Lest We Forget Recent History
The calling of snap election was always a possibility under the current dispensation of our outdated electoral laws.
If fact, to circumvent the effecting of electoral reform in 2019, the same Prime Minister called general elections on 5th November 2019. Preceding that, the Electoral Reform Effort Group (EREG) had done tremendous work aimed at uncovering the issues surrounding the call for and failure to have electoral reform. These included holding several consultations with The President, The Electoral Commission, the Political Parties, and open discussions with the general public as well as the issuing of two reports: an interim in April 2019, and the Final Report dated 8th August 2019. Notably, the Prime Minister both failed to respond to the EREG’s invitation to consult with it, or to direct any person from the administrative branch of Government to meet in consultation with the Group.
On an invitation of Government, an eight (8) person Special Joint Mission of the Organization of the American States, the Commonwealth and CARICOM conducted a situational review of matters concerning electoral reform in Dominica at hearings from 6th to 9th August 2019. The Special Joint Mission was commissioned with the task to guide the country on what was needed to be done before the holding of general elections. The Special Joint Mission issued its report of 17th September 2019 which all but endorsed the report and recommendations of the EREG. The EREG issued a Press Release on 7th October 2019 that summarized the Special Joint Mission’s recommendations and called for implementation.
The main recommendations which were endorsed and which were possible before the general election that were constitutionally due in May 2020 were:
- to clean the voters list by house-to-house verification that a person was eligible to be registered as a voter in a constituency, and
- to issue voter’s ID to those who were verified as being alive and eligible to vote based on the house-to-house verification.
It is noted that many months before, at least since 4th June 2018, the Electoral Commission had said that it had the equipment and moneys to undertake both these exercises. In other statements the Electoral Commission said it could do so in about six (6) weeks. The Electoral Commission had later complicated both requirements and had refused to start the essential reform. Seemingly in collaboration with the Administrative Branch of Government, it had come up with a complex National ID instead of a simple Voter ID. It said it needed legislative approval for the verification process, and complicated that with external verification which did not, by necessity, require the residency requirements that a potential elector, to be legitimately registered to vote in a constituency, had to be resident there.
Generally, both the EREG and Joint Special Mission found and reported that these were not hindrances and seemed to be adequately provided in the existing legislation.
Faced with these firm positions, the Attorney General’s office, speaking on behalf of administrative branch of Government said that the Special Joint Mission’s recommendations were not affordable: that is, it was not affordable to clean the voters list by house-to-house verification and issue voters ID to those who were verified as alive and eligible to be registered as a voter in a constituency. This was contrary to the previous position of the Electoral Commission, the “legal implementer” of this reform. Subsequently, the press reported on 4th November 2019 a claim by the Government that it had provided $6M for electoral reform.
A day after, on 5th November 2019, the Prime Minister called the General Elections for 6th December 2019, effectively terminated any and all reform efforts, using the recent term: therefore, ensuring that the Electoral Office “was found with its pants down” at that time. The Electoral Office was not even given time to receive or process objections to its preliminary voters lists which it expected to receive by 19th November 2019.
Has Nothing Really Changed?
In its 7th October 2019 press release, the EREG highlighted the Special Joint Mission’s plea and offer, “The Group underscores the plea of the Special Joint Mission: “The Joint Mission strongly encourages the Leaders of the two main political parties to engage in earnest, meaningful and constructive one-to-one dialogue on the issue of electoral reform. All three organizations – CARICOM, the Commonwealth and the OAS – are agreeable to facilitating such an endeavour should this recommendation be welcomed by the political leaders.” “
This did not happen because, as the EREG concluded in its press release of 25th November 2019, “there has been a conspiracy of misinformation and blame-gaming” aimed at ensuring that the effort to electoral reform would fail. This conclusion was arrived at after setting out both “circumstances surrounding the threat to peace” and the “circumstances surrounding electoral reform since the start of 2019”,
One of these conspiracy, misinformation and blame-gaming resided, and continues to be in the fact that in both November 2019 and 2022, “the Prime Minister did not exhibit the moral responsibility required of him at this point, by further delaying the calling of the general election and doing all that he could to avoid the country going into another election without electoral reform even as he claimed that the government had given the Electoral Commission adequate financing to enable it. Notwithstanding the Prime Minister’s statement on 31st October 2019, that the government has made available to the Electoral Commission $6.0 M towards electoral reform, the failure to achieve this reform still resides within both his control and that of the Electoral Commission”
The Three-Year Gap
There are two things which materially changed over the last three years:
- Sir Dennis Byron was contracted on what seems to be a protracted basis to present recommendations on electoral Reform.
- The Caribbean Court of Justice’s (CCJ’s) landmark comment in the Election Petition case that, “…there remains areas of grave concerns about how the process of these elections (2019 General Elections) was conducted. Future Elections in Dominica ought not to proceed with these or similar taints…”
It is interestingly curious that, in the first case, Sir Byron would write to certain stakeholders on the 6th November 2022, presenting a timetable and deliveries for completing the institutional and practical matters related to electoral reform. How is it possible that the Prime Minister was not aware that Sir Byron had an Electoral Reform timetable to be completed within a year? Or is he scared of electoral Reform?
Additionally, the situation of our citizens in the eastern part of the country, in the face of continuing natural disaster and challenges, has been well articulated elsewhere. Because of the nature of the disaster, many of these citizens, if yet unregistered to vote, were unable to able embrace the 24-hour registration process available after the calling of the general elections.
What Actions are Open to Nationals?
The opening paragraph of the EREG 25th November 2019, press statement is worth repeating, “The way to peace is paved with deliberate acts of justice, in a mosaic of truth, tolerance, forgiveness and mercy. Justice requires that what ought to be done, and can be done, has to be done, and where necessary done with dispatch, without eroding the rights and benefits of individuals. Justice requires a respect for the rights of others, especially those considered the minority, by those entrusted with authority.”
Yet in the face of injustice, clear dishonesty buttressed by a conspiracy of misinformation and blame-gaming and immoral behavior, St Paul implores us to “Rejoice in the Lord Always, I say Rejoice!” And so, we must, but not without doing all that is necessary to foster a bond of peace and justice.
- Is there Still A Moral Responsibility to Vote at this Election?
The major opposition parties have, in a most laudable way, declared that the call of General Elections, though legal, is immoral and have “taken a decision not to participate in this fraudulent Election and therefore calls on His Excellency Charles A. Savarin, the President of the Commonwealth of Dominica to revoke the calling of election by the Prime Minister. We are convinced that the Electoral Reform as demanded by the Dominican population is needed to facilitate free and fair Elections in the Commonwealth of Dominica.”
It is a reasonable expectation that the depth of our President’s moral construct will not allow him to do the right thing. However, this call allows our citizens to overcome the moral dilemma of having to make a choice in a general election where “there remains areas of grave concerns about how the process of these elections” is to be conducted. Without this position, in reality, with such electoral “taints”, Dominicans were faced with either the choice of (a) participating in an immorally called election process with inherent grave concerns, and thereby denying the themselves of the justice of electoral reform, in order to make a choice of parliamentary representatives, or (b) forsaking their responsibility to vote. No political leader interested in a country ought to give its people such a choice.
The position of the Opposition Parties removes this dilemma, as in reality there is not an electoral choice to make: – by large it’s a one party running, one ideology presented. So, there is no need to go out and vote. With this position, the only option that is presented to the electorate is a choice to vote not for a new government, but participate once again in general elections without reform.
- How Should we continue to Protest?
Peaceful means is the preference.
Without discounting the efforts of others, Mwen Sweyé et al’s peaceful calls for Electoral reform, which dates back to at least 2019, has been met with attempts to curtail the rights of individual citizens to partake in and to hold peaceful demonstrations, including occasions of police harassment and limitations of movements. In fact, a recent internal memo suggests that the police are not interested in facilitating peaceful protest by displaying a disposition that recognizes the right to protest, but seems to send the message that protesting is akin to criminality. Notwithstanding, citizens are encouraged to engage in all peaceful means to make loud and tangible statements that elections without electoral reform may be legal but ethically and morally unacceptable.
On nomination day
On nomination day, every constituency should have nominated one disinterested independent candidate in order to mock, ridicule and ensure that this fake electoral process goes through. If this does happen, those who so wrongly contaminate the electoral process will be given a free reign to extend their stay in office – their ultimate goal, with impunity. In other words, if there is no second candidate nominated the Labor Party’s candidates will become the next set of parliamentarians without the necessity for elections on 6th December 2022.
If the Prime Minister can be so immoral as to call another election in these circumstances, he should be made to go through it by the people, if only to pour contempt on his action.
There is therefore a call by right thinking persons to be nominated, and later withdraw, so that the elections go through. There is also a call for right thinking persons to sponsor and support these nominations.
On Election Day.
Supporters and sympathizers who are at peace with the Opposition Parties’ decision should simply follow their conscience and not turn out to vote. They are encouraged, where possible, to engage in peaceful means of protest in whatever way they can, without attempting to disrupt the voting process, albeit there are grave concerns with it. A call is made to the police to support and facilitate citizens’ right to lawful peaceful solutions, including their right to engage in peaceful protest against what is morally or otherwise unacceptable.
Those who feel that they must follow their moral duty to vote, but are uneasy about this call to general elections in the face of grave concern about the process, are encouraged to spoil the ballot in protest. We have to record the highest spoilt ballot in our electoral history as a protest, not only to send a message to the international community, but as a show of commitment to true democracy.
Given that the Labour party will still form the next Government, a special call goes out to supporters of the Labour Party, who still have deep rooted moral values, that they ought to spoil their ballots to show commitment to grow and preserve our democracy.
Dominica should continue to develop effective and creative peaceful way to denounce this immoral call for General Elections without electoral reform, but do so joyfully without malice!