’s electoral laws and make recommendations for their improvement. The UWP also 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 ought not to proceed” under the current regulations.
SEARCHLIGHT understands that Justice Byron had in fact written to the Leader of the Opposition on November 6, updating the Opposition about progress on the work of the Commission. According to our sources, Sir Dennis had promised a two-phase report with timelines beginning with the presentation of the Report in November 2022, the tabling of the Report in Parliament one month later, and a process leading up to the enactment of the new regulations by April 2023.
We are not aware of whether PM Skerrit took this information into consideration in making his decision to proceed with the December 6 elections, in which case the charges by the Opposition would have some merit, or whether his decision to call the snap elections was indeed based on the reasons he stated.
Our concerns revolve around yet another exposure of weaknesses in our system of governance. Thus, the calling of general elections is the sole prerogative of the Prime Minister alone. Should this be so? Does the Dominica situation not reveal the dangers in such an arrangement?
Importantly too, this situation is another clarion call for an overhaul of our electoral process and regulations. It is only when we are faced with elections that we hear all the noises. Our very system of democracy relies on the perception of its fairness. There must be broad agreement, not just between the Parliamentary parties, but by broad public involvement in the process and acceptance of new regulations.
It is a matter which, while popping up now in Dominica, affects us all in the Commonwealth Caribbean. Electoral reform is not just a Dominican demand but a necessary ingredient of our democratic process.