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At the rally of the ruling Dominica Labour Party (DLP) held in St. Joseph on May 5th 2014 (May Day), Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit told his supporters that only his six-month old baby son Dmitry (born November 2013) knew the date for the holding of the next general elections. When Mr. Skerrit spoke those words (that he read from a prepared speech) his adoring supporters danced and whistled with glee but, in our view, that was no laughing matter. No one should play games with as serious an issue as an election date.

So the Prime Minister has added a new element of uncertainty to the election date guessing game. Mr. Skerrit's latest statement on the issue contradicts his many pronouncements on the imminent date for the next general election, constitutionally due in 2015.

Some supporters of the Dominica Labour Party (DLP) may interpret the Prime Minister's contradictory statements as a sign of political maturity and astuteness orchestrated to put the opposition off their guard. But it also demonstrates a level of indecisiveness and or gamesmanship.

We are prepared to argue that it is to the disadvantage of Dominica to be in this prolonged political campaign mode; an uncertain political climate influences foreign and local investors to put their major projects and programmes on hold pending the results of the elections.

But that is not the only problem that we perceive with the current 'guess- the- election-date game' that Dominicans have endured for the past year. We believe that it is rather abhorrent that a politician of one party is allowed to play partisan politics with an important event such as the holding of elections. In this regard, we believe that the Constitution must be amended to determine the date when general elections are to be held. The current system gives the prime minister the power to determine the date on which general elections may be held as long as this date does not fall beyond the normal life of Parliament. Dominica's Constitution prescribes that the Parliament shall continue for five years from the date of the first sitting of the House. The current Parliament met for the first time, after the December 2009 election, on February 4th 2010; therefore, under normal circumstances election should not be held later than May 2015. So unless Mr. Skerrit calls an early election the country may have to endure the divisiveness of a prolonged election campaign for another year.

But a large number of Dominicans are of the view that the country should consider whether prime ministers should be given the discretion to control the date of the election, or whether the Constitution should be amended to stipulate a fixed date for elections. Political scientists believe that the advantages of a fixed elections date outnumber the disadvantages.

The first major advantage of a system with a fixed election date is that the playing field for all parties will be levelled, and the significant advantage that the constitution gives to the ruling party through the prime minister will be eliminated. Since the date of the next election will be known at least five years in advance, each party will have an equal opportunity to make appropriate preparations for the elections.

Secondly, such an electoral system is much more transparent because election dates will not be determined by persons operating 'behind closed doors' or by any persons professing to have god-like qualities. Note that in one of his pronouncements in the past election campaign, Mr. Skerrit said that only God knows the date of the next election. Though Mr. Skerrit's supporters have gotten close to making blasphemous statements which apparently likens Skerrit to God, we should not interpret Mr. Skerrit's statement and conclude that the Prime Minister actually believes that he is God. That would be crazy.

Thirdly, a fixed election date will improve governance and in addition, it will certainly save money and foster greater efficiency among the staff and officers of the Electoral Commission.

And finally fixed election dates may improve voter turnouts because Dominicans at home and abroad will know, in advance, the date of an election and will be able to plan to be present at the polling booths; unless government loses a no confidence vote in parliament, a rarity in Caribbean politics.

But we believe that Mr. Skerrit is blowing hot and cold about revealing the election date because his Dominica Labour Party (DLP) is simply not ready to face the electorate. Based on our analysis, the DLP has difficulty in finding and selecting suitable candidates in a number of constituencies, including Wesley, as the party seeks a fourth successive term in office. Additionally, the party has not yet kept a few of the major promises that it made to the electorate in the 2009 campaign. Among the main ones are the promise of the purchase of a refrigerated boat for transporting agricultural produce and the rehabilitation of the Princess Margaret Hospital that China said it would finance almost ten years ago when Dominica established diplomatic relations with China.

We, therefore, conclude that it is unlikely that Prime Minister Skerrit will delay for too long the revelation of the date for the next general election; in any case we hope he does that long before Dmitry will be able to utter intelligible sounds. But for now no one but Mr. Skerrit knows for sure and so the guessing game continues.

Any system that creates such uncertainty, confusion and unfairness must be reformed. Sooner rather than later.


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