The all-too-familiar election bugbear is upon us once again in the Caribbean. This time it is the Commonwealth of Dominica, our sister country in the OECS which is feeling the heat as the build-up to general elections, scheduled for December 6, continues.
With two weeks to go before the poll, Dominica is plagued not only by the usual electoral warring, but with civil unrest and wanton acts of violence. Even the residence of that country’s Head of State, President Charles Savarin, was not immune as protesters, purportedly demanding electoral reform, launched an assault on Monday night forcing intervention by the security forces. It was the latest in a string of violent incidents which have caused alarm, not just in Dominica, but the region as well.
The incidents which have been taking place since elections were called by Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerritt have intensified in recent days, provoking confrontations with the police. One major hotel was affected and on Nomination Day this past Tuesday, one candidate from the governing Dominica Labour Party could not even go by road to the nomination centre to file her documents because the road was blocked. Fortunately, supporters provided a boat to literally “get her to the church on time”, as an old song goes.
The situation has gotten so bad that a number of appeals for peace and calm have been made. But the leaders of the two contesting parties continue to be at loggerheads where the situation is concerned. Prime Minister Skerritt has laid the blame for the violence and confrontation squarely at the feet of the Opposition United Workers Party (UWP) which is going head to head with the DLP in all 21 seats at stake. He said that it was part of an orchestrated campaign with external links aimed at giving the impression that Dominica is becoming ungovernable, that the government is bent on stealing the elections which would provide excuses for the defeat of his opponents. He has also called on the Opposition leader, Lennox Linton to disassociate himself and his party from the violence.
However, Mr Linton has denied that his party is directing any protest action and has blamed the police for instigating incidents in the Dominican capital, Roseau, on Monday night. In those incidents, videos of which are circulating on social media, persons are seen blocking roads, uprooting plants, burning garbage and spreading it on the streets. There was also a confrontation with police.
According to the Opposition Leader, the young people of Dominica are “protesting to secure free and fair elections with integrity”. He insisted that it was the police at fault and accused PM Skerritt of being “violently in breach” of his oath of office, charging that the DLP leader has “violently attacked the people’s right to free and fair elections”.
Given the clear conflicting positions there are fears for the peaceful conduct of the Dominica elections. This would have grave implications not just for Dominica but for the region as a whole. A pattern has emerged of what can be termed “accuse and excuse”. It begins with opposition parties accusing governments of trying to rig elections, staging protests and confrontation and then, if unsuccessful at the polls, using the alleged rigging as an excuse for more social unrest.
However, it is clear that at the heart of all this trouble is the issue of electoral reform to ensure as best as possible general acceptance that elections are conducted in a free and fair manner.
While the tactics of opposition parties may sometimes border on the irresponsible, governing parties must also take responsibility for playing their part in facilitating this process. Political grandstanding on both sides may gain one side or another political advantage, but in the long run, it is the country and its people that suffer. We in SVG know only too well the dangers of this, having been victims for well over a decade now.
As we approach the last year in office of the current government, disputes over the last election are still before the courts. During the hearing of the election petitions and in the House of Assembly, there was much talk of electoral reform, but these have been hushed since, temporarily in my view. Are we waiting until the next election to have Dominica-style confrontation?
I will have more to say on this topic, but will conclude today by recalling some comments in this column more than a year ago. “It is futile to wait until election is at our doorstep to make all sorts of demands. In a fiercely contested atmosphere neither side is prepared to listen to the other or engage in constructive dialogue. Is it not time to take stock and try to fix what we perceive to be wrong and come up with proposals acceptable to all political parties as well as the majority of voters”? (SEARCHLIGHT March 27, 2018)
Or are we waiting for the confrontation?
Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.