When your neighbour’s house is on fire…!
It is amazing that in a region that embraces the OECS and CARICOM we know so little about each other. Our television station provides us with a multiplicity of American channels, but none about our Caribbean neighbours. Our countries, especially in the OECS, face similar problems, but more importantly we can monitor our own development by following what is going on with our neighbours. We are, anyhow, six of one, half a dozen of the other. What is going on in Dominica should be of interest to us. As they approach the December 6 general elections the issue that has been ripping the country apart is that of electoral reform, an issue that we also face.
Dominica admittedly takes the cake where this is concerned. The conduct of their elections is shameful and makes a mockery of what elections should be about. There has been a call for Identification cards or at least some symbol of identification. They still dip their fingers in ink after voting with the hope that this will prevent them from voting again, but people have mastered the art of erasing the ink, and then be in a position to vote again. The issue of voting by persons from overseas is totally absurd. The ruling party had over the years been organising charters to bring people living overseas to vote. What is totally contemptuous about this is that persons come and vote and then return to their places of abode almost immediately after. They are in many if not all cases urged to take a photograph or present evidence that they voted and then they are paid. Some of them might not have set foot in the country for ten or 20 years. The persons who are in the best position to vote are obviously the ones living in the country who are affected by what goes on there. Additionally, because Dominica has small constituencies, taking these visiting voters to marginal and selected constituencies could make a difference to the outcome of the elections.
There are other absurdities. Dominica has a total population of 73,000. With the number of persons under voting age which is likely to represent a sizable proportion of the total population, the country has 32 members of parliament, 21 elected, 9 senators, 1 ex-officio member and the Speaker. SVG, with a larger population, has 15 constituencies. I am quite aware that one has to consider geography and topography, but even then!
Electoral reform is only one issue. There are others common here and throughout the region, issues such as accountability, corruption and the fusion of party and nation. Dominicans seemed to have reached the end of the line. Although the PM is accusing the Opposition party of being behind the violence and demonstrations, it is clear that many Dominicans are acting on their own. As I sat down to do this column, I was greeted with the news that police officers are on sick-out. The public service workers were supposed to have started industrial action today. Students and other young people defied an order about two weeks ago to cancel their annual Youth Rally. They marched, even though others were prevented from joining them by blocking the entrance.
This region is in trouble. The Chairman of the OECS issued a statement on the unrest in Dominica, but showed little understanding of what was generating the unrest. With a little over two weeks before the election something has to be done to prevent a situation that can get completely out of hand. That is Dominica where their house is on fire. We have to take care of our own for when people get to a certain point it is difficult to know what can happen. We cannot proceed as though everything is fine and dandy. There are many issues that need to be addressed.
Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian