The Dominica Elections and its Lessons
Dominican voters will today be casting their votes, which it is hoped will put an end to the highly contentious 2019 electoral campaign. That campaign has deteriorated into downright lawlessness and violent acts, occasioned by the call for electoral reform by the opposition United Workers Party (UWP) and civic groups and the disagreement between them and the Roosevelt Skerrit government on the matter.
Prime Minister Skerrit is today seeking a fifth mandate from the electors for his Dominica Labour Party (DLP). But it is not a foregone conclusion, nor is it a peaceful process. Street protests, acts of violence, clashes with the security forces and incendiary road blocks have marred the run-up to the elections.
Not even the country’s Head of State, President Charles Savarin, nor the leaders of the Catholic Church, the dominant Christian denomination in Dominica, have been spared ignominy and confrontation. Concern has rapidly grown into alarm, not only in Dominica, but in the region at large. True, Dominica has had its share of political challenges, but where elections are concerned, this is an unprecedented situation. Indeed, in spite of the political vicissitudes over the years, Dominica prides itself in having a clean record in the conduct of general elections.
The stakes seem to have been raised on this occasion. There have been back and forth exchanges on the electoral reform issue but no consensus or compromise. The lack of agreement on the issue has even led to court challenges on the eve of the elections, but the Court has left the matter up to post-election petitions.
To make matters worse, external factors have intervened. Dominica is one of the OECS countries which have adopted the controversial Citizenship by Investment schemes under which non-nationals can obtain citizenship by paying substantial sums to government (SVG is the sole exception).
There have been allegations over the years of the abuse of this scheme with government officials and even prime ministers being accused of underhand dealings. In the case of Dominica the allegations of corruption and sale of diplomatic passports have cast a dark cloud over PM Skerrit’s government.
To add to the external pressures, there is now the involvement of the Organisation of American States (OAS) through its controversial Secretary General Luis Almagro. Almagro has already earned substantial notoriety for his interference in the internal affairs of hemispheric countries with which he does not agree. Dominica has become his latest target.
The Dominica elections may well prove to be a watershed in the Caribbean. It teaches us that we cannot wait until elections are on the horizon or called, to try and address long-standing grievances about our electoral system. There is always the blame game between the Government and Opposition but conflict breeds unrest and violence as Dominica proves.
With the escalation of the situation, the Regional Security System has had to be deployed to maintain law and order. We cannot afford to go down that road and undoubtedly there are elements in SVG who would like to duplicate the Dominica scenario. We have unfinished business from our last elections. Why has the Court of Appeal not yet delivered its decision on the elections petitions? We are about one year away from the next general elections and still no final verdict on the last one?
Every effort should be made now, not later, to deal with weaknesses brought to light by the enquiry into our December 2015 poll.
Finally, we cannot ignore the vulnerability of our electoral process to manipulation by big financiers. We used to talk about it in local terms but it now has global multi-million dollar proportions bringing massive corruption in its wake and tarnishing the good name of our small countries. The CBI, sale of diplomatic passports and such activities may look like an easy gateway to success, but the experience indicates that it also opens the floodgates to corruption.