Dominicans have enjoyed universal suffrage since 1951. That means that even before Dominica gained its full independence from Great Britain in 1978, Dominicans over the age of 18 had the right, the privilege to vote, no matter who they were, how much money they made or the color of their skin.
Our first elections as an independent country were in 1980. The great Dame, Mary Eugenia Charles, known locally as “Mamo”, became the first female Prime Minister in the Caribbean. One of Mamo’s fundamental principles was freedom of the press and this was one of the core foundations on which she built her party, the Dominica Freedom Party (DFP). When The Dame retired from public life after 15 years of leading and building Dominica from the hurricane-ravaged island she had inherited into a more thriving nation, the United Workers Party won a narrow victory in 1995. Elections followed as per our constitution every five years – in 2000 (when the Dominica Labor Party established a coalition with the Dominica Freedom Party to form the new government) and 2005, shortly after Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit was appointed prime minister of Dominica in 2004 as a result of the death of his predecessor, Pierre Charles.
In 2009, PM Skerrit won a comfortable victory, but 2014 was likely an election year that the Prime Minister will remember well. If I had to guess, I believe it is where his strategy to call snap elections first germinated. Only 2% more Dominicans showed up to vote that year than in 2009, but the labor party lost 3 seats. Losing 3 seats was a big deal, a clear message that the Prime Minister’s party was losing traction. So, in 2019, PM Skerrit called a snap election and regained his political footing. And about a couple of months ago, he took this a step further, and capitalizing on the weakness of the opposition party who had just lost their leader via resignation, not only did he call a snap election, but called it TWO years before it was constitutionally due. This is not a leader who is confident about his popularity or has faith that the people will reelect him; this is a leader who knows that in spite of the many Dominicans who show up in the signature red T-Shirts at Labor Party meetings, that he remains unpopular with a wide range of the population – if we based it on just the voters of the 2019 election, that’s at least 43% of the people.
Dominica had an active and engaged voting population at the onset. The average voter turnout from elections starting in 1980 to 2005, was 67%. The average voter turnout since Prime Minister Skerrit has been in power has been 11% lower (56%). That excludes the most recent elections where only ~32% of Dominicans showed up to vote. Why are less Dominicans showing up to vote? Have our people become more disillusioned? Are Dominicans feeling more disenfranchised? The most recent snap election and a highly questionable electoral process led to a limited number of Dominicans voting and deficient participation by the two primary opposition parties and suggest that we do indeed have a problem in Dominica: our democracy is in peril. Snap elections have become the strategy of the Prime Minister, a strategy employed to disenfranchise Dominicans, to curb our voices, our power, and to increase his.
Dominica isn’t flourishing. We may have better roads than we did when Prime Minister Skerrit took office in 2004, but we haven’t moved forward as a country in the ways that matter most. Ask most Dominicans (not the small percentage of bourgeoisie in their gated homes and who own multiple vehicles and half of the businesses in Roseau, but the average Dominican, the backbone of our nation, the taxi drivers and the farmers, and fishermen, and you can also ask the ones working in the banks too, and the teachers and the nurses etc.) and many of them will tell you that they are struggling; many, many Dominicans struggle to make ends meet, struggle to thrive. Recently, I stood in line for HOURS waiting for gas with a “bidon” in hand, alongside fellow Dominicans, due to a gas shortage created in part by Rubis’ exit from Dominica, which has drastically reduced the gas supply and availability on the island. A gentleman in the line behind me said “Alas, this is how we have come in Dominica; like we are begging.” I watched long lines of people and vehicles waiting for gas for days on end, tangible proof that our very livelihoods, our productivity, our economy are in peril.
In 2020, PM Skerrit told Dominicans “I need about 40,000 more people in Dominica. And I am concerned about this ‘one-child, one-child boom that we are having in Dominica.” Between emigration to more economically vibrant countries and Dominicans having less children (how can most people on the island afford any more!), Dominica’s population has decreased by at least 4% since our first election in 1980. In neighboring islands like Barbados, Grenada, and St. Lucia, populations have grown by 14%, 27% and 56% respectively, over the same timeline. Our household poverty rate of 27% is higher than it was in 1995. The most updated data I could find (from 2020), checked it at 29%, attributing it in part to the recession in the banana industry (as our farmers can attest to). In 2021, UNICEF noted that the poverty rate of young people in Dominica (34%) was higher than the average of the Eastern Caribbean (33%). Dominica is also less safe than it used to be. Our homicide rate has been rising notably over the years and Dominicans FEEL less safe, and for good reason.
And even if Dominica was flourishing (which again, it is not), it still would not give Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit the right to stay in power just because he and the Dominican elites and others that support him want him to. In 2020, the PM indicated that he would be supportive of electoral reform. He claimed then that this was important for the country – he was right, of course. But his actions have not aligned to his words. I am told by some in the Dominican elite that he is the most popular PM of all time; then why call an election when the primary political party is in disarray? Why not await their reconsolidation and allow the people of Dominica to have a TRUE choice? After all, elections were not due for another two years! WIC News quoted Greta Roberts, the DLP candidate for Grand Fond as saying that “By the Grace of God, we believe that the hour of our greatest triumph cometh”. Actually Greta, it was not by the grace of God, but by the actions of the Prime Minister.
Dominicans, if we continue silently acquiescing to the status quo, we are condoning a democratic deficit, a dictatorship, and the Dominica that we will leave our children will be frightening: our future will be at risk. Mamo, when she first helped form the Freedom Fighters, did so in part to prevent our democracy from dying. We are very much at crossroads on our beautiful island. It may be another two or three years before the next snap election. Now is the time to plan for our country’s future, now is the time to use our voices, to advocate, to criticize, to TAKE BACK OUR POWER.