Cross-party agreement on conduct of elections needed
The Caribbean Community (CARICOM), in spite of it being predominantly composed of small island-nations and, in international terms, miniscule populations, has earned for itself growing respect in the international community in regard to its respect for the rule of law, democracy and human rights. This is not to say that it has had a perfect record, but by and large it has been on the more positive side of such issues.
There have however been some aberrations, especially in respect to the conduct of elections giving voters the right to elect a government of their choice. One particular sore thumb has been the country of Guyana on the South American mainland which, ever since the intervention of foreign powers in the sixties, gained an international reputation for fraudulent elections.
Between 1964 and 1992, every general election in Guyana came into question about its fairness. Just as that country was beginning to establish international respectability in regard to the conduct of elections, the spectre of unfair elections has again raised its ugly head. General elections were held there on March 2, almost four months ago. By press time (Wednesday 24th), the winner is yet to be announced officially and it seems that a protracted court battle, not to mention political and possibly racial conflict, will dominate the outcome.
Sadly, it is not just Guyana in question. In recent years elections in several CARICOM countries have been marred by incumbents refusing to accept the outcome, and even losers rejecting the verdict of the majority. Perhaps there is cold comfort in the possibility of the same happening in a northern neighbour, one of the advocates of “free and fair elections”, in a few months time!
There are serious implications for democracy and the rule of law in all this. As mentioned above, in the most powerful country in this hemisphere, its leader seems bent on encouraging his supporters to disregard election rules and has already pronounced that his opponents are about to “steal” the upcoming elections, using mail voting, constitutionally legal, as an excuse.
Such politically charged, but unsubstantiated allegations, can prove to be potentially explosive and prejudicial to the outcome of what should be free and fair elections. Once that story has been bought, pre-elections, it does not matter whether proof is provided or not, as long as you lose, it is because “dey teef”.
Clouds of doubt were heaped in this regard over Dominica even before the last general elections and to this date there are those right here in SVG who in spite of a protracted legal battle, still insist that the 2015 elections did not produce a fair result. We are due to have another round of general elections within the next few months and again, the water is being muddied. Questions over the accuracy of the Voters List and alleged election bribery have been raised even before we get to that stage. The Governor General has already put the process in motion for the appointment of a Constituencies Boundaries Commission, but there is much more to the elections than that.
This columnist has consistently raised the issue of electoral reform and the conduct of elections and the absolute need for a consensus on the rules and conduct of elections by both parties and the electorate as a whole. Neither Government nor Opposition has displayed much of an appetite for such a process, each trying to pursue what it sees as its own political advantage.
There is bound to be disagreement between them on demarcating the constituencies as well as other issues and the bribery allegations are so long in the tooth that a slogan about “Eat dem out, drink dem out and vote dem out” is now more than four decades old.
The laws on electoral financing are so loose that the Organisation of American States (OAS) has provided model legislation to all its member states as a guide to regulate and control electoral spending. Clearly there is not much interest in this from the politicians of the day, but it is an area of great vulnerability for small states like ours. We cannot afford to let the financiers of the proverbial piper dictate to which music we should dance.
We also need accepted rules for the conduct of political parties and politicians, a lid on the slander and rabble-rousing, enforcement of election day regulations and a host of other matters which will contribute to our elections being clearly above–the-board. We need to have the Voters List as impeccably close to accuracy as may be humanly possible, but also for our political aspirants to respect themselves and us and to conduct themselves in a manner which would bring honour to our country and its citizens.
Having rejected the opportunity offered by the 2009 referendum on the constitution, the least we can expect is a serious effort by the contesting parties to reach agreement on the conduct of elections so as to ensure that the expressed will of the people is accepted. We must demand no less.
Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.