Election Petitions Point to Electoral Reform
The more than three-year long legal process looking into allegations of serious irregularities in the December 2015 general elections not only awaits a March 21 decision by the presiding judge, but according to the petitioners, is sure to reach the Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeal. That means that the agony may well prolong into the fifth year of the Gonsalves administration, the legitimacy of which is being challenged by the petitions. By then, general elections will be just around the corner.
So, therefore, aside from political claims, where do we go from here? The opposition New Democratic Party (NDP), which instituted the court proceedings, has, after all the political outcry, issued a statement, claiming vindication of its decision to challenge the 2015 election results. While, tactically, one could question whether the party should have made a public comment on such a sensitive matter still before the courts, a section of that statement has significant bearing on where we go from here.
The critical paragraph reads: “We continue to call for immediate fresh elections and for reform of our country’s election practices and processes. This includes the establishment of an independent electoral commission to oversee our elections….”
Given the political tribalism which permeates our atmosphere, it is possible to overlook the significance of this statement. The reality is that such a proposal was among the major ones in the 2009 Constitutional Referendum, roundly thrashed by the NDP which encouraged Vincentians not to vote for it.
Sections 94 and 95 of the 2009 Constitution Bill, rejected by the electorate on the instigation of the NDP, provided for an Elections and Boundaries Commission of five persons, two each appointed on the advice of the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition, with the Chairman being appointed by the Head of State. There was also a provision for a Chief Electoral Officer “subject to the general supervision, direction and control of the Commission”, and for the provision of such “staff and facilities adequate for the efficient discharge of its functions”, the cost of which would be on the Consolidated Fund.
The election petition hearings have, as we indicated in last Friday’s Editorial, glaringly exposed the weaknesses of our electoral system. There is no doubt that the grave shortcomings must be addressed, but to suggest that it was all due to human failings or the deliberate bias of officials, to continue to harass the beleaguered former Supervisor of Elections and to attribute shortcomings in the system to deliberate political bias, does great disservice to the dedication and integrity of our public servants and does not at all contribute to a solution.
Globally, almost every election result meets with hot contention from the losers about the fairness of the process. This may satisfy partisan objectives but provides no solution. Whatever the result of the petitions, we now have a glorious opportunity for cross-party agreement and co-operation on electoral reform. Add in civil society, and we have the perfect remedy for broad-based electoral and political reform, including campaign financing, to take our country at least one notch up the ladder.
Let us seize the moment!