COMMENTARY: A regrettable and shameful situation: general elections without electoral reform

The Electoral Reform Effort Group, which comprises of Church, Business, Trade Unions and Civil Society leaders, notes with deep sadness, disappointment and regret the Prime Minister’s calling of General Election on 6th December 2019 without any tangible movement towards electoral reform. It is rather regrettable, and even indefensible, that as a nation we were unable to realise two (2) basic

and achievable aspects of electoral reform, namely:

  1. to realise a sanitised list of eligible voters, and
  2. to have each eligible elector identified with a valid identification card (ID).

This situation reflects a certain aspect of national and administrative irresponsibility when one considers that the current method available to enable the Chief Elections Officer to ensure that an elector does not vote more than once in the same general election is indelible ink.  It is well known that indelible ink is no longer a fool-proof method of achieving the goal of ensuring that electors are prevented from voting more than once in the same election.

The Electoral Commission, at least since 4 June 2018[1], Special Joint Mission of CARICOM, the Commonwealth and the Organization of American States (OAS)[2], and the Group all accepted that the recommended method for cleansing the electors lists is the House to House Re-verification exercise, which could be completed in 6-8 weeks.It is also recognised that the completion of the re-verification exercise is a necessary undertaking which must precede the production and issuing of identification cards.”[3]

The calling of elections and dissolving parliament immediately gave the Electoral Commission no additional time to pursue any of the necessary measures, albeit it may have been tardy in starting to do so. It fact, there was the announcement that parliament would have convened on the 18th November 2019, which gave some hope to the general public that parliament would then be presented for enactment, a simplified, focused and appropriate amendment that will adequately empower the Chief Elections Officer to issue, and require to be used in any election, the necessary voter identification cards.

The Group is therefore heavily disappointed and saddened that 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 20194, 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 as:

  1. The Electoral Commission, having acknowledged that it had the resources needed to carry out the reforms, failed to commence such reforms, including commencing the re-verification exercise it championed in June 2018, and passing regulations to allow it to issue and use identification cards during the upcoming general elections,
  2. The failure of the Prime Minister to provide the opportunity for the convening of parliament to modify the requirements for issue and use of voter identification cards beyond what could be achieved by regulations made by the Electoral Commission, and
  3. The failure of the Prime Minister to provide the Electoral Commission with further time for undertaking these reforms as the constitutional deadline for holding general elections is still some six (6) months away.

It is noted that by a press release[4], the Chief Elections Officer had given 19th November 2019 for the submission of Claims and Objections to the preliminary electors lists.  The Group is very concerned that the calling of the general elections on the 6th December 2019 has the potential of constraining the Chief Electoral Officer’s ability to deal with corrections, objections and claims while preparing for a general election within 6 days after the final lists of electors are to be produced.

The Group notes the large, peaceful demonstrations by citizens over the last few weeks demanding electoral reform. Given that our objective of Wednesday 31st January 2019 of “finding ways for Dominica to achieve the necessary electoral reform before the next general election” has not yet been achieved, albeit not for lack of effort, it would be very sad if what drove the Group’s pursuit should become a reality. The Group continues to hope that the public will perceive that whoever wins the upcoming general elections would have done so fairly and the people will go back to working and building the country.

Nonetheless, the Group continues the call to every and all citizens to renew their commitment to collaborate in resolving Dominica’s electoral challenges, including instituting legal action to guide the process of reform, as all else has failed, in order to ensure that the Electoral Commission undertakes the necessary reform before the next general election. The Group continue to request citizens to continue to pray and work for peace and do all in each one’s locality and influence to avert the occurrence of civil disturbances in the wake of the general election.  Our country deserves our peaceful collaborative effort even more at this time.

The Group urges citizens to engage in this franchise of voting with well-formed consciences, avoiding being victims to bribery and other illicit practices that would corrupt the electoral process, and to pay attention to and comply with the electoral laws. The Group endorses the Dominica Christian Council’s (DCC’s) code of conduct. Further, the Group urges all voters to carry passports, drivers’ licences and social security cards with which they are to identify themselves properly before voting. In addition, the Group urges the political parties to encourage their supporters to do so, and party agents at polls to request means of identification of potential voters. The Group further urges those without ID’s to take along one or two persons with ID’s to identify them. Voters have the power to institute some reforms.

Finally, going forward, the Group urges, that the full scope of electoral reform, inclusive of campaign financing, access to State media and constituency boundary redistribution, should be undertaken well within the first year after the general election. These reforms ought also to set boundaries on the calling of general elections being cognisant of the time stipulated for corrections of primary electors lists and the submission of claims and objections before the final lists are presented. This reform ought to include the Constitutional provisions respecting the composition, financing, independence and powers of the Electoral Commission. It may well be that the country may have to review its entire constitution.

The Group will continue to advocate for the continued strengthening of all our democratic institutions and processes.

We pray that God continues to bless the Commonwealth of Dominica.

 

Anthony E. Le Blanc

Electoral Reform Effort Group, 11th November 2019.

 

[1]https://dominicanewsonline.com/news/homepage/news/general/electoral-commission-to-go-on-voter-verification-exercise – Dominica News Online, 4th June 2018, Electoral Commission to go on Voter Verification Exercise – Press release

[2]The report of the Special Joint Mission of CARICOM, the Commonwealth and the Organization of American States (OAS) of 17th September 2019

[3]Report of the Joint CARICOM, Commonwealth, OAS Special Mission to Dominica, 17th September 2019.  Page 11.

[4]https://dominicanewsonline.com/news/homepage/preliminary-electors-list-available-in-polling-districts-across-the-country/ – Dominica News Online, 17thOctober 2019, Preliminary electors list available in polling districts across the country – Press release

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3 Comments

  1. Give us free and fair elections
    November 12, 2019

    The electoral commission has 3 members nominated by the Government and 2 members nominated by the opposition. This Government did not want to give the people voters id cards and so we did not get it. Without electoral reform uwp needs a big majority to win. They can only win if people turn out to vote in large numbers.

  2. Lin clown
    November 12, 2019

    We all know this group is not about electoral reform.This group is all about a CHANGE OF GOVERNMENT.Thomas BALLS Letang.Anthony Leblanc.Pastor Rasputin.Severin Mc Kenzie all strong supporters of UWP.Hoping UWP will win the next election so they can REAP OFF the country.

  3. The Truth Be Told
    November 12, 2019

    Tony why not say about the injunction placed by those who are also proclaming for election reform. This is the most important thing people need to know. Those persons are the same one against themselves placing an injunction on the legislation to go forward with the process of election reform.

    Not all persons are gullible. Many knows who the stumbling blocks are – the same ones who are calling for election reform.

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