by Bria King
Less than a week after representatives of local political parties signed an “Code of Ethical Political Conduct”, multiple politicians have had to make public statements to denounce the destruction of billboards and acts of violence being observed in this year’s political campaign.
The code of conduct falls under the responsibility of the St Vincent and the Grenadines Christian Council and the National Monitoring Consultative Mechanism (NMCM).
It is meant to foster democracy through peaceful, free and fair elections, encourage participation in the electoral process and ensure that an election process is free from intimidation and violence, among other things.
Reverend Adolf Davis, president of the SVG Christian Council told SEARCHLIGHT this week that the NMCM has received several complaints of breaches in the code of conduct.
But he declined to disclose the specifics of those complaints.
“I can’t speak in any conclusiveness in terms of how the whole campaign has been going relative to the code, because part of the process depends on reports we receive,” Davis said on Wednesday.
“There have been one or two concerns raised and last (Tuesday) night I think was one that has created legitimate…concern and are encouraging us to watch how we proceed.”
Following the nomination of all their candidates on Tuesday, New Democratic Party (NDP) supporters held a celebratory march from Campden Park to Vermont, where a rally was held.
When passing through Rillain Hill, supporters were greeted with missiles being thrown into the crowd. Residents in the area report an object hitting the windshield of a truck being used in the procession, which caused it to swerve.
Gunshots were also reported to have been fired.
“This was a clear attack on the NDP and its supporters, intended to suppress our activities. This is not the sort of thing we expect in our nation. It is completely unacceptable,” Dr Godwin Friday, president of the NDP said in a pre-recorded video this week.
Friday called on the Unity Labour Party (ULP) to denounce the act and the Police to launch a full and independent investigation into the matter. He added that the findings of that investigation should also be made public.
“They must also take all measures to prosecute those involved and to protect the supporters of all parties,” he said.
Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves, the political leader of the ULP denounced the act of violence while delivering a speech at an event of Wednesday morning.
According to the NMCM’s “Code of Ethical Political Conduct”, candidates should not say or do anything to incite violence, encourage, or foster hatred, resentment or any form of violence, but rather do everything to promote tolerance, harmony and peace.
It also states that candidates should not engage, recruit or deploy any individual(s) for the purpose of violence, intimidation or harassment, including intimidation by congregating in groups wearing similar identifiable colours at or near to election stations on Election Day.
Political parties are also expected to publicly discourage the defacing or removal of their opponents’ election campaigning material.
Photos of a ULP billboard that was knocked down in the North Windward constituency have also been making its rounds via social media. This is the second billboard belonging to the ULP that has been destroyed within a two-week period.
Friday and Julian Francis, ULP’s general secretary both denounced the destruction and defacing of billboards when they officially signed the code of conduct on October 16.
And following the destruction of the billboard in North Windward, Shevern John, NDP’s candidate for that constituency also issued a statement on the matter.
“I am pleading to all persons to desist from such behaviour. My campaign will not tolerate any act of violence or vandalism. These acts are acts of cowardice. They do not represent what the New Democratic Party stands for and certainly, not what Shevern John stands for,” she said in the audio recording.
Under the code of conduct, no organised or advertised motorcades should take place during the election period.
But many have questioned whether ULP whistle stops are a breach of this rule, as multiple vehicles are usually involved in the practice being utilised for the party’s campaigning and can be likened to a motorcade.
Davis told SEARCHLIGHT that his understanding is that a whistle stop is different from that of a motorcade.
“I think what I knew of whistle stop is really a one truck with a sound system and sometimes, you might have an accompanying vehicle even if you stretch it to two or so,” the president of the Christian Council said.
He added that “motorcades have often been a whole train of vehicles, but I notice what they are calling whistle stops now also have a significant number of vehicles behind the truck so I don’t know that whistle stop from how we understand whistle stop is the same as a motorcade, but whistle stops as we have seen, has a train of vehicles behind them”.
Davis said the NMCM intends to dialogue with the political parties to seek clarity on the issue and come to an understanding in that regard.
The NMCM’s “Code of Ethical Political Conduct” is not a legally binding document.
Davis noted that while this is the case, the monitoring body can, in its authority, investigate the report, as not all may be legitimate.
He explained that in some cases, some infractions are legal and therefore, where this is the case, the NMCM will engage with the Police to see how they deal with those matters.
“In other cases, we will try to see how we can facilitate moral suasion…” Davis said, adding that the body will try to facilitate as much as possible instances for parties to dissuade their candidates and supporters from breaching all that is laid out in the code of conduct.
There are 33 objectives laid out in the “Code of Ethical Political Conduct” that cover a number of issues.
One objective encourages candidates to avoid making grandiose promises they have no intention to pursue or cannot be kept.
Others dissuade candidates from using half-truths, lies or innuendos to gain political advantage and threatening persons with the loss of their jobs If they support or refuse to support a political party.
Candidates are also expected to take deliberate steps to disassociate themselves from criminal elements and criminal activity, ensure that their conduct is above reproach and uphold the integrity of the electoral process.