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NDP’S call for changes to electoral system gets sharp response from Gonsalves

NDP’S call for changes to electoral system gets sharp response from Gonsalves

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A call by the New Democratic Party (NDP) for the Prime Minister to address concerns they have identified with our electoral system has been met with a sharp response from the head of Government.

Leader of the Opposition Dr Godwin Friday expressed the concerns of his party in a letter dated September 18, 2017, addressed to Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves.

The Prime Minister responded on September 25, saying the Leader of the Opposition’s letter was “stuffed with falsehoods” and had a partisan political purpose.

But at a press briefing at NDP headquarters on Wednesday, representatives of the NDP described Gonsalves’s response to Friday as “insultive, dismissive and politically jaundiced.”

Friday was not present at Wednesday’s press briefing.

The Leader of the Opposition’s letter, captioned: “The Need to Address Serious Problems in Our Electoral System,” raised six issues and called for them to be addressed urgently: (1) an earlier visiting period for the overseas observer missions; (2) the abolition of the 15-day special voters’ registration period; (3) replacing the current supervisor of elections and certain other election officials; (4) locating registration centres throughout all constituencies; (5) eliminating discrepancies in the final voters’ list; and (6) preventing illegal transfer of voters.

The Opposition’s letter was copied to Governor General Sir Frederick Ballantyne, Secretary-General of CARICOM Ambassador Irwin LaRocque, Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland, President of the St Vincent and the Grenadines Christian Council Reverend Bishop Leopold Friday, Secretary-General, Organization of American States (GS/OAS) Luis Almagro, Assistant Secretary General Electoral Observer Missions (EOMS) Nestor Mendez, Secretary for Strengthening Democracy (SSD) Francisco Guerrero and Director Department for Electoral Co-operation and Observation (DECO)  Gerando De Icaza.

In response, Gonsalves said several of the issues which were raised were not within the constitutional and statutory provinces of the Prime Minister.

He, however, responded to each of Friday’s concerns, copying his response to the Governor General, the Supervisor of Elections, the President of the SVG Christian Council, the Secretary General of CARICOM, the Secretary General of the Commonwealth and the Secretary General of the OAS.

However, on Wednesday, Kay Bacchus-Baptiste, the NDP’s newly chosen candidate for West St George said that Gonsalves treated with disdain, “a serious, respectful letter” from Friday.

Bacchus said while the letter concerned free and fair elections and preserving democracy locally and in the wider Caribbean, the response was dismissive.

“The letter was so crucial in that the only response you can give is the true ULP response, which is to vilify and curse persons,” said Bacchus, who added that Gonsalves refuted the claims in the letter with “lies, misstatements and misrepresentation.”

Parliamentary representative for West Kingstown Daniel Cummings said the matters raised by the Leader of the Opposition are of critical importance, but the Prime Minister had responded with “insultive diatribe.”

Bacchus, a lawyer, said that the issues highlighted by Friday were substantiated, in her mind, by the fact that the Organization of American States (OAS) observer mission spoke about some of the same issues.

She said apart from the OAS observer mission, she would like the Commonwealth Observer Mission to observe the next general elections in this country.

A Commonwealth Observer Mission comprising two eminent persons, one from Mozambique and the other from Belize, observed the general elections of 2015 in St Vincent and the Grenadines.

Bacchus also noted that missions must also be given more than three days to scrutinize elections as in Guyana, Antigua and Trinidad and Tobago, observer missions are called in three months before election day.

She noted that although the OAS report from the last elections spoke about several of the same issues mentioned by Friday, the OAS still reported that the elections were free and fair, which is not supported by their own report.

She said even the supervisor of elections Sylvia Findlay-Scrubb had spoken about one of the issues, the call for the removal of the 15-day voters’ registration period.

Gonsalves, in his letter, noted that this country ranks as one of the most democratic in the Western Hemisphere and globally. 

“More pointedly, our nation’s electoral system has repeatedly been acknowledged by independent observers to be free and fair, consistent with the highest global standards.

Accordingly, the Government of St Vincent and the Grenadines will continue to request Electoral Observer Missions in the reasonable and time-honoured tradition applicable to all nine general elections hitherto since independence, namely those in 1979, 1984, 1989, 1994, 1998, 2001, 2005, 2010, 2015,” said Gonsalves, who added that the NDP regime won elections under some of the same issues they were highlighting.

In his letter, Gonsalves also condemned what he considered attacks on the supervisor of elections Sylvia Findlay-Scrubb. The NDP has called for Findlay-Scrubb and other election officials to be replaced.

“Your demand in this regard demonstrates the NDP’s unwarranted bullying and traducing of decent, upright citizens who have selflessly and fairly served this nation well in successive elections, including the 2009 Referendum and the general elections of 2010 and 2015. 

“It appears as though the NDP is driven by some demonic spirit, in its lust for power, to tar and feather, metaphorically, Ms Sylvia Findlay-Scrubb, a patriot steeped in Christian and democratic values, and the other upright election officials, all of whom in their other respective labours, have given yeoman and unblemished service to our nation over a number of years,” said the Prime Minister.

He added that reasonable and unbiased persons do not take the NDP seriously.

The PM noted that the “Reformed Constitution” in the 2009 Referendum contained a provision addressing the independent Elections Commission, but the NDP opposed the referendum.

“All right-thinking persons who are not tainted by political prejudice, partisanship, or bias, reasonably conclude that St. Vincent and the Grenadines has, in both law and practice, an election machinery which conducts free and fair elections which reflect the will of the people.  Regional and international observers, including those from CARICOM, the Organisation of American States (OAS), and the Commonwealth, have repeatedly so concluded in every general election since independence, including those last held in 2015,” Prime Minister Gonsalves stated.

He said allegations to the contrary on these matters are false and have no basis in fact. 

“They are part and parcel of innumerable bogus allegations which you and your NDP have been making over the recent years. Their repetition by you does not add to their veracity,” said Gonsalves.

The Prime Minister said the letter from the Opposition Leader is “stuffed with falsehoods, hysteria, and hypocrisy and is redolent of a lack of proper understanding of the Constitution, statutory enactments, and rules which govern the conduct of general elections.

“The partisan political purpose of your letter is clear. The circulation of your letter to the local, regional, and international bodies has as its aim the denigration of our country, our electoral system, our democracy, and its election officials. Your ignoble intention, overall, is to undermine public confidence in the electoral system to aid your insidious, and unmeritorious, partisan politics,” Gonsalves declared.

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