In the face of an unrelenting campaign for electoral reform by some sections of Dominican society, Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit has announced a decision to invite CARICOM, the Commonwealth Secretariat and the OAS to send a joint mission to Dominica in order to make recommendations on the best way to implement reforms for the introduction of voter ID cards and for the revision of the register of electors.
According to the prime minister, that mission will meet with the government, political parties and other stakeholders in undertaking its task, “to ensure that the confidence of the general public can be reposed in the decisions taken to move the electoral process forward.”
Skerrit made the disclosure in a radio statement in which he harshly criticized those who have been advocating for electoral reform.
“Over the last few months, the public has been bombarded with misinformation, half-truths and downright lies by people who pretend to want electoral reform but who have done everything to frustrate the implementation of measures to ensure the introduction of identification cards for purposes of voting and the revision and updating of the register of electors,” the prime minister stated.
He pointed out that DLP government was the first, in 2009 and 2014, to invite observer missions for the general elections and while he maintains that the observers found both elections to be credible, Skerrit admits that there is need for improvement. The observer missions stated in their reports that the the elections were free but necessarily fair and made recommendations for some measure of electoral reform.
Skerrit said that since 2013, the DLP government has been working towards the implementation of the recommended reforms to make it mandatory to use identification cards for voting and to ensure that there is a more accurate register of electors.
“All of the requirements set out and the funding requested by the Electoral Commission, have been available to it in a timely manner,” Skerrit stated. “The Commission has indicated to the public since 2016 that all it requires in order to move forward is the legislative authority. The attempts to bring this legislation to parliament has been resisted by some who fail to realize appreciate that this legislation achieves the very thing that they claim to want.”
The prime minister said that the Electoral Commission has sought and received guidance from a Commonwealth expert on electoral matters.
“That expert reviewed the draft legislation and apart from reservations expressed on provisions of the Bills which have since been removed, found that the process for confirmation of electors and revision of the register met the standards of international best practice,” he added.
However, the United Workers Party (UWP) and the Concerned Citizens Movement (CCM), who have been at the helm of the campaign for electoral reform, have said that there is no need for additional legislation as the existing House of Assembly Elections Act gives the Chief Elections Officer the authority to introduce voter ID cards. They are also opposed to a proposed amendment to the Act which gives the Electoral Office the authority to travel overseas to re-register Dominican voters who are resident in countries outside of Dominica.
The prime minster contends that this measure provides these Dominicans with “a fair chance to participate in any process that will lead to the introduction of ID cards and the revision of the register.” However, the proponents of electoral reform say the proposed re-registration process is unfair as it provides the opportunity for some Dominicans in selected parts of the world to re-register and discriminates against other Dominican who live in other parts of the world.
“If we truly want electoral reform,” Skerrit suggested in his statement, “then we must be prepared to read the proposed draft legislation, read the requirements of the laws and our constitution.”
He added, “We have to be prepared to put aside partisan politics and take an honest look for ourselves at what is being proposed. The government is of the view that what we have proposed is the best course of action to achieve the reforms that we will all say that we want. We will not be intimidated by violence or threats of violence.”
The prime minister went on to say that he has received a favourable response from the three organizations – CARICOM, the Commonwealth Secretariat and the OAS – that he has invited to come to Dominica to help advance the electoral reform process, “and I expect in the coming weeks that their representatives will be on island to undertake this mission.”
Skerrit described the move as a continued expression of the government’s efforts “to ensure that on a sensitive matter like this, that there is complete transparency and that every opportunity is given to the public in a mature and rational manner. I hope that all those who purport to have concerns, will use the opportunity in a respectful and peaceful manner to interact with the mission on these issues.”